PGI Picks #5: The Politics of the Earth and Einstein’s Dreams

A series highlighting our team’s book, film, and podcast recommendations in the post growth and sustainability realms.

By Jen Hinton and Fernanda Tomaselli

Mystic Art Design via Pixabay

The Politics of the EarthJohn Dryzek

The Politics of the Earth by John Dryzek is a must read for people interested in narratives related to sustainability and the environment. Although it’s not exactly an easy read, it’s a very well written and a fairly engaging book that will take you with great detail through the main discourses that have taken prominence since the ‘environment’ was conceptualized as a frame in the 60s. It can make a wonderful read along with a cup of coffee!

In this very complete and thorough book, John Dryzek presents several environmental discourses and analyzes the main assumptions, actors and key metaphors involved in each. In addition, this author offers a quick assessment of their influence on popular narratives and their practical impact (including multiple applications and limitations). The main discourses analyzed are: the limits to growth; promethean growth (ie. growth unlimited); environmental problem solving focused on administrative rationalism (ie. leave it to the experts), democratic pragmatism (ie. leave it to the people) and economic rationalism (ie. leave it to the market); sustainable development; and green radicalism.

I believe that the Politics of the Earth is a terrific book from almost any perspective. However, my main criticism to Dryzek is his take on the impact of ‘The Limits to Growth’ discourse. He mainly describes this narrative as quite hierarchical and top-down and mainly driven by experts and an intellectual elite. In my opinion, this perspective is a bit old fashioned and dated, as it doesn’t take into account the impact that this discourse has had on multiple social movements and grassroots initiatives such as the degrowth movement, transition towns and other various post growth experimentations that are occurring all around the world. Moreover, Dryzek makes the distinction with sustainable development in that the latter involves more ‘pluralistic and local experimentation’, as if the multiple post growth expressions don’t involve this. I think that this aspect of the book could be updated to include more about current movements and groups that acknowledge the existence of planetary limits.

In general I was pretty surprised by John Dryzek’s ability to present this complex information in an unbiased and detached way. Although the content isn’t the lightest, this author did an amazing job with the flow of the book and in keeping me engaged during my reading. I highly recommend The Politics of the Earth to post growth readers that want to learn more about different narratives and frames on sustainability. — Fernanda

Einstein’s Dreams — Alan Lightman

An essential part of moving towards post growth futures is reframing many things that we’ve come to take for granted; things like work, education, growth, and time. As time seems to encompass all else, redefining it is a vital part of building an economy that works for everyone.

Einstein’s Dreams does an amazing job of exploring just how relative and flexible time is. Each chapter describes time working in a different way. One chapter explores time as a spatial phenomenon, while another chapter presents a notion of time in which the future is already determined and known by everyone, yet another chapter describes an arrangement of time in which each person’s entire life is lived out in one day and one night. While reading some of these stories, the reader is transported to an abstract, alternate universe, or even many alternate universes. Yet, by the end of the book, I came to realize that all of these interpretations of time resonated with me in one way or another. Sometimes I feel as if my whole life is passing in one day. At other times, time does feel spatial, especially as I live half the world away from my family. The book shows that all of these functions and understandings of time have their pros and cons. I definitely enjoyed certain descriptions of time better than others, but I got the feeling that other readers would have different preferences to mine, which adds another rich layer of relativity and subjectivity to the book’s journey into the concept of time.

Perhaps the most important message I got from Einstein’s Dreams is that we can all choose which variety of time we live in from moment to moment. As societies and individuals, we tell ourselves stories that explain how time works and, in doing so, we shape our very experience of it. And this could not be overstated when we talk about the transition from the rat-race, growth-based economy to a slower, healthier economy that enables prosperity for all. — Jen

Originally published in June 2014. To Find out more about the Post Growth Institute, visit our website.

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