Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben

For Baltimore Green Week (April 28 – May 2) I read:

Click here to read my entry about my desire to read these books. Also, you can click here to read my entries about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and here to read those about The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Today I’d finally like to share with you what I’ve learned from McKibben‘s Deep Economy.

Overall, this book makes me think of Small Giants: Companies that Choose to be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham, which also preaches the idea that growth for the sake of growth does not work for everyone. Deep Economy takes it a step further and states that growth for the sake of growth is unsustainable, that it does not make us happy, and that it is and will continue to lead to growing instability and insecurity.

Chapter Two (The Year of Eating Locally) is a lot like Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. McKibben discusses CSAs (community supported agriculture) and after reading these three books I’m fairly certain that I will finally join a local CSA in Maryland.

I was surprised at how much Deep Economy related not just to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Omnivore’s Dilemma (they share many common examples — Farmer’s Diner – and sources) but also to all the books I’ve been reading about Positive Psychology. In fact, McKibben quotes Martin Seligman (author of Authentic Happiness) several times and quotes Happiness: Lessons from a New Science by Richard Layard with even greater frequency! It’s even related to Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods (Salmon Nation was mentioned a few times).

Interestingly, McKibben (like Seligman) bashes on the rational economics theory, which was the focus of The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World by Tim Harford and which I really enjoyed reading!

Still, I really liked how Deep Economy contains so many facts. McKibben just packs them in, sometimes up to 10 per page and for a scientist like me, I find that very convincing.

Totally shocking to me (but really should have been so obvious) is that food produced in Cuba is organic by default due to the embargoes placed on the country. Also surprising was the fact that countries with Wal-marts are poorer than those without Wal-marts and the calculation of the economic value of ecosystem services (pollination, decomposition, etc.) at $33 trillion!

I found this paragraph from the last chapter (The Durable Future), which illustrates that “growth” cannot always be measured in pure economic terms, particularly interesting:

. . . a few people tried cleverness instead of force. Dried water hyacinth makes a superb bed for growing mushrooms. The mushrooms, sold across the region, “are particularly rich in potassium, magnesium, iodine, and calcium,” and the system is small and cheap, perfect for microfinance schemes that give peasants small loans. Meanwhile, the cultivation of mushrooms breaks up the cellulose in the water hyacinth, leaving a medium perfect for raising earthworms, who in turn, produce a high-quality humus that can be used instead of synthetic fertilizer. Chickens feed on the worms, providing eggs, and chicken droppings supply the biogas digester, which in turn reduces the need to cut trees for firewood. Any hyacinth left over can be fed to cattle, whose manure goes right back on the fields.

McKibben mentions that a group of farmers in Detroit are now farming over 10 acres and producing crops such as alfalfa, hay, honey, eggs, milk, goat, and beef cattle. In’t that just wild??! found this Kate Stohr New York Times article titled “In the Capital of the Car, Nature Stakes a Claim” and published December 3, 2003 which gives more information that McKibben provides in Deep Economy. The idea of locally owned food is really growing on me, not just as being more tasty but also as a viable business.

I also learned about cohousing and Ithaca’s Ecovillage from Deep Economy. Cohousing, as described on the official Cohousing website, is:

Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods.

Cohousing residents are consciously committed to living as a community. The physical design encourages both social contact and individual space. Private homes contain all the features of conventional homes, but residents also have access to extensive common facilities such as open space, courtyards, a playground and a common house.

It makes sense that such communities would be more sustainable in terms of energy use, though I’m not sure if I’d really want to live in such a community.

And of course, reading Deep Economy has given me a list of several books that I would like to read:

Whew, look forward to future postings on The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine by Anne Harrington and some postings after I try out some of the recipes from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

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