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We are living beyond our means, running up debts both economic and ecological, consuming the planet's resources at rates not remotely sustainable. But it's hard to imagine a different way. How can we live without cheap goods and easy credit? How can we consume without consuming the systems that support life? How can we live well and live within our means?
In Treading Softly, Thomas Princen helps us imagine an alternative. We need, he says, a new normal, an ecological order that is actually economical with resources, that embraces limits, that sees sustainable living not as a "lifestyle" but as a long-term connection to fresh, free-flowing water, fertile soil, and healthy food. The goal would be to live well by living well within the capacities of our resources.
Princen doesn't offer a quick fix – there's no list of easy ways to save the planet to hang on the refrigerator. He gives us instead a positive, realistic sense of the possible, with an abundance of examples, concepts, and tools for imagining, then realizing, how to live within our biophysical means.
Thomas Princen is the author of The Logic of Sufficiency and lead editor of Confronting Consumption, both published by the MIT Press and both winners of the International Studies Association's Harold and Margaret Sprout Award for best book on international environmental affairs. He teaches social and ecological sustainability at the University of Michigan.
"As the epoch of seemingly limitless expansion comes to an end, Treading Softly represents an important springboard for debate about what comes next. It finds an appropriate balance of 'realistic hope,' going beyond the easy answers so often put forward in environmental debates. Above all, it succeeds in encouraging readers to imagine a possible new world, and in emboldening us to get to work in creating it."
- Anders Hayden, Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy
"Tom Princen has provided the book we all need to read at this critical moment. Princen explains not only the severity of the environmental crisis, but also obstacles to real solutions, in a level-headed accessible way that is inspiring rather than overwhelming. He encourages readers to challenge core assumptions about the way our economy works – assumptions that are undermining the planet, our communities, and the very economy itself and are limiting our thinking about real solutions. By replacing these long held myths with a clearer understanding of what is needed, he argues for a 'new normal' – a new way of organizing and understanding our economy that sustains rather than erodes the planet on which we all depend. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to chart a different path and is tired of the parade of gloom-and-doom environmental booksit is full of hope and vision for how we can, indeed must, do things differently."
- Annie Leonard, writer and host of The Story of Stuff
"This is an eloquent and impassioned book. It is clearly written, lacks confounding academic artifice, and conveys a message that is simultaneously simple and profound."
- Maurie J. Cohen, New Jersey Institute of Technology