I have always thought labeling something as a “thought exercise” was a convenient way to describe a book where the technical writing components were lacking relative to an interesting viewpoint. It was something that got thrown around a lot when I was a graduate student in history for books that had obviously begun their lives as dissertations and read as such.
Jonathon Porritt’s The World We Made: Alex McKay’s Story from 2050 is a thought exercise that manages to be technically competent without losing its core theme of hope for the future of our planet.
The idea is simple: we remade the world in a sustainable way by 2050.
It is a hopeful idea. Instead of the world crashing into some apocalyptic miasma, people and their leaders got off their collective asses to make positive change for the planet writ large. The theme being that if it is good for the planet it is fundamentally good for the people who live on the planet. Stunning stuff, but pretty much basic thought for people who want to move beyond measuring everything’s value in dollars and cents.
The organization of the book is broken into sections that deal with a certain topic—e.g. solar proliferation, travel, etc.—in bite size or quick read chunks. This is not a book you need to sit down and devote massive amounts of attention. I sat down and read through a few sections at a time in between my children fighting over which Legos were each other’s. Is winter over yet?
Some of the book reads a little Pollyanna-esque in that it imagines a world where we all sort of come to the same conclusion about sustainability at the same time. And act accordingly. I tend to think that the world will come to this conclusion, but it will occur much more rapidly in certain places and may never reach other places due to a variety of factors.
On the continuum of hope for the future, The World We Made is on the far end of optimistic with a movie like Mad Max being at the other end. I tend to think that the future looks a lot more like the one portrayed in The World Made by Hand, but I am hopeful that we can craft a future that is a little less bleak.
In some ways, I wished that this book read more like Max Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. That is to say I wish it were more like a first-person narrative tour through a remade world and less a catalog like the old Worldchanging encyclopedia that every Eco-conscious person I know has on their bookshelf.
Nonetheless, I think that The World We Made is useful for making a person consider what the future could be like without losing hope. Pick it up at your local library—because buying a copy for ~$40 seems a little steep—and dream about a planet where sustainability is the metric we use to determine utility and solar panels proliferate.