12 Post Growth Themed Books and Films
Get to know the myriad manifestations of a wellbeing economy in this list of recommendations from the PGI team.
1. Smart Growth Jon Reeds
Smart Growth is a book about urban sprawl, and the future of unsustainable suburbs. Reeds has written a passionate and sometimes angry history of the suburbs, and how low-density, car dependent development became the standard. More importantly, he explores the Smart Growth movement and how it is re-imagining cities for a new century. This book is a must-read for planners, and an interesting introduction to the interplay between land use and growth. — Joshua Nelson
2. About a Mountain by John D’Agata
If you don’t do much else, it’s possible to blow through About a Mountain in a weekend. The book, or book-length essay, winds three stories around each other: the story of Las Vegas, maybe the most undeservedly optimistic city in America; the story of Yucca Mountain, the proposed burial ground for American nuclear waste; and the story of a teenager’s suicide leap from a Vegas hotel. Can Yucca keep radioactivity buried for 10,000 years? Probably not — but it seems that we’re going to try anyway. In all of this, and in different ways, the forever-inscrutable notion of suicide reverberates.
— Scott Gast
3. The Subsistence Perspective, by Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies
I first read, this book as a university student studying globalization. At the time, I was both excited and disturbed by some of the questions it raises: What do we consider success to be, and why? Why is farming considered “dirty” and “unpleasant” or incompatible with intellectual work? How has society changed in the West since World War II in terms of our relationship to the land? Not for the faint-hearted, its language is sometimes dense with theory — but it is also interspersed with stories and interview excerpts spanning both the Global North and South. This big-ideas book asks its readers to consider core assumptions about the ways we live and what we value. — Amelia Bryne
4. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
A story about a student who reconnects with his dying teacher for one last series of ‘lectures’, Tuesdays with Morrie is a gentle reflection on all that we have within us and all that many of us have sacrificed through the modernisation experience. The wisdom of Morrie (the book’s central character), filtered through the lens of the reflective, young author, Mitch, speaks of the liberation that can stem from revelling in simple pleasures and the joys of the journey. Alluding particularly to the challenges of self-love and emotional connection faced by many men these days, Morrie speaks of not just learning how to give out love but also to learn how to let it come in.
The book also raised for me an important question in our explorations of alternative economic futures: if so much of our current, destructive models is driven from a space of inner-fear, how much more could we come from a space of inner-love if we moved beyond a fear of death?
As I turned the final page of this easy yet insightful read, the words surfaced from one of my own favourite aphorisms on living: “”Dance like nobody’s watching. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like nobody’s listening. Live like it’s heaven on earth”. For in an overly complex world, Tuesdays with Morrie reminds us that we are souls in a physical form; souls understanding that beyond confusing complexity lies profound simplicity. — Donnie Maclurcan
5. Blossoms of Fire (film) by Maureen Gosling
The first time I watched this was (appropriately) at my mother’s house. The film gives a view into life in the so-called matriarchal society of Juchitan in Oaxaca, Mexico. The people of the film explain their way of seeing the world, and how they live: a society that believes in the unique gifts of each individual, and where the women manage the money. In some ways this is a very traditional ethnographic film, carefully documenting a world view. It is also beautiful and empowering. After watching the film, on a cold March morning with hot chocolate, we were inspired to think about how we could add more color, more festivities, and ‘alternative’ economic arrangements to our own lives. The film could be seen as one vision of living post growth. — Amelia Bryne
6. The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram
When exploring alternatives to the status quo, I think many of us are guilty of looking for ‘new’ ideas, overlooking the diverse wisdoms that have sustained people and the earth thus far. In this beautifully written book, David Abram effectively draws on multiple ways of knowing, including: phenomenology; indigenous knowledges; the ‘more-than-human’ world of the land, air, animals; our sensory experiences; and more. He urges readers to acknowledge that any focus on the purely human world without recognizing its constitutive relationships with everything else is foolish and indeed, (mis)leading us down a disastrous path. Instead, his explorations go to enough depth to open our minds to the potentials of more interconnected conceptualizations of ourselves with/in the world. — Janet Newbury
7. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Novelist and essayist Barbara Kingsolver and her family try their hands at a year of local and partly self-sufficient eating on a small once-and-future farmland acreage in southern Appalachia. The story starts in March with the start of the growing season (resourcefulness required to fill a plate from one’s temperate-zone county is immense at this time of year, even in a community that is quite neighborly and agrarian relative to most of the U.S.) and concludes with a reflection on the mystery of life and the privilege of participating in the process of being sustained (though sometimes also thwarted) by the abundance and complexity of nature. In between: rooster antics, homemade cheese, and ingenious coping mechanisms of humans faced with an oversupply of zucchini. One chapter for each month. Engaging and informative, the book reads like a well-produced documentary, seamlessly interspersing anecdotes, social analysis, personal reflection, political and nutritional information, and-recipes!
The writing itself is a family affair, with husband Steven Hopp contributing sidebars highlighting food policy and agriculture industry issues in more detail, and teenage daughter Camille covering nutritional and culinary aspects of the experiment. 10-year-old daughter Lily is responsible for the poultry and insightful, humorous 1-liners that color many of the stories. Kingsolver’s comprehensive and articulate survey of the state of food culture in the United States is balanced by descriptions of the trials and triumphs of novice farmers, all delivered with her classic no-nonsense irreverence that make one feel that one is listening over the kitchen table or the back fence of a neighbor who is becoming a good friend. — Ingrid Johnson
8. Mindwalk (film) by Bernt Amadeus Capra
In February, I wrote here on What We’re Reading about the book The Web of Life. For those who are keener on films and/or want a simpler introduction to systems thinking, check out the film Mindwalk. Filmed in 1990, it was way ahead of its time, describing ecological literacy as part of a complex systems perspective of the world.
The film features three main characters: a physicist, a poet, and a politician. They bump into each other while exploring the iconic island of Mont Saint Michel in northern France. Each of them is there for a different reason, but they have one thing in common: they are all on a personal quest for a better understanding of the world and themselves. And that’s exactly what they gain from the conversation that emerges between them.
Rich in deep, holistic thinking, the film offers the viewer a systems perspective of the problems that the modern world faces and, thus, a systems perspective for seeking and finding sustainable solutions. No solutions are offered; just a refreshing perspective that acknowledges and explores the complexity and fluidity of human systems. I appreciated it even more knowing that it was filmed in 1990. — Jen Hinton
8. The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Build Community by Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow
This is an easy-to-follow guide for easy-to-implement possibilities. The premise is positive and very simple: Finding ways to incorporate sharing into our lives in informal and formal ways can connect us with others, save us money, and help us live more sustainably. The authors, who are both attorneys, have written the book as a very clear how-to guide including worksheets, agreements, questionnaires, and other practical tools. It has dedicated sections on sharing things such as housing, tasks, food, child- and -pet-care, and transportation. With such concrete recommendations, it is a refreshing read within a school of thought that is often heavily weighted with critique. — Janet Newbury
9. Anthill by E. O. Wilson
The great biologist turns his hand to fiction, and it transpires that there’s a growth angle here, albeit a very subtle one. It’s a story about an Alabama childhood, but also a parable about human development versus the natural world, and it contrasts our own species’ infinite growth project with the ebbs and flows that occur in the natural world. With ants (Wilson is an ant expert, and a whole section of the book is gleefully told from the perspective of an anthill), exponential growth is a genetic anomaly that leads to the destruction of the colony. We might want to learn from this, Wilson gently and indirectly hints in his winsome novel. — Jeremy Williams
10. The Bridge at the End of the World by James G. Speth
This is one of the most useful post growth books I’ve read as it paints a particularly clear relationship between the economy and the environment. Written by James G. Speth, an environmental lawyer, Professor at the Vermont Law School, and former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the text compiles evidence, showing how as economic growth continues, the environment suffers. The book’s straightforward graphs showing this relationship — exponential economic growth = exponential environmental destruction and pollution — are perhaps one of its most powerful features. As one reviewer comments, Speth’s book shows that if we “if we do not learn to consume less, we will consume the biosphere itself in our binge.” That is, concern about how human actions are impacting the environment isn’t an idealistic past time, but rather an issue in need of critical attention and significant action — if we want to maintain livable conditions on the planet. — Amelia Bryne
Wendell Berry would probably disapprove of the fact that my first contact with him was when a friend whipped out his iPhone to play me a recording of one of his speeches. Berry is chiefly a writer, but his enjoyment of the physicality of the written word leads him to orate, as well as famously continue the practice of writing by hand. His reasons for such “Luddite” behaviour are outlined in this book of essays. Berry grew up in a farming community in the U.S. state of Kentucky, left as an adult, and then returned. Like many people who have grown up “on the land,” he’s spent a lot of time thinking about the value of place-based community.
In The Art of the Commonplace he draws heavily on the local stories of his community to create a narrative that is globally applicable. He crosses constantly between the public and private, secular and sacred, redefining them as he goes.
Berry provides new insights into the intersection of gender and race relations, market economics, community, agriculture, and environment: Why do we celebrate the “liberation” of women from domestic drudgery when their alternative is to join men in a workforce full of bosses? What is desirable about an “equal” marriage of two careerists merely sharing the same bed and consumption pattern-rather than shared and productive work in a home economy? Why don’t we see that our weak and obese bodies and the loss of our agricultural topsoil are linked? What knowledge do we lose when we build roads that seek merely to move individuals from one economic centre to another at the quickest speed, rather than recognising, and responding to, the narratives of the land in which we pass? What is the “progress” we seek, and what do we lose to obtain it?
By weaving together seemingly disparate themes, Berry reminds us that this disparity is a cultural construct — and a relatively new one at that. We treat compartmentalised disorders at our peril, he suggests. To truly “progress” we need to see these disorders as symptoms caused by a culture of extractiveness that affects everything from the way a man and woman relate to our very ability to feed ourselves. — Jane Addison
12. Peoplequake by Fred Pearce
The world is undergoing a massive demographic transition, says Pearce, and it begins with a baby boom, moves into a youth bulge, and ends with an aging population. Different countries are at different points, and each has its own challenges. Pearce overplays the population crash a little, but this broad perspective is a great contribution to the debate, and it is likely to provoke population optimists and pessimists equally. — Jeremy Williams
Originally published in November 2011 on the Post Growth Institute (PGI) blog. Find out more about the PGI on our website.