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Indra's Net and the Midas Touch

Living Sustainably in a Connected World

Leslie Paul Thiele

Publication Year: 2011

An exploration of the impact of unintended consequences in an interdependent world and of the opportunities for creativity and community.

Published by: The MIT Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Climate change may well be the greatest challenge that humankind has ever faced. The stakes are certainly the highest imaginable: civilization itself is threatened, and the menace is imminent. We appear to be hurtling toward a tipping point. Maybe we have already passed it. Beyond this dire marker, measured in parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, ...


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: The Fabric of Life

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pp. 1-20

Consider the unnerving features of contemporary life: global climate change, massive species extinctions, acute shortages of freshwater and other natural resources, growing food insecurity, impoverishment and economic devastation, increasing disparities between rich and poor, political instability and alienation, rising numbers of failed states, the juggernaut ...

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1. Ecology

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pp. 21-56

Our actions not only have effects; they also have side effects, which are generally unanticipated, unpredictable, and all too often pernicious. In 1963, an ecologist and microbiologist from the University of California in Santa Barbara coined a phrase to capture this unforgiving phenomenon: “We can never do merely one thing.”1 Its author, Garrett Hardin, believed...

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2. Ethics

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pp. 57-92

Ethics concerns relationships of reciprocation, obligation, and caring within communities. It is generated in response to the affective bonds we have to others and our reasoned understanding of the requirements of social order, justice, and wellbeing. Humans are not the only creatures on this earth that develop norms and values; communal mammals...

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3. Technology

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pp. 93-130

In Greek mythology, a titan named Prometheus was given the job of distributing to all the beasts of creation their unique capacities. For reasons unclear, Prometheus allowed his absent-minded brother Epimetheus to carry out the task. Epimetheus took on his new charge with gusto. He gave the lion its powerful jaws and claws, the bear its brawn, the birds their...

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4. Economics

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pp. 131-168

Dr. Seuss taught me my first lesson in economics. His fanciful tale, The Lorax, published in 1971, the year after the first Earth Day, had a lasting impact. The enterprise of the ambitious Once-ler demonstrated that endless economic growth, or “ biggering, ” leads to the destruction of environments...

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5. Politics

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pp. 169-204

Sophocles’s Oedipus Tyrannus tells the famous tale of a king pledged to rid his kingdom of pollution. But King Oedipus is no environmentalist. The pollution in question is a person, the suspected source of a plague that wracks the city of Thebes. Years earlier, the former king of Thebes was murdered, and the culprit was never caught. This murderer at large constitutes...

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6. Psychology

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pp. 205-240

This chapter explores the nature of the mind. Its basic thesis is that an individual’s participation in and sense of belonging to the web of life is best grounded in her appreciation of the interdependent parts of the mind — that inner oikos sometimes called the soul, psyche, or, simply, the self. In chapter 5, we saw that freedom is experienced in the realm of ...

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7. Physics and Metaphysics

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pp. 241-276

The earth, ancient peoples said, was a fl at disc that supported itself in the ocean of space on the back of a giant elephant. The elephant, in turn, stood on the back of a giant tortoise. Asked what the giant tortoise stood on, one adherent of the archaic belief famously remarked: “ Ah, yes, well The previous chapters have demonstrated that key fields of inquiry and ...

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8. Conclusion

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pp. 277-286

With hands that grasp, minds that plan, and hearts that crave, human beings have made claim to dominion of an entire planet while thrusting themselves into the galaxy. We might rightly wonder if there are any limits to our species’ ambitions and power. The ancient Greek playwright Sophocles had an answer to this question. The clever and ambitious Oedipus ...


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pp. 287-316

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 317-322


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pp. 323-330

E-ISBN-13: 9780262298858
E-ISBN-10: 0262016095
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262016094
Print-ISBN-10: 0262298856

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 1 figure
Publication Year: 2011