How to Thrive in the Next Economy

Author John Thackara
Read November 8, 2020
Categories Biology Sustainability
Links LibraryThing

A brilliant, eye-opening book that really got me interested in ecology, climate solutions and soft-solutions to urban planning, architecture and infrastructure.

After reading this book I read Ishmael, which really drove the point home for me.



However full and rich this book is in stories, examples, hypotheses and claims, it is not very empirical.

It has tons of sources for individual claims so it is not at fault in this sense. The problem is rather that Thackara’s proposal; his over-reaching plan and principles for the future - however grand and wonderful, seems to lack any empirical or scientific underpinning.

In short it’s unclear whether they are feasable and can be implemented successfully at all.

Drawing on a large body of litterature, antropology and his own experiences, his vision is well founded in principle, but given the amount of humans presently on our planet it might be that these (old) small-scale solutions won’t be effective enough. It could be that we need completely new (hybrid) solutions.


  1. There are about 50 billion microbes in one tablespoon of soil; a single shovel can contain mor living things that lal the human beings every born.

    p. 20

  2. The notion that high-tech farming is feeding the world is therefore misleading. The truer story is that industrial agriculture is an extractive industry: it mines the soild for nutrients that are not replaced.

    p. 22

  3. Natural time does not progress in straight lines; it moves in cycles that are shaped by the unique qualities of different locations.

    p. 47

  4. The average floor space per person in low-income countries is about 8m2 comparet to 60m2 per person in the US - a nearly eight-fold difference.

    p. 59

  5. These resource-light ways to meet daily life needs are usually described as poverty, of a lack of development. But in thirty-fice years as a guest in what used to be called the ‘developing’ world, I’ve realised that people who are poor in material terms ar hightly accomplised at the creaton of value in ways that do notdestroy natural and human assets.

    p. 66

  6. Finance, not a lack of production, is another major cause of food insecurity in a Western food shop, for every $10 that you or I spend at the checkout, only 60 cents end up with the farmer. The remaining $9.40 - the ‘added value’ - represents turonver and profit for the industries involved.

    p. 70

  7. At first sight, the fashion industry is indeed ethically challenged; you probably need to be nnaked to read this paragraph with a clear conscience. I learned from Kate Fletcher’s landmark study, Sustainable Fashion and Textiles, that it took 2,700 litres of fresh water to make my cotton T-shirt - and much of that water ends up saturated with pesticides; a quarter of all the insecticides in the world are used on cotton crops. It’s partly down to me that 85% of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan has disappeared - because its water is used to grow cotton in a desert.

    p. 86

  8. For thousands of years before the oil age, textiles were carefully looked after; the repair, alteration, and maintenance of clothes was a normal part of daily life.

    p. 90

  9. Time is money and nobody wants to pay for it. The system is steered by an army of product managers in bigger companies whose pay and status is determined by profit margins, nont by the health of some distant watershed.

    p. 95

  10. Considering that 40% of the time we spend trabelling, across all cultures, is spent walking or waiting, the conclusion was stark: that the car is complicit in a wildly inequitable use of space.

    p. 99

  11. The entries in the Audi Award, I concluded, were constrained by two questionable assumptions: first, that mobility is a universal need; and second, that mobility is a technical problem amenable to being solved by engineering means.

    p. 100

  12. Mobility in other words are a second-order ’need’. We move as much as we have to in order to obtain food, shelter, security and the opportunity to connect and transact with each other.

    p. 100

  13. Although time savings provide the principal economic justification for HST schemes, the expansion of these networkds does not, in the long run, give us more free time. On the contrary: we spend the same amount of time to travel longer distances.

    p. 105

  14. Researchers had concluded that the global economy was loosing more money from the disappearance of forests alone - US$2-5 trillion per year - than through the banking crisis. (The figure came from adding the value of the various services the forests perform, such as providing clean water and absorbing carbon dioxide.) That study, and others like it, placed a question mark on the assumption that the world is full of empty space that we should aspire to fill, at will, with things like HSTs. As we learn that ’empy space’ is not empty, it follows that many supposedly clean transport or energy systems are not inherently clean at all - but only somewhat less dirty than the fossil-fuelled systems they are purported to replace.

    p. 106

  15. Measured in terms of calories expended by the traveller, the conventional bicycle is by far the mos efficient means of human locomotion.

    p. 110

  16. If the rider eats a typical Western diet, about ten times more primary energy goes into the production of ther food than is absorbed by the body when the food is eaten.

    p. 111

  17. … Sustainable Tourism, Responsible Tourism, Slow Travel, Nature Tourism, Green Tourism and Ecotourism. They commit merely to ‘minimise’ negative impacts. There are no binding targets, and dno governance of this vast and fragmented industry. The result is an empty promise to leave visited locations ‘as unspoilt as possible’.

    p. 118

  18. … until the medical system addresses the causes of illness with the same brilliance with which it addresses the effects, the population will continue to get sicker.

    p. 120

  19. A recent UK study, for example, found that 5% of all vehicle movements on British roads are health-related. This energy blindness is significant; because the true costs of so many activities is neither perceived nor counted, no thought is given to their possible replacement

    p. 121

  20. ‘We cannot be healthy alone.’ Graham Leicester, director of the International Futures Forum in Scotland, points to the considerable evidence amassed by health psychologists that a sense of social support is the best buffer against illness; strong social networks decrease the length of recoveries and reduce the probability of mortality from serious diseases. People with higher levels of support recover faster from kidney disease, childhood leukaemia, ans strokes, have better diabetes control, experience less pain from arthritis, and llive longer.

    p. 127

  21. Much of the work we do in this social economy is unpaid, and it does not get measured as GDP - but it’s nourished by other kinds of value than money: the trust, time, attentioin, wisdom, wxperience, and skills that we all contribute in caring for each other.

    p. 134

  22. The biggest positive is that the end of growth, in the real-world economy at least, seems finally to have arrived. Why would I welcome such a thinng? Let me explain. Many technical experts argue, when pressed, that for our world to be sustainable it needs to endure a ‘factor 20 reduction’ in its energy and resource metabolism - to 5% of present levels.

    p. 137

  23. As the writer Franco Berardi explains, stron social ties are essential in a healthy money system, and anonymous cryptography removes the last residues of our social bonds from money, thus transforming it into the ultimate agent of separation.

    On Bitcoin p. 142

  24. Our laws are based on the Enlightenment notion that the Universe is a repository of dead resources for us to exploit, as we choose, for the exclusive benefit of our own species.

    p. 151

  25. Whether the sale of 400 million high-end me-meters to otherwise healthy thirty-somethings will ameliorate the pandemic of chronic illnesses in the rest of the population is doubtful - but in Big Data world, quantity counts for more than outcomes.

    p. 157

  26. We lust for speed, perfection, and control but, because we inhabit an abstract,digitally diminished world, we’re blind to the true costs of what we wish for.

    p. 158

  27. The desert of the real isolates from literally vital knowledge in four ways: becaus it’s invisible; because it’s somewhere else; because our sensory bandwidth is too narrow; and because we’re ’educated’.

    p. 158

  28. However positive and uplifting their stories may be, they leave untouched the underlying narrative that we can have our cake and eat it - where ‘cake’ means a perpetual growth economy.

    p. 160

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