Book review: Hard choices for a soft landing

CUSJ member Philip Symons’ concise guide, Surviving Civilization’s Collapse, explores humanity’s history, its quirky psyche, and its options for survival.

I recently attended a small group video presentation (Regeneration by Daniel Wahl) and discussion on the subject of climate change. It was evident from the reactions of the attendees, that for some (activists and news junkies) the climate crisis was a familiar problem that they had been actively addressing, while for others, the prospect of massive death of our own species in the foreseeable future was something that they had previously not considered. In this latter group, the comments were all along the lines of “What can we do?”

Philip Symons’ little guidebook, which can be read in a couple of hours, was made for members of that second group, who have likely been concentrated on their lives and families, without the luxury or inclination to study this issue. Symons provides examples of societies that failed, and some that succeeded. If you have already read Jared Diamond’s Collapse, then skip ahead to Chapter 5 of Symons’ book, which looks at some possible solutions as follows:

  1. Strengthen democracy. Symons looks at municipal, provincial, federal and world governance mechanisms, and some of the lessons here are: get involved in local decision-making processes and community groups; oppose trade deals like NAFTA; oppose corporate hegemony and fight for electoral reform away from our First-past-the-post system. (Tip: PEI and Québec are the provinces to watch… Québec premier François Legault has taken steps to legislate proportional representation, while PEI leaders say they will respect the will of voters on this issue.)
  2. Promote equal distribution of wealth. Here, Symons’ suggestions will be familiar to garden-variety activists: limit extremes of inequality through effective taxation; tackle tax havens; raise the minimum wage; introduce basic income. CUSJ’s 2019 AGM keynote speaker will provide many insights on this broad topic.
  3. Encourage global population reduction. I differ with Symons on the inclusion of this one. It is obvious that there is a correlation between too many humans and too much CO2, but the “obvious” solutions that come to mind–suicide, infanticide, used in some primitive cultures–are in fact not viable options here and now. Author Paul Ehrlich started exploring the subject of overpopulation decades ago, and over time his opinion evolved, so that his later book, One With Nineveh: Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future concluded counter-intuitively, that focussing on equalizing the prospects of all humans is the best way to reduce overpopulation (prosperous, egalitarian societies naturally produce less children). But we don’t time to wait for population numbers to fall “organically”!
  4. Mitigate climate change and the impact of fossil fuels. This is a good one. Stop building pipelines. Stop destroying forests and plant trees… many trees. Go plant a tree now, if possible.

I encourage CUSJ members to buy this book and to read it. It is eminently readable (Symons’ writing skills having been honed by many years as editor of JUSTnews), and the elegant presentation includes some beautiful color photos, plus handy graphs and charts. If your church would like to order this book for your congregation, the best way to proceed is to contact your local independent bookstore and ask them to order it. This way you avoid paying postage. Bookshops and individuals can order the book at:

2 thoughts on “Book review: Hard choices for a soft landing”

  1. It’s a gem of a book and a hopeful and humourous summary Cym – the ‘h’ words are also in the subtitle of Philip Symons’ incisive and highly readable book. We have immediate and long-term choices to make in our individual and collective lives. United We Stand- Divided We Fall!

    I hope many U.U.s buy this ‘made in Canada’ by a fellow U.U. book!


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