“Values for a Sustainable Future” by Agne Svanberg. A book review by Katarina Samurović
In these turbulent times when the struggle against climate change and mass extinction brings to mind an epic battle between the ultimate good and the ultimate evil, all conscious and conscientious people feel pressured. We feel like we do not carry only our own burdens, but also those of whole communities, and if you want, the whole world as well.
The weight can break us.
In time, the said pressure can lead to burnout, dysphoria, and apathy — and apathy is now more dangerous than ever. In the long term, amazingly, instead of pushing us to take take the right steps, the pressure can even make us susceptible to suppression, denial, and unhealthy selfishness.
If you doubt that, just look at the number of people denying climate change only because they are scared of losing their preferred lifestyle, or the number of people preparing for an ultimate catastrophe not by helping build a resilient community, but by buying their own private getaway land and stocking up on supplies they believe they will need.
Needles to point out that such personal decisions push us away from making the necessary global change, all in a delicate moment when the change is critical for our own survival.
How do we escape these death-trap psychological mechanisms?
The said consequences take place because just taking the right action in the world outside of ourselves is not enough.
Agne Svanberg, the author of the book “Values for a Sustainable Future”, hits the target precisely when he says:
The climate issue is basically not a logistical issue, but a psychological challenge! It’s about the emotional stand it takes to achieve sustainability. - Agne Svanberg
In order to be able to do our part in saving the world, we have to save ourselves first. To avoid caving in under the pressure of consumer society headed for destruction, we do not need to reach farther but dive deeper. We need to look at the world of ideas and mindsets, as that is what truly drives everyone’s decisions, beneath all the outer commotion.
That is why, in his book, Agne Svanberg deals predominantly with our personal and collective values.
Unfortunately, as a crucial part of many corporate and populist narratives, the term “values” has become a great tool for manipulation. Svanberg tries to combat those malicious practices by tracing and analyzing the common human values that enable us to thrive sustainably, and that bind us together instead of dividing us.
“Values for a Sustainable Future” has seven chapters. Roughly half of the content analyzes our outer, global circumstances — the environmental and social crisis — in an easy to follow and easy to understand fashion. That is especially true for Chapter 3 which deals with the concrete implications of sustainable development.
The other half deals with the need for inner change — the values we need to nurture in order to live truly fulfilling and productive lives, which will, in turn, lead to adjusting our life experiences in a way that doesn’t harm other beings on Earth. The description of inner work that “Values for a Sustainable Future” proposes culminates in Chapter 7, which deals almost exclusively with healthy human day-to-day experience in relation to the world.
The author insists that there is no logical order between the seven chapters and that the reader can start with any of them and read through them any way he or she likes. However, intentionally or not, the book is layered in such a way that by reading chapter by chapter in the given order, you will get an experience of a productive inner journey; the one that has an increased potential to spark new ideas on how to deal with the increasing environmental and existential issues.
The “journey” effect occurs because of the already-mentioned interconnectedness of global issues and the ones related to the basic human condition. Our civilization’s problems are objectively and gently presented to the reader, without making them sound better or worse than they are. Then, they are put in relation to our psychological mechanisms and spiritual needs.
Svanberg successfully deters the desperation that many of us get when going through the literature that summarizes the current environmental condition by crossing them with suggestions for concrete individual action. This is best personified in the “How can I think? What can I do?” sections. Once you feel strengthened by the influx of positive ideas, the author will again shift your focus to some of the greatest challenges global society has ever faced, and the possible solutions.
Another great value of the book is that it introduces you to many of the important concepts and theories needed to understand modern environmental and economic theories and affairs — such as the sustainable development, Jevons paradox, and circular economy — in a simple and easy to understand manner.
The theory is nicely conjured with practical advice, from examples on how to envision your own climate action, or find a suitable organization, to suggestions on how to handle the negative emotions when they occur.
Comic illustrations and numerous quotes from the world’s great thinkers add inspirational dynamics to the reading. There are also many amusing and clever quotes of children (which will make you wonder if they are the true world’s greatest thinkers).
The fact that it has 157 pages makes this book a good introduction for responsible citizens and novice environmental activists, but also a great boost for seasoned environmentalists — to help them refresh some basic concepts and find new ideas.
My personal experience is that the “Values for a Sustainable Future” has offered me comfort, and a chance to re-adjust my focus in a way that helps me overcome the ever-looming “climate burnout”; to be productive with less stress and a clearer vision of what’s really important. It is amazing how much energy we can lose if we let anger and desperation take over. Agne Svanberg knows this and warns us in time.
Although it touches upon many critical topics, both personal and societal, this is not a pretentious book. It reminds me of a well-meaning, wise advice, mature guidance that used to be traditionally passed down from an older generation. For young people living today, this type of guidance has become a rare and precious occurrence.
The book ends with a touching personal story, leading to a profound question. I will not spoil it for you and will leave you to discover it for yourself, but I have to point out that it is the one that we should all be asking ourselves.
Fortunately, even in the atomized world of today, books like Agne Svanberg’s “Values for a Sustainable Future” can help us find a path to the answer — the answer within.
Written by: Katarina Samurović
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About We Don’t Have Time
We Don’t Have Time are currently building the world’s largest social network for climate action. Together we can solve the climate crisis.
But we are running out of time.