Review of “A Finer Future” by Wijkman, Lovins, Fullerton and Wallis


A Finer Future by L. Hunter Lovins, Stewart Wallis, Anders Wijkman, and John Fullerton

Book review
According to the opening line in A Finer Future, “This book is a warning.” Subtitled
creating an economy in service to life, this book is also an expansive vision-giver. What distinguishes A Finer Future from many other books in this field, in my view, is its devotion to providing a powerful, actionable, constructive alternative story to the current fear-focused, anti-neoliberal battle cry so many ardent activists share in attempt to rally environmental action. It is a book that asks us to source from real-world possibilities, rather than desperation and panic. To that end, the book is designed as a guide for those who urgently desire to spur environmental and social justice action towards a regenerative world through the power of storytelling. It also provides in depth discussion of current and possible regenerative initiatives within finance, corporations, agriculture, and energy. A strength of this books is the focus on hopeful actions currently happening – not only possibilities or theoretical solutions. Readers of this journal will enjoy that the book is primary focused on solutions primarily – only one of five sections of the book recounts the problems we, as solution-seekers, likely already see while the remainder of the text endeavors to deal with solutions. And while some of the problem-focused section is rich in data and research about the intensity of the environmental and social challenges we face (deeply rooted in citations), the primary problem highlighted and then tackled in the remainder of the book in the need for a new, compelling narrative to catalyze system change – the highest leverage point for change, a new paradigm for what is possible.

The book is laid out in five sections. Sections one and two focus on the why and how of “buying time” while the remaining three sections offer ways to redesign “how we make and deliver everything.” All three chapters in Section 1 provide the foundation of the book by illustrating the problems we need to address to move towards a more regenerative future and avoid collapse. Rather than purely bombarding the reader with dooming statistics, the authors take a refreshing tact of inviting the reader to imagine living in a future where many of the impending problems have been solved, thusly demonstrating the power of story. The authors claim, “in the absence of positive vision, voices of fear fill the vacuum.” The vision provided is rooted in the authors’ detailed explanation of a regenerative economy – they do not assume the readers have any background on this topic. Section two is a short section detailing specific methods and frameworks for “buying time” through relatively low-hanging fruit including addressing material flows through a circular economy (again no prior knowledge assumed) and through both building and vehicle energy efficiency. The bulk of the solutions in the book are found in Sections four and five titled “Transformation” and “Systems Change” respectively. The chapters in the “transformation” section focus on finance, corporations, agriculture, and solar power with the emphasis that change is currently underway in these arenas. These chapters are densely packed with hope and examples; and they are rich with actionable ideas and fodder for a future that looks very different than the present. (Though notably, in the view of this reviewer, the disruption of crypto-currency was not covered in the finance section.) Ideally, actors in each of these arenas would read their corresponding chapter and find inspiration to make changes. Section four houses fewer examples of mini-revolutionary actions in specific sectors and moves towards examples of “feasible” possibilities for system change through governance actions and policies that the authors claim “have been or are being implemented somewhere on Earth.” The section is a catch-all for many critical topics. In it the authors discuss the imperative of alleviating inequality within and between countries, touch on the topic of how the nature of work will likely evolve as the economy changes, suggest a need for alternative measures of societal success other than growing GDP, call for a global values shift, and offer solutions for broken political systems. It reads as a mini-book on the subjects, concluding with a strong and specific call for action through a catalogue of possible personal behaviors. The final section of the book titled “A Finer Future is Possible” circles back to the necessity of a compelling vision of the future. In this shortest section in the book, the authors chose to give copious space to futurist Alex Steffen’s speech at the The Nature Conservancy’s 2015 annual trustee meeting which opens with “We meet to speak of great ancestors.” Mirror the imagining of a future provided in the first section of the book where “the tide was turned,” the excerpt of the speech is goose-bump inducing and deeply compelling. If you read nothing else in the book, read section 5.

The entire book is infused with the authors’ lively, engaging, and bold tone. Based on this tone, it is likely that the authors would be captivating speakers on the topic! While readers who already agree with the authors may feel enlivened by the occasional brashness of the authors (one example is the out-of-the-blue reference to “America’s Child in Chief”), other readers may be turned off or simply disappointed by such language. Is there a place for name calling or villainizing in a regenerative world? Perhaps the book intends to simply preach to and catalyze the choir, but in doing so it may miss opportunities to recruit new regenerative chorus singers. Contradictorily, the authors also make attempts to drop the villain narrative and be more inclusive by finding fault in “the system we have designed” rather than in “greedy capitalists.” They even claim “This is neither a left wing nor right wing exercise,” but this reviewer is not certain that a person that leans right would find themselves welcome while reading the book. But to be fair, this may not be the purpose of the book! Rather than changing attitudes, the goal of this book may be to spur action in those with attitudes similar to the authors. One the topic of inclusivity, it was significant to this reviewer that with a few exceptions a vast majority of the thinkers highlighted in the quotes that framed each section and each chapter were men (mostly white men). Along this line, readers interested in the gender dimensions of a transition to a “finer future” should not come to this text for ideas or encouragement. Another possible concern about the book is that despite offering examples of solutions from diverse geographical locations, is still reads as EU and particularly US centric. It is clear that an effort was made to be global, but still the bulk of the examples in the book come from the US. Despite this short coming, the authors do highlight solutions a various geographical scales including global, national, regional, municipal, the individual level.

Ultimately, A Finer Future is a confident, accessible, visionary call for a better story of the future. Pulling on many important voices in the field of sustainability and regeneration, the authors provide a detailed and animated vision that ought to be widely heard. The authors fulfil the call from Pete Seeger mentioned in the book that “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.” A Finer Future delivers a compendium of these hopeful stories leaving readers catalyzed to take action.