May 11th, 2010

Review of Andres Edwards’ Thriving Beyond Sustainability

By Rick Medrick

In his new book, Thriving Beyond Sustainability: Pathways to a Resilient Society (2010), Andres Edwards moves well beyond his initial and seminal description of the cultural paradigm change suggested by The Sustainability Revolution (2005) to a much broader and encompassing vision of how the sustainability movement is gaining momentum and credibility.  Based on his initial premise that these shifts were already well underway in fields as diverse as economics, environmental consciousness, and social justice (equity)—the 3 “E’s” of sustainability—Edwards has gone on to ground these in real changes taking place in many segments of our society.  In the earlier work, he documented in detail many of the formalized gatherings and proposals for creating a sustainable presence on our home world.  In this new work, he has created a collective map to show how individuals, organizations, and communities are collaborating to restore ecological health, reinvent outmoded institutions, and revive our social, environmental, and economic systems.

This latest work is the result of many further explorations, interviews, and solicitations from those leading the charge into a future of hope and possibility.  Beginning with an exploration of the influence and teachings of indigenous cultures on our present society, Edwards focuses on what will make our Earth Island survivable for future generations.  There are many examples of cultures and societies who have failed to make this leap into the future.  In this book the author places his attention on those traditional societies that have successfully persisted over time and contributed insights that are valuable to modern efforts at sustainability.  He then moves beyond this grounding in our roots to examine initiatives across the globe that are striving to become more self-reliant in energy conservation, food production, and local services.  It is a natural step from there to look at the greening of commerce in ways that reduce environmental impact and mirror the cycles of natural systems.  This is a much larger endeavor that extends to green building practices, eco-communities, and the design of functional living systems that reflect nature and allow our citizens to live in greater comfort and security.

Edwards then moves on to examine worldwide efforts to restore ecosystems in decline and protect biodiversity.  He identifies five interrelated global trends that command our attention:  ecosystem decline, energy transition, population growth, economic disparity, and climate change.  In his view, all these conditions are converging and present both great challenge and great opportunity.  This provocative treatise explores each of these in turn and suggests courses that might be followed to convert potential dissolution of our existing social and economic systems to great possibilities for creating a new future based on principles that are being tried and tested in a variety of circumstances.  He suggests a new set of strategies which he calls SPIRALS involving initiatives that are: Scalable, Place-making, Intergenerational, Resilient, Accessible, Life-affirming, and Self-care.  The content of this volume explores these characteristics in detail under the context of striving for Thriveability and not just sustainability.  It will take a concerted effort and commitment to move to this new stage of human and social development, but it is a path open to our exploration.

This new concept, thriveability, focuses on a vision of collaboration and abundance where, instead of seeing ourselves separate from nature, we become an integral part of natural systems and embody qualities such as empathy, compassion, and creativity to guide our actions within the human community. This entails a capacity for belief in the human spirit to create new systems of prosperity and peace.  We must begin, he suggests, by healing and greening our own lives and then reaching out to the larger community.  In each chapter in this book, Edwards suggests strategies to bring about this reality and specific actions in which each of us can be engaged.  This is a beautifully written and eloquent plea for us to wake up to our potential and begin to exercise our natural talents for survival.  An extensive resource list at the end provides a wealth of references for further research.  This volume is written in a spirit of hope and promise that, if we are willing to follow a fairly simple and direct path, we indeed can have a viable future.

Edwards, Andres (2010). Thriving beyond sustainability: Pathways to a resiient society.

Gabriola Island, B.C.:  New Society Publishers.

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Comments (1)

  1. Marna Hauk Marna Hauk says:

    Inspired by Rick Medrick’s review, I am excited to delve into Edwards’ new work and explore his concepts of thriving and the SPIRALS criteria (Scalable, Place-making, Intergenerational, Resilient, Accessible, Life-affirming, and Self-care). Medrick and Edwards eloquently articulate the opportunity to focus on Earth-nurturing practices and the gorgeous gamut of solutions flourishing across many critical sectors of human endeavor. It seems very fruitful to source such work in indigenous and Earth-based wisdom traditions.