Three Books on Facing Climate Change

The Approaching Great Transformation
Joel Magnuson
Seven Stories Press, 2013

Full Planet, Empty Plates
Lester R. Brown
W. W. Norton & Company, 2012

America the Possible
James Gustave Speth
Yale University Press, 2012

By this point it’s old news that the world is entering an age of environmental catastrophe that will totally alter the way most of us live. The problem is that most Americans don’t believe they can do anything to avert the tragedy and consequently drown their half-conscious worries in accelerated consumption, thereby making the catastrophe all the more certain to happen. Joel Magnuson, Lester R. Brown, and James Gustave Speth join the community of intellectually rigorous theorists who have concrete ideas on what to do in the coming decades.


Magnuson’s subtitle, “Toward a Livable Post Carbon Economy,” makes clear that carbon-emitting fuel is at the heart of the problem. Magnuson shows how the culture of consumption, which has such deep roots in American society, is doing its best to distract our attention so that we continue to consume fast-disappearing resources—including fossil fuels, water, topsoil, and basic metals—to the detriment of our own futures. Magnuson envisions a new economy based on reverence for natural beauty, renewable energy, resource stewardship, craft traditions, localization of production, financial cooperatives, land conservation, local health care systems, and much more.

Speth looks more toward a national transformation, recognizing that environmental progress is unlikely until there is real progress on issues of social justice and political reform. As long as there is pervasive economic insecurity, he argues, the economic will continue to trump the environmental. Speth recognizes the need for marches, protests, demonstrations, direct action, and nonviolent disobedience.

Lester Brown’s jeremiad, subtitled “The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity,” shows how the increasing number of people worldwide—coupled with water shortages, heat waves, and a land rush in which countries are buying up land in other countries to grow food—is creating a situation in which food will become unavailable to the economically marginal people of the lands being sold to foreign interests for food production. To counteract this trend, Brown encourages us to have smaller families, consume less meat (thereby freeing up more land for grains), and tax carbons so that the cost of climate change is incorporated into market prices.



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