Gaian Economics: Living Well Within Planetary Limits

Stefan Geyer | Friday, 25th February 2011
Stefan Geyer finds this primer on ecological economics inspiring, both in its language and concepts
Author: Ross Jackson, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Jonathan Dawson
Publisher: Permanent Publications
Publication year: 2010
RRP: £14.95

"The current global economy did not emerge by accident. Rather, it is the product of carefully chosen and easily identifiable policies and structural arrangements."

So begins this powerful primer into the world of Gaian Economics, the name the publishers give to what has generally been called in the past 'alternative or environmental economics'. This sentence frames the optimistic picture presented in this necessary book, helps root it in pragmatism, and prevents it from flying off into a world of wishful thinking, something which has often dogged this topic. It shows us how another world is possible and, through the chapters, introduces us to many people who are already forging ahead, leading the way for others.

As Rob Hopkins says in one of the articles taken from Permaculture Magazine: "We are now entering the reorganisation phase, where everything is up for grabs. The ideas generated by the permaculture/energy descent movement have as much chance as anyone else's of becoming reality."

Through over 40 articles from some of the world's key thinkers and doers in sustainable economics, we are offered sharp critiques of current society, how we got here, and what we can do to change our economy's unhealthy structures. They range from wide, sweeping philosophical calls to action and astute academic papers, to stories of proven examples around the world and simple how-to guides. The articles are shaped into five modules that cover the whole gamut of thought and learning in economics: shifting the global economy towards sustainability; community banking and currencies; right-livelihood; local economies; and legal and financial issues.

Though the cover design and layout are reminiscent of a dry school text book, it's a deep and insightful collection, pulling no punches especially when confronting worn out concepts that need to be composted. My favourite example is: "The term 'sustainable growth' when applied to the economy, is a bad oxymoron – self-contradictory as prose, and unevocative as poetry."

A useful collection of articles explaining simply many aspects of this vital subject, I'd recommend this book for anyone wishing to understand the essential subject of economics for a sustainable planet, and alternative possibilities for our collective future.

Stefan Geyer is Chairman of the Permaculture Association (Britain)