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Believing Cassandra: An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's Worldby Alan Atkisson
Synopses & Reviews
The Story of Cassandra
Cassandra was the young and beautiful daughter of Priam, the last king of Troy. Apollo bestowed upon Cassandra a special gift--the ability to see the future. But when she refused his favors, he twisted her gift with a curse, so no one would believe her prophecies.
The world has gone beyond the limits to growth, putting us in the dangerous stage of "overshoot." The sky is, literally, falling, and we don't know what to do.
Alan AtKisson takes a surprisingly bright view of the apocalypse, and makes it seem like a transformation we might just survive. He uses the Greek myth of "Cassandra's Dilemma" — Cassandra had the ability, or some would say curse, of being able to prophecy the future — to work us through and beyond the grim predictions of the computer models that provided the foundations for two seminal works in the environmental movement, The Limits to Growth and Beyond the Limits. He makes even the arcane language of system dynamics understandable to the technical neophyte.
In chapter 6, "Longing for the End of the World, " AtKisson brings us into direct confrontation with TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It), and shows that it might not be so bad after all. This startling appraisal provides a lead-in to the possibilities of a sustainable future, explaining the prospect in a way that will silence critics who have assailed the fundamental concept of limits to growth since the warning was raised back in 1972.
The book ends with some rousingly optimistic scenarios for global transformation. AtKisson, who is a consultant, facilitator, and musician, knows that his audience wants to leave the theater humming a tune, and he gives them three to choose from. This is more than lip service. This is genuine imagination and hope.
For anyone who has followed the halting and fitful progress of the environmental movement, this book is a must read, and the perfect start to a new millennium. Bubbly as champagne, fresh as garden mesclun,AtKisson has created an entertaining, believable, and tasty look at our future. Anyone who is fed up with hearing only about our problems — holes in the ozone, paradigm shifts, and the greenhouse effect — will take heart from this book.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -229) and index.
About the Author
Alan AtKisson is a true citizen of the world, whose work has led him to crisscross the globe. He has been the executive editor of In Context magazine, senior fellow with the policy institute Redefining Progress, and co-founder and chair of Sustainable Seattle, a collaborative project to design model-city plans for America's hippest town. He is presently president of AtKisson & Associates, a consulting firm focused on sustainable development and innovation. He lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgments A Note On Language Prologue
Part 1: Cassandra's Dilemma
Chapter 1: When Worlds Collide
The astonishing tale of a small book called The Limits to Growth, and the mystery of how a computer model called "World3" shook the foundations of the real World, and then was promptly forgotten.
Chapter 2: A Brief History of Cassandra's Dilemma
Wherein we trace the development of humanity's growing awareness of certain very dangerous global trends, and how it came to pass that the warnings about these were mostly ignored, leading up to the tragic story of a political prince named Al Gore who shied away from his own gift of prophecy.
Chapter 3: In the Gallery of Global Trends
Wherein the author plays the role of tour guide in an art gallery, in which the exhibits are various charts and graphs and measurements, all in dire need of creative explanation.
Chapter 4: It's the System
Wherein the author introduces the arcane language of system dynamics, and proceeds to dispel confusion and guilt in the globally aware reader by explaining the true origin of Cassandra's Dilemma.
Chapter 5: Cassandra's Laughter, Cassandra's Tears
In order to talk the reader through the range of feelings that often befall those with an intensified awareness of likely global calamity, the author tells something of his personal story, touching on serious emotional issues and recounting an amusing anecdote about cows.
Chapter 6: Armageddon, Utopia, or Both?
Reflections on the curious phenomenon of "longing for the end of the World," an inspiring consultation with two practitioners of the dismal science of Economics, and in between an introduction to a new computer model that suggests that the difference between Armageddon and Utopia might be a matter of perspective.
Part 2: Reinventing the World
Chapter 7: The Future in a Word
Wherein we introduce, finally, after much beating around the bush, the "S" word and explain it in ways that will (possibly) silence its critics once and for all while rallying people to its flag.
Chapter 8: The Proof of the Possible
Wherein the reader is offered examples from far and wide of beautiful initiatives to reinvent the World, or at least certain small pieces of it, and presented with the story of a volunteer group in a rainy city that helped, quite by accident, to accelerate an international movement in the use of charts and graphs.
Chapter 9: The Innovation diffusion Game
Monkeys, amoebas, citrus, and a primer on "innovation diffusion theory," rather playfully reinterpreted by the author, together with the presentation of a simple equation that explains how to change the World.
Chapter 10: Accelerate to Survive
Wherein we summarize the preceding nine chapters, draw three enormously optimistic conclusions, and ponder the genuinely bright prospects for a speedy global transformation revealed in the bleakest assessment of our circumstances.
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