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Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defence Of Growth, Progress, Industry And Stuff

4.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1782799603
ISBN-10: 1782799605
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"In an age of wilting ambition and self-imposed frugality, Leigh Phillips has written an important rallying cry for both the desirability and possibility of a radically better future. Against the austerity of neoliberalism and the austere life of the 'small is beautiful' crowd, Phillips reasserts our capacity to go beyond parochial constraints. This is a work that deserves to be read widely." - Nick Srnicek, co-author of Inventing the Future and the Accelerationist Manifesto

"As erudite as it is justifiably polemical. Leigh Phillips takes no prisoners. The book should be titled "Manifesto for the Green Jacobins", and read in the spirit of The Holy Family, Or a Critique of Critical Criticism about the Bauers. A refreshing antidote to technological pessimism. Cures intellectual drowsiness." - Calestous Juma, Director of the Science, Technology and Globalization Project at the Havard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

About the Author

Leigh Phillips is a science and EU affairs journalist who has written for Nature, the Guardian, the New Statesman, and Jacobin.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Zero Books (October 30, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782799605
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782799603
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #663,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read this book to get an idea of what some valid Marxist/leftist responses would be to the growing degrowth movement.
However, I was seriously disappointed.
While the book does provide a good survey of environmental issues, on the whole, the analysis fails to be self-consistent.
Apart from many nit-picky problems I could highlight (at a rate of about 2 per page--which can get draining) I had two overall issues with the claims Phillips made.
First--poor treatment of the term growth, and by extension, economic growth. This was the only definition of growth that I could find:

"Of course, one might argue that I'm being far too loose with the terms growth, progress, and invention, which begin to blur here. But then, as well they should, as perhaps what it means to be human is to invent, to progress, to grow. To constantly strive for an improvement in our condition. To overcome all barriers in our way."

For a book with the subtitle, "A defense of growth, progress, industry and stuff", it's a bit of a cop out if your definition of growth simply falls back to "any Good Thing that has existed, ever."
This poor defense of growth was also rooted in a very poor treatment of the degrowth position. While he did list some degrowth scholars out there, he clearly did not do his research and engage with the literature, which is incredibly diverse and holds many different positions--from more apolitical to more political, defining degrowth as shrinking the economy to using it simply as a critique of the idea of economic growth.
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(Review has been edited by a less frenzied, chagrined reviewer who wrote one in complete haste). Zero Books goes into murky territory, publishes Occupado-style primer that careens from left to center and back again, but is a strong polemic. Phillips has serious social science chops, but seems to be in the dreamy phase where all of humanity's problems can be managed to a wonderful betterment.
Although the book initially enraged me, with its highly debatable assertion that humans have marvelous control over their political economy, and has some deeply disturbing tendencies to the "ecomodernist" Breakthrough Institute greenwashers, Phillips has the gift of courage and dedication, and he skewers much of the Jensenite ilk with panache. Phillips is not a righty, he is not a greenwasher, as I charged before, and he takes on extremely relevant and serious topics with verve, so he should be read widely with appreciation and engagement, as kind of a more cantankerous and political Ozzie Zehner. I am happy to have bought the book, despite my enduring disagreement.
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For years I've watched in dismay as environmental doom narratives push people away from viable solutions and constructive action on important issues of climate and natural areas. Many people end up in a fetal position and retreating from the challenges in unhelpful ways. Phillips shows that it doesn't have to be this way.

In addition to hilarious assessments of "turnip whisperers" and "scythe-botherers" who demand an end to civilization as we know it—in complete disregard to some neighbors on our planet who haven't had the chance to try out the health and wealth that the doom-sayers have been lucky to enjoy while growing up—there are helpful critiques of contemporary philosophical claims of the enviro thought leaders. The inconsistencies and half-baked conclusions become apparent. The rejection of technology these leaders demand, which could help us address our challenges, is framed in these misconceptions.

It was also illuminating to me to see the connections between some very conservative (even facsist) ideological roots of anti-growth, anti-immigrant, anti-urban, and sepia-toned rural nostalgia perspectives that provided foundational concepts for today's greens and organizations like the Soil Association.

It was a fun read, yet provided important awareness of the bleakness and unhelpful calls of retreat that drown out effective actions.

Edit to add: I should also say I found this very hopeful. If the enviro leaders managed to wrest the direction of the narrative in the past away from influences like the anti-immigrant strains, those of us who think technology can benefit the planet have a chance at turning the current tide in constructive ways going forward. Let's do it.
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Phillips provides one of the few voices to outline what I call a "climate-stabilized modernity". Today we have denialists on the right, and on the left many who would seek to undermine modern society altogether. In contrast Phillips calls for a centrist and democratic activism designed to maintain and extend the best of civilization, while rapidly installing the infrastructure of a post-carbon world.

His use of the "democratically planned economy" concept needs study and perhaps revision. Intensively planned economics can become stifling, but that is not to say governments cannot or should not attempt to tailor market activities to foster low-carbon outcomes. Definitely a nexus for vigorous debate.

Overall an important addition to the literature related to climate action. Highly recommended.
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