Review of Radical Simplicity
by Jim Merkel and
The Triple Crisis of Civilization: Finite Resources, Population Growth, Eco-devastation (Survival Handbook)
“Merkel’s passion for creating a more humane world shines through on every page. A real inspiration,” where the words of Janet Luhrs, author of The Simple Living Guide and Simple Loving. Jim Merkel a military engineer by profession quit his position after the Exxon Valdez disaster, which occurred on March 24 1989. Jim devoted much of his life to develop tools for personal and societal sustainability. He also founded the Global Living Project (GLP) in 1996 as a proactive response to poverty, war, climate change and ecological destruction (www.radicalsimplicity.org/glp_history.html, 2010). His intention for establishing the GLP project was to learn from and create inspiring examples of wholesome, sustainable lifestyles. The book under review entitled “Radical Simplicity” is a product of such efforts. Jim also directs the Global Living Project that consults wit campuses and municipalities and offers workshops and lectures.
In this paper, I will be presenting in summary what I have learned from reading the book “Radical Simplicity” over the fall 2010 as part of the required readings for my Energy Conservation class with Professor Glenn D’Alessio. The book was written in 2003 and the New Society Publishers located in Gabriola Island in Canada did its sixth printing in 2009. Vicki Robin forwarded his book, a well-known co-author along with Joe Dominguez of the National bestseller “Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationships With Money and Achieving Financial Independence (Viking Penguin 1992). His book “Radical Simplicity” is decided into three parts. The first part of the book dealt with the journey to simplicity, the second part discussed the issues of the three tools and the last section of his book talks about the process of integration. Each of these parts is divided into chapters, which discussed the theme of the section under various sub-headings.
Part I discussed the journey to simplicity within the context of three distinct, but interrelating chapters. Chapter one discussed the proposal for building the case for global living in which he talked about how much resources we consume, if we are provided with a scenario to choose. He provoked his readers by asking the questions of “how much is enough to leave for your neighbors behind you in the line?” He furthered asserted based on evidence that resources that we consume here in the United States are extracted from other regions around the world. He also pointed out some of the perceptions that developed in our mind as we are face with opportunities in which we case we find ourselves in the first position to participate in taking what we think is best for us. Without doubt some of us will be so greedy enough that we will consume, abuse and waste these resources while others suffer in need. He also discussed the issues of how products we consume here in the United States and other countries have huge negative impact on the environment. He also asked the question to the readers “have you ever wondered where the pressure to consume comes from? He also goes on by asking “does the rush of modern culture keep you plunging forward on the same unquestioned path day after day” (Merkel 2003). He also went about discussing the impacts that the corporate media society has on the people of the United States by stating some statistical facts and these include: 99.5 percent of households in the United States have access to televisions; 95 percent of the US population watches TV everyday; the average home has a TV on for eight hours a day. The average adult in the US watches for five hours; children between ages two and five watch for three and a half hours; and adults over 55 years of age watches TV for nearly six hours. American ways of life has been characterized by watching TV. People spend more time watch TV then reading the local newspaper. He also pose the challenging question that if we want a sustainable future, then sharing Earth with all is humanity’s only compassionate, long-term choice (Merkel 2003). He concluded that section with the assertion based on empirical evidence that “our intellect, backed by the best of science, concludes that economic growth on a finite planet is suicide (Merkel 2003). In chapter three, he also lamented on the question about what could be learned from the native people who inhabited the land around San Luis Obispo.
In Part II, he discussed the issues of the three roots. Under five sub-headings including: sharing the Earth (Chapter 4), Getting Started (chapter 5), the first tool-ecological foot printing (chapter 6), the second tool-Your Money or Your Life (chapter 7) and the third tool learning from nature (chapter 8). Merkel proposes that in sharing the Earth, it is expedient for us to re-adjust certain daily practices and these include earning less, taking less of the available work, consuming less, making wiser choices and purchasing local products.
In 1902, the world’s population was around 1.6 billion people (Merkel 2003) as of 1926 the world’s population was around 2 billion people. The current world population is about 6.8 billion people with one in every five person being Chinese. The issue of Intergenerational Equity was also discussed in this section. This theory propose that, “the overall system; that is, the planet’s carrying capacity or capital would hereafter be drawn down and as such, consuming more than our average share, the difference would be paid by other animals and plants in the environment. The Earth is responsible for producing tremendous amount of life each year (Merkel 2003). Humanity at present takes about 20 percent more than is being produced and this could subsequently lead to wearing down the Earth’s systems. He challenge his audience to make a decision for a sustainable future by provoking them to answer these questions, if it be wise to scale back our annual take to help the overworked systems rebound (Merkel 2003). He further suggested, “We can either err on the side of caution or gamble with our children’s future (Merkel 2003). He also adopted the redefining progress, July 2002 by facilitating the process in calculating our ecological footprint, a system that can allow us to calculate our ecological footprint for what we have consumed in relation to what other people use and to what is available on the planet.
The third part of the book dealt with integration. This section is sub-divided into four chapters. These include: applying the change (chapter 9), the wiseacre challenge (chapter 10), the one hundred year plan (chapter 11), and toward a sustainable future (12). In chapter nine, he also listed some common stages to follow when an individual encounters pressures and these include the unconscious unsustainability, conscious unsustainability, conscious sustainability, and unconscious sustainability. The process of using the four above strategies to handle stress can be difficult to follow.
He also demonstrated how to calculate the monthly footprint of the energy we use and the results can also be used to compare with other equipments that we currently have. This methodology can allow us to be sensitive about electrical appliances we purchase for our homes, schools, colleges and universities, after-school programs, church, mosque, and entertainment centers.
Merkel also provided helpful hints in process of relocating our families of belongings. Some of his establish criteria for location selection includes the followings: is housing affordable, can I grow food there, is there area safe for our children, will I have a social network of family and friends and enough like-minded people to help keep me inspired, are the streets safe for cycling and walking, can I access nature under my own propulsion, is it a decent place to nurture my life’s work, are the air, land and water healthy and will you be there in 50 years. By placing ourselves where we actually want to be, we are making contextual efforts to sustainability.
In conclusion, Merkel’s book is a productive, resourceful, thought-provoking document that presents the reality of sustainability, what it involves and how we can start to address the issues of climate change and global warming by thinking locally, buying local food, using public transportation, carpool, and eating organic food substances. On an individual basis, it is great for us to drive less, bike a lot during the summer as oppose to driving or walking. Even small things like turning off our electrical appliances could safe us a lot of money, time and other resources.
It is now time for us to save the environment and the Earth by changing our perception and desire as to how we use these resources. It is surprising to note that about 25 percent of the World’s population consume about 80 percent of the world’s wealth, while, at the same time, about 85 percent of the World’s population struggle to survive on about 15 percent of the world’s wealth. Saving the environment as Merkel pointed our in his book should be our paramount concern here in the United States and we should continue to support this effort by drastically changing some aspects our lifestyles that has caused or is causing us to consume more.
The Triple Crisis of Civilization: Finite Resources, Population Growth, Eco-devastation (Survival Handbook) is an interesting piece of paper with diverse views on the issues that each discussed. The paper seeks to summarize the complex, interwoven, imminent multiple crisis that humanity is faced with. The paper also suggested that “energy” as we know it to be is considered to be finite; that is, energy at some point in human history will be depleted. This depletion process of energy, which has already begun is a serious and significant issue that when it is not addressed could cause the cessation and total depletion of oil. The paper is an attempt to sub name the vast information sources including books, websites, and news articles.
As of 2005, it became very clear that oil production could not continue to satisfy. It has been reported that about 75 million barrels per day of conventional oil has not been exceed into 2007 (Survival Handbook). The issue of “Peak Oil” has now been approved and it is no longer considered a theory. About 40 percent of our energy consumption comes from oil while natural gas (23%) and coal (23%).
We have become addicted to oil and its consumption, because almost all our industries still operate and use oil and coal is release a significant amount of CO2 emissions.
About 10,000 years ago humans were hunters and gatherers. They used very limited resources and had little impacts on the environment of their world. However, this trend changed as human societies generated advanced from the hunters and gatherers system to agricultural productivity when humans now started to domesticate and cultivate animals and plants respectfully. As a result of that system, the human population became to increased. With the introduction of the Industrial Revolution, advance tools and equipments were bought. The use of machines created the opportunities to cultivate large hectares of land. Currently, the world’s population stands at about 6.8 million people. Over the past 50 years, the world’s population increases dramatically posing immense pressure on the available resources.