Our culture has no concept of stopping. We continue to build motorways and airports for a future in which cars and planes may no longer exist. We're converting our planet from a natural one to an artificial one in which the quantity of man-made objects – houses, asphalt, cars, plastic, computers and so on – now exceeds the totality of living matter. And while biomass continues to decline due to deforestation and species extinction, the mass of man-made objects is growing faster than ever. We're on a treadmill to disaster.
To get off this treadmill, argues Harald Welzer, we need to learn how to stop: as individuals and as societies, we need to stop doing what we're doing and say 'enough'. We find it hard to do this because our culture has trained us to regard endless escalation as desirable and we're reluctant to surrender the material benefits of growth. But as long as the expansive cultural model continues to prevail, there will be no change of course in favour of sustainable and climate-friendly practices and lifestyles. We need a cultural model in which the beauty of stopping is given the recognition needed for the project of civilization to continue. Optimising processes that are heading in the wrong direction only makes matters worse.
Stopping is imperative: it is a human cultural technique that we must re-learn. Only then can we achieve a new beginning.
List of Illustrations
I Away from here
II Narratives of stopping, and of life
III Obituary to the rest of my life
IV An immense journey
Harald Welzer is the Director of the Foundation for Sustainability at the University of Flensburg, where he teaches transformation design.
"Contemporary societies are shaped by relentless activity. Even though we know that their current trajectory is unsustainable, we no longer know how to stop and turn matters around. Harald Welzer tries to overcome the opposition between individual action and systemic change by showing how a culture of "stopping" emerges from personal experience and life-course events. This is an enabling book: it suggests that much more is often possible than continuation on a career path."
– Peter Wagner, Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) and University of Barcelona
"I'd be amazed if there's one person anywhere in the world who agreed with every single thing in this book, but that's not the point. The point is this: here, unusually, is someone who really has something to say. His book rings of honesty and unpretentious disclosure. And Welzer is absolutely right: at this desperate moment in human history on this fragile planet, every single one of us needs to think with full seriousness about what we want our own legacy to be. What is your life going to have been for? What do we want to be remembered for? As blinkered narcissists? Or as practical people who dared to dream, who chose not to desecrate their descendants and who were determined to find joy and love in the gloriously quotidian process of our grand little lives? This is the question that Welzer poses unflinchingly to every reader. Don't read this book if you are not ready to look into the mirror"
– Rupert Read, Co-editor of Deep Adaptation and author of Parents for a Future: How Loving Our Children Can Prevent Climate Collapse