Book Review: Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth, By Lester R. Brown


By Bruce Rhodes


If money were no object, I would mail copies of Lester Brown's "Eco-Economy" and Paul Hawken's "Natural Capitalism" to every CEO, country leader, and business school dean on the planet. Eco-Economy is a well-researched, balanced, detailed portrayal of where the world is today ecologically, and where the world could be in the future, depending on the choices we make (or fail to make) when it comes to managing our fragile and taxed natural environment.

Brown makes his case clear: it is now time for ecologists to team up with economists to ensure that the prices we pay for all goods and services "tell the ecological truth". One of the most critical examples is the price we pay in North America for gasoline: the pump price has never reflected the total true costs that are borne by members of society and by the natural environment. Until governments impose gasoline taxes that reflect those total true costs, the fossil fuel resource will continue to be undervalued and wasted.

To read Eco-Economy is to go on an emotional roller coaster ride. The earlier chapters accurately describe the perilous state of many ecological systems, such as life-sustaining aquifers being depleted or contaminated, and irreversible soil erosion due to the removal of trees. I found these chapters well worth reading, but very disturbing. What is good news for the reader and, more important, good news for the planet, is that Brown offers numerous examples of how we can (technically, at least; if we could now just muster the required political will) stop or even reverse our erstwhile environmentally damaging behaviour -- in other words, "how to get there from here".

Brown identifies sustainability-related opportunities and responsibilities for all key sectors of the human race: government leaders, business CEOs, NGOs, academics. Further, Brown reminds us that lone individuals can make a difference, too: the publishing of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring represented a much-needed "threshold" that prompted the world to re-think its use of DDT. Thus, for those of us who do not run a government or a company, we have the power of the pen on our side, and we can choose to exercise that power.




Copyright 2004 Bruce Rhodes. All rights reserved.