Natural Capitalism: Creating The Next Industrial Revolution, by Paul Hawken, Amcry Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins
But is it capitalism? About the highest praise I can give this book is that it is not complete rubbish. There are aspects of this book, particularly the way that it encourages a wise environmental stewardship and the skillful use of technology as well as intelligent design to make processes as well as buildings less wasteful. Unfortunately, with that sound advice comes a great deal of writing which is unsound, which repeats tired cliches about the Club of Rome’s limits to growth, with strong bashing of American desires for dispersed settlement and easy personal transportation, with a great deal too much trust in the coercive power of government to enforce dubious actions that would not receive support democratically, and perhaps even the strong hint of Agenda 21 and other unappealing aspects of what is mistakenly viewed as international law. Moreover, the authors praise technologies that have simply not developed or achieved any sort of mainstream use and thus are unable to help create the green paradise the authors desire, although it should be noted that the authors themselves see their political worldview as a combination of blue capitalism, red socialism, and green environmentalism. It may be such a combination, but it is not freedom loving capitalism.
This book of more than 300 pages is divided into fifteen planets. After a preface and acknowledgements the authors hype a supposed next industrial revolution to make the world a more sustainable place (1). This leads to a discussion of hypercars and neighborhoods to rid dependence on driving (2). The authors tackle the subject of waste (3) and how the world can be made a better place (4) through the skillful use of various building blocks that utilize high technology and design principles (5). The authors discuss how some advances can tunnel through the cost barrier that limits savings (6), the way that a great deal of waste (muda) informs a lot of industrial processes (7), and gives a great deal of talking about capital gains (8) as it relates to natural as well as financial capital. The authors write about efficient use of wood fibers (9) and the importance of having sufficient food (10), and also look at solutions to improve water efficiency (11) as well as how to make money off of climate change concerns (12) even if one does not believe in them. Finally the author looks at ways to make markets work better (for whom?) (13) as well as ideals about human capitalism (14) and speculation about the future of our planet (15). The book ends with notes, references, and an index.
This book is not as good as it thinks it is and can be added to a long list of false prophecies that sought to imagine a better world through higher levels of regulation and government coercion in favor of environmentalist goals. The authors show a marked anti-American bias and also evince a desire for America to copy the corrupt and technocratic bureaucracy that one finds in Europe, for example. The authors shower a great deal of praise on technocratic figures like the former mayor of a Brazilian city who showed some ingenuity in how to handle the social crises of the 1980’s and 1990’s there and who then moved on to govern his hometown province. Some of what the authors talk about would be interesting to see, like less wasteful homes and office buildings and factories and even toilets that separate urine and feces in such a way as to increase efficiency, but the authors’ naive belief that the stock of technologies would quickly change in mainstream American society was definitely unfulfilled. There are aspects of this book where the authors’ worldview is deeply abhorrent, and others that are merely evidence of a certain lack of realism in the understanding of sunk costs and in the barriers to innovation that prevent a great many solutions from being successfully implemented. Such are the ways of the world, though.