We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for this week (which was going to be a rant on why “scale”—as in “will it scale?”—is not all it’s cracked up to be, why it’s part of the problem, and what to do about it), to bring you early reviews of two books that I’d like you to read right now. Seriously.
Optimism of any kind is in short supply these days. I should know; as a lifelong, congenital optimist, lately I find myself struggling daily to maintain focus and momentum in the face of the news from the atmosphere, and from Washington. There’s plenty of good news, to be sure: the accelerating pace of technical and business innovation; the continuing spread of solar grid parity, now covering most of the US; the emergence of Africa; and so much more. And still, some days it takes a supreme act of will—kind of like Wile E. Coyote’s ability to keep running as long as he doesn’t look down—to do the work to drive the change to open the future.
That’s why it’s so encouraging to have two new books for two days carrying messages not of hope—hope, after all, is not a strategy—but of grounded optimism. What do I mean by that? Not just “wouldn’t it be nice” and “all will be well”—that’s the optimism—but also “this can work, for these reasons” and “here’s what it will take,” based on actual experience—that’s the “grounded” part. In the case of these two books: detailed, richly textured views of a future that is both within reach and that we might actually want to bring into being – and want to live in. And fairly substantive sketches of the roadmaps that might take us there—from people who’ve been deep in the work—and elements that might belong on your roadmaps.
As you know, I’ve long seen sustainability – or more specifically the opportunities that a sustainability lens discloses—as the biggest business opportunity of the century. Jigar Shah, founder of Sun Edison and founding CEO of the Carbon War Room, sees me one and raises me one. “Creating Climate Wealth,”” says his promo kit, “is about how climate change—the biggest challenge of our time—can be turned into a $10 trillion dollar wealth-creating opportunity.” But Jigar is not just throwing around big numbers; the book lays out a strategy for reaching our 2020 climate change goals through 100,000 companies worldwide, each generating $100 million in sales.
In an even more expansive vision, Jonathan Porritt (co-founder of Forum for the Future) brings us a detailed and evocative look back from 2050 at The World We Made. Through the motif of a history teacher offering “50 snapshots…drawn somewhat randomly from things that have happened over the last 30 years or so,” Porritt provides an engaging roadmap of change in nearly every domain of concern, from climate, energy, agriculture, food and water, to economics and finance, politics and security, technology and manufacturing, and more. His hat trick is that the read is wide and deep at the same time, both substantive and quite evocative. And it’s built on the sort of specifics that make sense, that are believable extrapolations of things we know now or can see just around the corner, and that can make money.
I’ve just gotten both books, so I haven’t read them in depth yet. But I will. You should too.