By Sandrine Dixson-Declève, et al. New Society Publishers, 2022. 176 pages. $19.99/paperback or eBook.
Close your eyes and imagine: It’s 2050; we have experienced great loss and find our world still in a very fragile situation, but there has been a profound shift. Though challenges abound, our communities are more livable, and our planet is no longer in deep, intractable crisis. The signs are everywhere. Extreme poverty has been reduced. Clean green energy is a key foundation of strong economies throughout the world. Policies to redistribute wealth fairly are now adopted in most countries. Trust in government is rebuilding. People are eating a healthier diet, and soils and forests are coming back. Greenhouse gas emissions have been significantly reduced, and countries are becoming more resilient in coping with extreme weather events.
This is the heart of Earth for All by Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Owen Gaffney, Jayati Ghosh, Jørgen Randers, Johan Rockström, and Per Espen Stoknes. A follow-up to The Limits to Growth, published 50 years ago with a similar group of mostly non-U.S. authors, it uses a similar kind of global modeling to project different possible futures. While the authors acknowledge that the imagined scenario is by no means the most likely one, they offer it with confidence, and proceed to methodically offer the steps necessary for bringing that future into existence.
They lay out the changes that will be required internationally—around poverty, gender equity, food, energy, and economics—to get us there. The breadth and depth of these changes are a little daunting, to say the least, but any marked path toward a goal offers an antidote to despair.
The focus of this book is not on any one strand of the crises that our world is facing. Rather, it is on how they all interact with each other and where the levers of change and the tipping points can be found. Ultimately, all the changes they suggest connect with economics and the possibility that we can “close the loop on an extractive economic system and make it not just circulatory but also regenerative.”
The authors suggest that issues around poverty and inequality must be tackled up-front to help create a trust in governments to act on behalf of their whole citizenry, since active governmental intervention is required for many of these changes. Every time a mention was made of “trusted and active governments,” I noticed the depth of cynicism that was evoked in me, and was reminded of the critical power of imagination and hope. Our ability to imagine a new thing may not be enough to bring it into existence, but if we can’t even imagine it, a new world doesn’t stand a chance.
A central way forward involves the commons. The authors suggest that everyone who shares our commons (land, water, air, knowledge, culture, DNA) has three roles: (1) to participate in the economy and add value to it, not just as employees or consumers; (2) to share in the benefits of the enclosure of the commons; and (3) to commit to the maintenance and enhancement of our shared resources that provide those benefits. The authors keep circling back to a fee and dividend approach: a fee is charged on profits that are made from use of the commons, such as fossil-fuel extraction or data mining. These fees would be collected in a Citizens Fund and redistributed in dividends to everybody.
This is not the easiest book to read: it is often dense and abstract. I was glad for my background in economics, as I struggled at times to follow. I also did not find the charts to be user-friendly. The authors, however, are clearly striving toward accessibility, and the book—only 166 pages of text—does have the advantage of brevity.
Earth for All ends with a rousing call to action, framed by both a caution of the urgency and monumental size of the challenges we face and the importance of claiming the possible. “The foundations of a vibrant economy are not money, nor energy, nor trade; they are optimistic people with hope for a better future . . . and the tools to create this future.” As I closed the book, I was reminded once again of the critical work of resisting the lure of despair and instead cultivating our ability to imagine and believe in what we cannot yet see.
Pamela Haines is a member of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting. Author of Money and Soul, her newest titles are That Clear and Certain Sound; Tending Sacred Ground: Respectful Parenting; and a second volume of poetry, Encounters with the Sacred and the Profane. She blogs at pamelahaines.substack.com.