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This book has some excellent concepts on a macro scale but the author really misses some important details making some of the ideas ‘fanciful’. For instance, the author dedicated the better part of a chapter to hydrogen powered cars but never mentions the amount of energy necessary to split hydrogen from water. This seemingly minor fundamentally undermines the feasibility of the first chapter of the book. I am all for alternative fuels but I am also an engineer whom has an appreciation for what is and is not a viable approach. Since this book was published, electric cars have made huge technological advancements because of their overall energy efficiency and use of the existing electric grid for charging. Electric cars can also be charged from solar panels on your home. In any case, the author didn’t do enough homework on some of these concepts and arbitrary attempted to pick winning and losing technologies. The overall concept portrayed is great but the pages dedicated to impractical alternatives detracts significantly from the authors theme.
This book is a bit dated. It contains lines that portray the rosy optimism of 20 years ago. Despite the fact that much of the book is not worth reading two decades after it was published, there are some interesting ideas in it. The book recommends restructuring the economy so that waste is taxed and problems are solved proactively. I still love the vision, but an updated version of the book should be written.
Most responses to political and social problems fall into two broad categories: libertarian/populist and authoritarian/statist. And too often, "leftist" critiques of capitalism fall into the latter category, crying "market failure" and calling for central control by government regulation. This book is the _other_ sort. And it represents the fulfillment of a long line of "hippie spirituality" that began over thirty years ago, got some airtime in Stephen Gaskin's books and Paul Williams's _Das Energi_, was put into practice at a broad level by the Grateful Dead, was incorporated into Marilyn Ferguson's _Aquarian Conspiracy_, received a consistently libertarian exposition in Mary Ruwart's _Healing our World_, and -- if Paul Hawkens and the Lovinses are right -- looks to be the wave of the future if we're going to have a future at all. (Incidentally, Gaskin recommended this book when he ran for President in 2000.) One tremendous strength of their approach is their avoidance of a very common error. Too many critics of eco-stupidity and corporate irresponsibility take themselves to be critics of the "free market" as such, failing to realize that their proposed solutions are, in an economic sense, just as "capitalistic" as (if not more so than) the problems. What they propose to replace "capitalism" by is, in fact, just capitalism again, but populated by people with better values. Well, these folks know that's exactly what they're doing, and what they propose is in effect the best general response to cries of "market failure". In a strictly economic sense, every "market failure" really represents a place that the "market" hasn't reached yet. Under the Hawken/Lovins proposal, "markets" work just fine if they take account of _all_ relevant costs. Economically, what they're saying is that (e.g.) polluters have to _internalize_ the costs of pollution. Is there a libertarian out there who would disagree in principle? Oh, we could pick nits about the details. The point, though, is that Hawkens and the Lovinses are presenting here a vision of the "free market" as what economists have always said it was: an organic, emergent, genuinely interdependent network of centers of genuinely voluntary activity by fully informed and self-responsible actors. And the resulting society looks like hippies have always said it should: less like the military-industrial complex and more like a Grateful Dead concert ;-). If Aquarian libertarianism is (as Mary Ruwart says) the key to "healing our world", then the sort of green eco-capitalism represented here is a pretty sound prescription for that healing. The Dream isn't dead, and it isn't economically irresponsible either.
Paul Hawken and the Lovins have teamed up to provide one of the best overall books on "Natural Capitalism" which offers a whole new approach to the way in which we do business. For too long we have taken natural capital for granted, squandering our natural resources and unleashing an unhealthy array of by-products which have further contaminated our world. It is time to add natural capital to the ledger sheets, properly balancing our record books. But, far from being a screed the book is meticulously researched with extensive notes and references to help guide your own research into the subject. Everything from the Toyota Production System, which offered a leaner, much less wasteful approach to auto manufacturing, to the Hypercar which offers a hybrid-electric propulsion engine which would result in much greater fuel effeciency are illustrated. It is this lean thinking which the authors think will revolutionize the industrial sector, making for the greatest breakthroughs since the microchip revolution. What is most heartening is that major companies such as Ford Motor Company and Carrier Air Conditioning are adopting these practices and making them work. They are doing so because it saves money and provides them with endless growth possibilities. The authors support the lease-use system which puts the onus on the manufacturer to produce better products and maintain them throughout their service to the user, the so called "cradle to cradle" concept. New materials are resulting in much lighter and more efficient components that would reduce our dependency on foreign oil, and in time phase out petroleum products all together. Too good to be true you might say, but this is the shape of things to come once we get past the tired old dogmas that have greatly limited our economic potential. The authors show how regressive tax policies and federal subsidies have greatly handicapped our productivity and they encourage political leaders to rethink the way we hand out incentives for better business practice. This book will give you a whole new lease on life, and encourage you to rethink the way you live.
Most of us realize that our current economy works by converting raw materials into useful products, which are used and then discarded. Business carries little or none of the cost of the nonrenewable resources used to create these goods, nor the cost to bury them when they're used up. In a finite world, this cannot go on forever, but no one wants to give up the good things the current system has brought us. How can we switch to something sustainable and still keep improving our quality of life? Natural Capitalism finds the answer in heavy use of computer automation in manufacturing, distribution, disposal, etc. plus requiring the government to cease subsidizing waste and starting to charge for hidden costs (e.g. road use). The authors apply this formula across several different industries and bolster their case with countless examples from real life. Refreshingly, they take the view that we can make all the needed changes gradually and mostly using methods already developed. The authors possibly exaggerate risks of things like global warming, nuclear power, and genetic engineering, but, as their plans call for avoiding all three, this is a side issue. Topic summaries at the start of each chapter make this a great reference book - finding any topic for rereading requires little more than a quick skim. Well indexed and rich with references, it earns the right to be taken seriously.
Just a couple comments and caveats to add not covered in the in-depth Spotlight Reviews. First, this book is absolutely loaded with stats and data and provides a more rigerous, academic treatment of working towards more sustainable way to grow businesses and communities. The fact that the references at the end go on for 55 pages attest to this level of detail!). Given that the authors are from one of the most prominent "think tanks" of eco-capitalism - The Rocky Mountain Institute - explains this level of detail and expertise. But, it really can come across as a "brain dump" where every fact the authors knew of are piled into the chapters (whose origins are earlier position papers). So, if you really need hard data and lots of factoids, this book is a top, well-researched and dependable reference.
Another missed opportunity is its rather ineffective and non-visual layout - just page after page of small text (uhh). So much more could have been done to lay out the chapter divisions in an easier-to-read format. Like mining gold nuggets from tons of ore, extracting the main points from this tapestry of various position papers takes sifting through tons of text - and it is a voluminous text. But, if you are serious about this topic, this is one of the prominent, "must-have" references.
Alternatively, a somewhat less detailed, more headlined overview of "eco-capitalism" (the environmental crisis, renewable energy, hydrogen economy, eco-efficiency, sustainable cities and overall environmental economics) is ECO-ECONOMY by Lester R. Brown. It gives the reader an excellent overview of the problem and potential solutions along with a strong dose of both reality and inspiriation. Not all experts make great writers, but Brown seems to be both.
One of the best, most interesting and informative books I've ever read. Anyone looking to read about the countless opportunities to improve our environment should read this book. You'll learn how you, every citizen, every business, and every government can make a change for the better...both environmentally and economically. This book doesn't get partisan politically and is not a downer saying that the sky is falling and we're all doomed. It does point out the many problems that we have brought on ourselves, but most of the book is spent explaining how we can all work together to reverse those problems. Concrete solutions are provided as well as detailed explanations as to how to achieve those solutions and how/why they benefit the economy as well as the environment. The book may be 10 years old, but it seems brand new since so little of its advice has been implemented as a result of, amongst other things, the severe irresponsibility that came from our leadership in D.C. over much of the past decade. This book should be required reading for every citizen, business person and politician (although, since it's not a quick, easy read, some readers will require patience and a dictionary).