Book Review – “THE WORLD WE’LL LEAVE BEHIND, Grasping the Sustainability Challenge”

by Jon Barrance, June 2018

Since last year I have been attending Tuesday evening seminars at Bath University arranged by I-SEE, the Institute for Sustainability Energy and the Environment. They have all been by people with an important professional stake in their subject and I have found them always informative and thought provoking. Recently I attended one given by the authors of this book in which they gave an insight into their process and motivation for writing it plus some thoughts on who they were writing it for and how it might be used. As a result I purchased a copy of the book and have been reading it.

I have to say that it is not one of those books that set out to inspire with a vision, narrative and solutions for a better world. Initially that caused me some disappointment. But to be fair I should not have expected that – the authors had clearly stated at the seminar and do so in their introduction that it is a book to be dipped into as the reader’s interest takes them. So I decided to test it out in that way to see if it would help me with preparation for attending an upcoming workshop on the future of farming in the UK.

The book has 55 short chapters laid out in three sections – Issues, Concepts and Strategies.

I selected “Eating meat” from the Issues. Here I found in just 3 well written pages the issues familiar to me – the high emissions associated with livestock compared with equivalent protein crops; the much better land use efficiency of crops over livestock; that a better diet contains less meat but that it should contain some; and the ethical and animal welfare concerns that are paramount to some people. In addition I learnt that meat production is heavily subsidised worldwide with cattle subsidies in the EU of about $190 per cow, and that there is an argument for eating meat with a clear conscience if the animal has lived, fed, and died well. There are useful references and links at the end of each chapter, but not an overwhelming number.

Moving on to Concepts I read three chapters – “Valuing the Environment”, “Sustainable Development”, and “Development”. Each of these introduced me to some new ways of looking at things. I have strong ideas about what I value about my environment, what I consider to be sustainable development, and what development is. The contribution of this book is to give a broader summary of each topic from a wide range of different viewpoints, and to present it in a brief and readable manner. It was intriguing that the environment could include the virtual as well as the real, that sustainable could include wants as well as needs, and to read about the attempts to measure the value of development in meaningful ways.

Finally I read the chapter “Feeding 10 billion”. This chapter does much more than introduce and discuss Malthus, the attempts since then to limit population, and why his theory has up until now not been realised. It also tackles the possibility that we might be approaching a finite limit to the amount of food that the world can produce and some of the other factors governing population growth. It brought home to me that the recently introduced Universal Credit system that restricts benefits to a maximum of 2 children is unlikely to have any effect on reducing the number of children born to claimants thereby pushing them into even greater poverty. The chapter ends chillingly “The ghost of Malthus, meanwhile, is standing in the wings to say ‘I told you so'”.

I have gone on to read many other chapters as the occasion has arisen. Each one has been an easy and enjoyable read: concise, informative and with a short list of references for further study. I have 9 grandchildren and am struck by the recurring theme throughout the book of meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations. For me the book has helped me prepare for the workshop and has been good value in doing so. At a discounted price of £23.50 in paperback, however, it is expensive for today’s students as was expressed by some at the seminar. With that one reservation I would recommend it to all but the most erudite scholar.

The World We'll Leave Behind: Grasping the Sustainability Challenge (Paperback) book cover

“THE WORLD WE’LL LEAVE BEHIND, Grasping the Sustainability Challenge”
William Scott and Paul Vare
First published 2018 by Greenleaf Publishing/Routledge

Abstract: It is now clear that human activity has influenced how the biosphere supports life on Earth, and given rise to a set of connected environmental and social problems. The core dilemma of our time is: How can we all live well, now and in the future, without compromising the ability of the planet to enable us all to live well?
William Scott is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Bath, and is Chair of Trustees of the UK’s National Association for Environmental Education. He was director of the university’s Centre for Research in Education and the Environment, and founding editor of the Routledge journal Environmental Education Research. His research focuses on the role of learning in sustainable development, on the contributions that education (viewed broadly) can make to this, and on the problems of researching the effectiveness of such activities. He has a particular interest in the idea and practice of sustainable schools and universities, and has written extensively about these. In particular, he hopes that such institutions will take sustainability seriously through what they teach and how they operate as institutions, but not to the extent of disempowering people by telling them how to live their lives or what values to hold. He blogs on issues to do with sustainability and learning at: Paul Vare is Postgraduate Research Lead for the School of Education at the University of Gloucestershire, he is also a founder director of The South West Learning for Sustainability Coalition, a network of over 130 organisations. Before joining the higher education sector four years ago, Paul worked for over 35 years in environmental education and education for sustainable development (ESD) in various settings, chiefly on international development projects. For over a decade Paul represented European ECO Forum, an NGO coalition, on various expert groups of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) drafting the UNECE Strategy for ESD, a set of ESD indicators and recommendations for ESD educator competences. He is currently leading an EU-funded project that is developing a competence framework for educators to be used to support qualifications in a broad range of contexts.


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