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The Myth of Progress

Toward a Sustainable Future

Tom Wessels

Publication Year: 2006

A provocative critique of Western progress from a scientific perspective. In this compelling and cogently argued book, Tom Wessels demonstrates how our current path toward progress, based on continual economic expansion and inefficient use of resources, runs absolutely contrary to three foundational scientific laws that govern all complex natural systems. It is a myth, he contends, that progress depends on a growing economy. Wessels explains his theory with his three Laws of Sustainability: (1) the law of limits to growth, (2) the second law of thermodynamics, which exposes the dangers of increased energy consumption, and (3) the law of self-organization, which results in the marvelous diversity of such highly evolved systems as the human body and complex ecosystems. These laws, scientifically proven to sustain life in its myriad forms, have been cast aside since the eighteenth century, first by western economists, political pragmatists, and governments attracted by the idea of unlimited growth, and more recently by a global economy dominated by large corporations, in which consolidation and oversimplification create large-scale inefficiencies in material and energy usage. Wessels makes scientific theory readily accessible by offering examples of how the Laws of Sustainability function in the complex systems we can observe in the natural world around us. He shows how systems such as forests can be templates for developing sustainable economic practices that will allow true progress. Demonstrating that all environmental problems have their source in the Myth of Progress’s disregard for the Laws of Sustainability, he concludes with an impassioned argument for cultural change.

Published by: University of Vermont Press

Title Page

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p. ix-ix

The idea for this book was sparked by a comment one of my students made in my principles of ecology course at Antioch. Although The Myth of Progress evolved into something . . .

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pp. xi-xiii

I grew up during the 1950s in a suburban development spawned by American optimism following World War II. Like so many of these developments, similar looking houses . . .

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pp. xv-xxvi

The above statement is an excerpt from a speech that President Bush gave on Valentine’s Day. I heard it while listening to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered news program . . .

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The Myth of Control

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pp. 1-21

My first exposure to computers based on microchip technology was in 1980. Jimmy Carter had just lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan. An evening news report . . .

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The Myth of Growth

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pp. 22-39

On May 11, 1943, American forces stormed Attu—the island that anchors the western end of Alaska’s Aleutian archipelago. At the time Attu was held by more than 2,400 . . .

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The Myth of Energy

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pp. 40-63

Before sitting down to write this morning, I helped my wife, Marcia, clean the house. We swept the wooden floors, dusted the tabletops, and cleaned the sinks and toilet bowls . . .

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The Myth of the Free Market

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pp. 64-90

As they grow, all biological systems increase their complexity, their parts becoming ever more specialized and tightly integrated. As a result the entire system increases its . . .

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The Myth of Progress

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pp. 91-111

In 1978 Marcia and I started building our house by cutting, hauling, and barking one hundred white pine trees from our property. These pines were used to build our scribe- fitted . . .

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pp. 112-117

October 1969 found me as a depressed industrial engineering student at Johns Hopkins University. I felt out of place with my program of study and Baltimore as well. . . .

Glossary of Scientific Terms

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pp. 119-122


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pp. 123-131

E-ISBN-13: 9781584659716
E-ISBN-10: 1584659718
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584654957
Print-ISBN-10: 1584654953

Page Count: 164
Publication Year: 2006