O Books, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-84694-514-4

Reviewed by Moragh Mason


As I read this book, my feelings ranged from anger, despair, incredulity, a sense of inadequacy … but ultimately hope. Nixon began writing this at the start of the credit crunch in 2008 and it was published shortly after the UK Coalition government was formed in 2010 – a pretty tumultuous period both financially and politically.  From the early days it was obvious that systems were breaking down, and as we lurched from one crisis to the next it was equally obvious that the response from our institutions was to try to put Humpty back together again rather than seizing the opportunity to create, as the title of the book proposes, a better world.

In the first part of the book, Nixon sets out to make sense of the situation we are in.  He examines the origins of the financial crisis which began with largely untested free market economic theories whose stated aim was to increase prosperity, and it certainly did for some.  However, thirty or more years on we see the dangers of the doctrine of continuous economic growth – the depletion of the Earth’s resources, the destruction of the ecosystem and increasingly volatile weather patterns.  Far from increasing prosperity, the gap between rich and poor is widening.  And as natural resources dwindle, the threats of violence, war and nuclear annihilation will increase as people fight for their very survival.

Serious as these matters are, Nixon points out that they are only the symptoms of this malaise, which is much broader and deeper.  What is needed is a moral and spiritual awakening (pg 60).

He emphasises the need to address the underlying problem: the system itself, which focuses on self-interest rather than the common good.  ‘Quick fixes,’ campaigns etc will not work because they are only sticking plasters.  Our political system is primitive – adversarial, bullying and pervaded by group-think (pp 166-7).  It is dysfunctional.  In contrast, Gandhi’s ideas on the subject, which Nixon describes as ‘a system of interrelated thought’ (pg 173), seem remarkably fresh and offer a constructive solution to our current apparently rudderless course.

In Part 2, Nixon turns to ways we can transform these failing systems and move towards a better world for all.  He puts forward proposals for all the big issues discussed previously.  Drawing on a number of sources, he explores ways to reduce consumption to a sustainable level and distribute the world’s resources fairly.  He argues for a sustainable and just economy, involving reform of the large global financial institutions currently dominated by the interests of big business and rich countries.  Among the possibilities he discusses are a global citizens’ income and rich countries paying for use of ‘commons’ such as ocean fishing, sea-bed mining and flight lanes (pg 257).  He proposes unlocking democracy by moving to a more participatory system, with more power at a local level.  He also illustrates how the money currently poured into the military machine could be used for conflict resolution and war prevention.  Additionally, he addresses the issues of eradicating world hunger, creating sustainable (and beautiful) towns and cities, and the challenges and opportunities arising from the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

This book clearly outlines the challenges facing us, along with the danger of proceeding down the business-as-usual path.  Bruce Nixon has compiled a source book that brings together current thinking on where to go from here, with action resources at the end of each chapter in Part 2.  There is a vast amount of information contained in this book, covering all the major issues that face us today and giving us the means to respond to them.

This book will be a very useful resource for anyone who cares about the planet and who feels that the time has come to build a better future for everyone.