We live today in a global web of interdependence, connected technologically, economically, politically, and socially. As a result of these expanding and deepening interdependencies, it has become impossible fully to control – or foretell – the effects of our actions. The world is rife with unintended consequences. Wall Street's reckless investment in toxic assets recently produced massive defaults and a global economic recession. Our attachment to fossil energy is producing a climate default. The first law of human ecology – which declares that we can never do merely one thing – is a truth we ignore at our peril.
In Indra's Net and the Midas Touch, Leslie Paul Thiele explores the impact of interdependence and unintended consequences on our pursuit of sustainability. Unfortunately, good intentions provide no antidote to the law of unintended consequences, and proffered cures often prove worse than the disease. Biofuels developed for the purpose of cutting carbon emissions, for example, have had the unintended effect of cutting off food supplies to the needy and cutting down rainforests.
The challenge we face is to be ingenious and adaptive in our pursuit of sustainability. But we cannot simply invent our way out of our ecological and economic crisis. Rather, we must fundamentally transform our patterns of thinking and behavior. Thiele offers the intellectual and moral foundations for this transformation, drawing from ecology, ethics, technology, economics, politics, psychology, physics, and metaphysics. Awareness of our interconnectedness, he writes, stimulates creativity and community; it is a profound responsibility and a blessing beyond measure.
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Leslie Paul Thiele is Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Director of Sustainability Studies at the University of Florida. He is the author of Environmentalism for a New Millennium: The Challenge of Coevolution, The Heart of Judgment: Practical Wisdom, Neuroscience, and Narrative, and other books.