As the author of 10 books, including the 1999 Governor General’s Literary Award winner Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource, Marq de Villiers has earned the right to be bold, and, whether you agree with him or not, he should be lauded for daring to say, in a clear, well-researched argument, what many don’t wish to hear.
What de Villiers wants is nothing less than to save us from the apocalypse. This is a perennial theme, which in its current form typically focuses on how technology and capitalism have separated us from our proper condition as humans. De Villiers does not stray from this path. We have alienated ourselves from the natural world and from our own communities, he argues. We waste our natural resources and poison our planet. We tolerate extreme social, economic, and political inequality, and we empower corrupt corporations that put profit above the common good.
But don’t despair – de Villiers has good news. He offers a set of commandments that will enable us to reach the promised land, where we will be able to “live within our limits, to live cooperatively, to control our numbers, to live in such a way as to leave room for wild things.”
The book is divided into three sections. The first provides an excellent primer on the environmental crises we face, then argues that these crises require a comprehensive response that includes not just new technology, but major political and economic reform driven by an angry popular political movement. In section two, de Villiers outlines technological options, concluding that nuclear power is the only existing technology that enables us to meet the carbon-emission reductions needed to save our planet from destruction.
It is in the third section that his boldness is given full voice: he calls for less private property and more public trusts, minimum and maximum limits on income and wealth, population control, and a halt to economic growth, which he argues is inherently self-destructive given the finite resources of the planet. All this, he claims, can be achieved without resorting to Soviet-style, top-down social engineering. De Villiers believes that this new world can be summoned forth by a popular groundswell that compels governments to implement the political and economic reforms he advocates.
Even if he does have the correct formula to save us from doom, it is hubris to think that humanity could so quickly and neatly galvanize around a single set of proposals. I’m reminded of Kant’s reflection on the irrationality of human history: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”
Still, de Villiers has at least made the effort to consider what a comprehensive strategy for dealing with our current challenges might entail. Yes, very bold indeed.