Lappe, F M (2011) Eco Mind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want. Nation Books: New York.  Reviewed by Marsha Willard, ISSP ED

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The books I enjoy the most are those that make me question my beliefs and mental models and help me look at the world in a different way.  Frances Moore Lappe’s book, Eco Mind, does just that. Her thesis is that the emotional power of our own ideas can either trap or free us. She maintains that our current mindset of scarcity promoted by well intentioned environmentalists (like you and me) creates a fear of being without that keeps us in an endless competitive struggle and undermines our capacity to come together and collaboratively solve today’s problems. We need to choose, she maintains, to think differently and shift our focus to enable us to break out of the old paradigms. To spark this shift, she organizes her book around seven “thought traps;” mental models that inadvertently perpetuate our fear and inability to act.  The seven thought traps are:

  1. Endless growth is unsustainable so we must shift to a no-growth economy
  2. Consumerism and growing population drive endless exploitation of the earth
  3. We have to “power down” and live within the limits of the planet
  4. We have to learn to over come our inherently human characteristics of greed, selfishness and materialism.
  5. We have to coerce people into doing the right things because otherwise our message looks like an erosion of personal freedom
  6. We are so disconnected from Nature that people no longer have a love or respect for the environment
  7. It’s too late! We’re so far gone there is no hope.

That list should have gotten your attention. What? Is she saying growth and consumerism is good? No, not at all. Lappe puts a different spin on each that will leave you thinking differently about these things.

I’ll illustrate what I mean with her chapter on what she maintains is the misdirected “no growth” attitude. Her contention is that what we have been historically calling economic growth has really resulted in very little growth at all of anything of value. What we have actually ‘grown’ is waste and destruction and the wealth of the 1%, while in the process throwing millions of people into poverty and power and authority concentrated into the hands of a few.  The flaw, she says, is not the concept of growth per se, but in what we have chosen to grow -  primarily short and immediate returns on the financial investments of current wealth holders. In the end we actually create scarcity out of plenty and are losing our hold on transparency and public participation and distorting public decision making in the process.  I encourage you to read the book to open your mind to the other thought traps we are carrying around and hopefully contribute to a different kind of conversation.