Energy Choices AND Toward a Life-Centered Economy
Reviewed by Pamela Haines
Energy Choices: Opportunities to Make Wise Decisions for a Sustainable Future. By Robert Bruninga, with Judy Lumb, Frank Granshaw, and Charles Blanchard. Quaker Institute for the Future (Focus Book 11), 2018. 117 pages. $15/paperback; free PDF available at quakerinstitute.org.Buy from QuakerBooks
Toward a Life-Centered Economy: From the Rule of Money to the Rewards of Stewardship. By John Lodenkamper, Paul Alexander, Pete Baston, and Judith Streit. Quaker Institute for the Future (Focus Book 12), 2019. 104 pages. $15/paperback; free PDF available at quakerinstitute.org.Buy from QuakerBooks
Energy Choices and Toward a Life-Centered Economy are the latest offerings from Quaker Institute for the Future, whose booklets offer a wide variety of angles on ecological integrity, economics, and social justice. Energy Choices, by Robert Bruninga, is a departure in tone from others in the series. Less reflective and more hands-on, it is an intensely practical handbook for aligning major energy-related choices and purchases with environmental values.
Bruninga holds that we can’t wait for government, and that individual choices can drive change. His focus is on things you can—and should—do now if you care about the environment. There are chapters on electric vehicles (EV), energy storage, and converting to renewable energy use in the home. He also discusses engaging one’s meeting in such choices, and advocating for mechanisms to make it easier to choose electric vehicles and solar energy, including issues around EV recharging and the potential for municipal EV fleets. Bruninga offers consistently clear explanations with scientific backup, and provides detailed appendices on electric vehicle choices, solar panels, backup and emergency power, and air conditioning/heat pump systems.
I was hoping for some attention to the bigger picture—the environmental costs of battery production, the role of federal subsidies in the fossil fuel industry and ways to incentivize good energy choices in nonresidential properties. I also chafed at the assumption that the reader would live in a detached home in the suburbs, get around in a car, and enjoy discretionary income. While that might, indeed, describe the majority of U.S. Quakers, it leaves others out. In the section on EV recharging, I kept thinking of all the city folks, like me, who rely on street parking if they have a car at all.
But when Energy Choices is considered for what it intends to be, a guide for making wise big energy purchase decisions, it is a rich resource indeed.
Toward a Life-Centered Economy has a very different tone. This collaboration of four Quakers led by John Lodenkamper, all with a passion for applying a visionary economic understanding to our daily lives, results in a slim volume that is bursting with insights and ideas.
The authors start by addressing some big questions. What are the drivers of the economic ills that plague us? What are the life-giving values that we can hold to in their stead? How can we organize our households, and efforts in our communities, to build life-giving and sustainable alternatives?
They offer some thought-provoking perspectives. The first chapter, “The Time of Your Life,” introduces the ongoing theme of the importance of valuing our time over money or stuff. I was taken by their discussion of how we value the future. In economic theory, it is assumed that money and resources will decrease in value over time, a concept called “discounting the future.” Yet what does such a focus on present value mean for our children and grandchildren?
Lodenkamper and Friends lay out some principles that guide them: “time over money, quality over quantity, sustainability over depletion, human potential over exploitation, and small-scale over large-scale.” They reflect on where these values might lead us: consumer and worker co-ops; sharing platforms; cradle-to-cradle technologies; local currencies; time banks. Their attention is on restoring our agency as consumers and producers, and they envision a movement to connect many disparate groups through an “appeal to ‘common sense’ in order to reach ‘common ground.’”
There are some big concepts here that get only fleeting mention: publicly owned banks that could keep public dollars working at home; soil regeneration that could affect not only healthy food production, but also carbon sequestration; a movement to local economies that could take advantage of new developments in open source technologies like 3D printing.
As the book pivots from history and concept to practice, it takes a tour of every possible aspect of household life—food, energy, transportation, shelter, clothing, communications, furnishings and equipment, money and investment—and suggests a variety of steps that can be taken toward more centered and sustainable practices in each one.
You can almost hear the authors building on each other’s thinking, enthusiastically piling ideas one on top of the other. Different voices can be recognized at times: the philosopher, the tech enthusiast, the co-op advocate. There are places where the text feels incompletely processed, with laundry lists of possibilities that are only loosely woven together. But this unevenness is balanced by a big spirit, great goodwill, and an infectiously hopeful can-do attitude.
The authors name evils without hesitation while remaining upbeat about the life-giving potential of alternatives, and the extent of their shared knowledge and vision is impressive. While I’m not as sanguine that the big multinationals and financial giants will loosen their hold on power in the face of more life-affirming alternatives springing up underneath, I share their belief that nothing will change before ordinary citizens catch a glimpse of not only what is wrong, but what is possible.
These two booklets, with the focused practicality of Energy Choices embedded in the wider perspective of Toward a Life-Centered Economy, would be a great resource to meetings, or groups within meetings, that are serious about reducing their carbon footprint and taking positive and practical steps to transition to a sustainable economy.