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It's time we started living on Earth
as if we want to stay

Book Review by Roy LaBerge
from the The CCPA Monitor October 2006.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Life, Money and Illusion, Living on Earth as if we want to stay
by Mike Nickerson, Seven Generations Publishing, Lanark, ON, 2006, $19.95 plus postage and handling.

Might the goal of sustainability more effectively meet the challenges of our time than the goal of perpetual economic expansion? Life, Money and Illusion: Living on Earth as if we want to stay answers that question with an emphatic "yes!"

Author Mike Nickerson contrasts two schools of thought, one devoted to "life" and the other to "money." Life is the biological perspective. It sees humans as just one part of the planet's diverse biology. Money is the material perspective. It is fixated on long-term financial growth.

According to the "money" perspective, "the dynamics of supply and demand in the marketplace will detect most problems and adjust price in a way that will solve them... As long as our economic system is expanding, we will have the financial means to address any problems that are not automatically corrected by the market."

According to the "life" perspective, long-term well-being requires "stabilizing the overall ability and tolerances of Earth's life-supporting systems." The "life" perspective also requires social justice: "If the system does not include everyone, those left out will have no choices for supporting their lives besides taking from others or encroaching further on already stressed ecosystems."

Nickerson points out one area in which we can grow indefinitely, and that is the development of ourselves: "There is no doubt that we need concrete material goods in the form of food, clothing, and shelter. When these are not available, their provision is totally preoccupying. However, once we have enough of these material basics, to be healthy and to have the sense to know that we will not be wanting for them next week or next month, there are other possibilities for personal fulfilment that do not involve more 'things.' Once necessities are covered, there is reason to believe that an afternoon with a friend can be more rewarding than another basket of consumer goods."

Many environmentalists, climatologists, and other scientists have sounded the alarm about the effects of continuing economic expansion, including the Club of Rome in its 1974 Limits of Growth report and the UN's World Commission on Environment and Development, which produced the 1987 Bruntland Report, Our Common Future. In 1992, the U.S. National Academy of Science and Britain's Royal Society issued a joint statement warning of the need to accommodate biological limits. In that same year, a similar warning came from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which included 80% of all living Nobel Prize winners in Science. And in 1995, the International Panel on Climate Change also issued a call to action to counteract the world's ecological deterioration.

Now we have an even more strongly worded warning from a writer who, though lacking the international renown and credentials of previous eminent alarm-raisers, is nevertheless as well-informed and articulate. Nickerson is the founder of the Institute for the Study of Cultural Evolution, and author of Bakavi: Change the World I Want to Stay On, in which he explained the basic goal of sustainability. He lives with his wife, Donna, and teenage daughter in eastern Ontario's Lanark County, where he supports his studies and writing by designing and building custom furniture

Unlike many books authored by academics and specialists, Life, Money and Illusion is written in lucid and compelling language. Nickerson describes how humans moved from a state of harmony with their environment to become greedy over-consumers of resources and degraders of the environment, and does so with insights from a variety of academic disciplines, including history, economics, political science, physiology, geography, geophysics, chemistry, ecology, forestry, and nutrition - all expressed in easily understood prose.

It is possible that "experts" with university degrees in the relevant disciplines may dispute some details of Nickerson`s work, but they will find it very difficult - should they be so inclined - to find fault with his overall conclusions about life and money.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines "illusion" as "misapprehension of the true state of affairs." It was in a state of illusion that the world failed to respond to all the earlier warnings. Nickerson`s Life, Money and Illusion merits a wide readership. No one who reads it will be left with any illusion about the kind of future humanity faces if "money" continues to be our society's predominate driving force. Nickerson outlines the steps that have to be taken to help "life" replace "money" as the goal of both public policy and private enterprise.

The author spent 10 years researching and writing Life, Money and Illusion. A list acknowledging the persons who assisted him runs to three-and-a-half pages. The book includes an excellent 10-page bibliography and an eight-page analytical index.

(Roy LaBerge is an Ottawa-based free-lance writer and communications specialist.)

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Last Update: September 1, 2006