“Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth?”

The short answer to the question posed by Andrew Simms and Joe Smith in the title of their collection of essays, Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth?, is “No”. But that’s not the whole story.

What their book does – through the voices of 21 contributors with a range of perspectives – is argue that “a new set of circumstances is urgently needed” so that the answer remains negative. The follow-up question asked by Simms – policy director of the London-based new economics foundation (nef) – and Smith – a writer and academic with the UK’s Open University — is “what kind of public mood and political conditions will allow these ideas to flourish?”

The book’s editors and essayists all are optimistic in their approaches, and sometimes present surprising ideas. Tom Hodgkinson, for example, argues that people should do nothing, that pleasure and fun are the keys to a new world. His approach is neither lazy nor decadent, but about the liberation of a cheap and cheerful lifestyle.

Philosopher AC Grayling writes of his anxiety over China reprising the western experience: “paying an exceedingly high price to pursue the dream of a good life” focused on consumption. Psychologist Oliver James warns against the “status-seeking consumerism” that he terms “affluenza”, while other authors tackle such subjects as money, misery, food, nature, design and politics. 

Taken together, this fluent collection of essays makes a level-headed argument for serious and urgent lifestyle changes in developed countries. Approached as a search for a better way of doing things in a warming world, these changes need not be scary. They can be an exciting challenge, a rallying cry for a new form of planetary political mobilisation.


Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth?
Andrew Simms and Joe Smith (editors)
Constable Robinson, 2008 

— By Maryann Bird