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Mike Berners-Lee's book There Is No Planet B

Can enough energy ever be enough?

For the long term, this is the huge question. Somehow we need to become content not to grow our energy supply. Individuals and communities have achieved it. The challenge is to do so at the global level.


Humanity is going to have to raise its game it if wants to take deliberate control over the amount of energy it uses. [94-5]

Should I buy an electric car?

First ask whether you still need to have a car of your own at all. If you don't, don';t buy a new one until you need to. Then make it electric if you can and as economical as you can. Make it last.

Roughly two thirds of the carbon footprint of driving an oil-powered car is down to the fuel and the rest comes from the emissions involved in manufacturing the car in the first place. So, unless they are very inefficient, cars should be looked after and kept on the road for a long time. [106]

How urgently should I ditch my diesel?

Urgently if you do a lot of urban miles.A mile of congested urban diesel driving takes about 12 minutes of life away from the rest of the population – that's if you add up all the tiny impacts you have on every other person. 
In the UK 40,000 people a year die from air pollution, and vehicles cause 8,900 of those deaths. That is five times more than the 1,775 who died in road traffic accidents. [107]

Why is GDP such an inadequate metric?

In 1968 Bobby Kennedy summed it up in a speech that is inspiring and clear enough to deserve a long quote:

'Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.  It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

'Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.' [124 full speech]

Why are most Americans so much poorer than most Italians?

In the USA, so much of the wealth lies with so few that there is relatively little left over to go around the bulk of the population...

The USA is one of the richest countries in the world percapita but most of its people are poorer than most people in many other countries that we think of as being poorer places to live. Examples include the UK, Norway, Denmark, Japan, Italy, and even Spain. The median Italian is about twice as well off as the median American, despite Italy having only just over half of the wealth per person. And most people in Spain are wealthier than most people in America despite Spain having only about one third of the wealth per person as America. [133]

Distribution of wealth for a group of countries
[ 135]

Why does the right tax make us better off?

Tax can be used to reduce antisocial behaviours, to fund things that make life better but which markets can't reach, and to control the wealth gradient. 
Overall, tax doesn't make people poorer. That is just the direct impact that we can most clearly see. Tax does three key things. Firstly it disincentivizes some activities. Secondly it raises money that can fund things that make life better. Thirdly it can be used to change the way wealth is distributed. We have already seen that a totally free market can't deal with the challenges of today's world, and every other way of running the economy needs, and should welcome, the concept of tax. Tax is the reason we have roads, hospitals, and governments. And it is a key mechanism to steer the low carbon world.

One argument against taxing the rich at a higher rate than the poor is that it disincentivizes hard work. This is not true. It reduces the financial motivation for hard work. It reduces the motivation to do things that aren't fundamentally rewarding for other reasons – such as being useful, fun, or otherwise meaningful.

Whenever you increase extrinsic motivation you always decrease intrinsic motivation.

In other words, the more you pay someone to do something, the less they do it for its own sake. What we need is more people doing the jobs that need doing and are intrinsically valuable. It is a lie that the highest salaries are needed to recruit the smartest people. The strategy recruits smart, money-driven people, which is very different. Moderate money is better for recruiting people with more balanced motivations. [142-3]

Pre- and post-tax income by nations

[chart: Gini Coefficient  ranges from 0% (everyone having the same income) to 100% (one person has all the country's income)]

Ireland and Germany's income tax regime take them from among the world's most income-unequal countries to among the most equal. The UK's tax system takes it out of the inequality doghouse to a somewhat more respectable position. Taiwan, interestingly, has similar income inequality after tax to Ireland, but gets there without much recourse to income tax. Brazil and Peru, for example, have high income inequality, don't use tax to sort the problem out and are left with hugely unequal societies. [144-5]

What can I do to help with population?

What follows is not rocket science. I approach my top tips from a pragmatic point of view that I hope doesn't seem cold hearted...

  1. Please be careful not to cause a baby to be born unless you really want to look after it.
  2. Please don't encourage, pressurize, or force anyone else to do so.
  3. Please try, wherever you have influence, to make it easy for others not to have babies unless they really want them.
  4. Push for greater investment in the poorest people. 

Specifically, push for

  1. education, especially for women,
  2. information and access to contraception,
  3. land reform so that more people have secure tenure of the land they work on,
  4. end hunger – of course. [150-1]

What are my chances of being in prison?

In Norway, prisoners are human beings whose wellbeing matters just like everyone else's. Prisons are about repairing damage. Revenge, if we stop to think about it, is actually about multiplying the total damage... The director of one of Norway's prisons, Are Hoidel, puts it like this: 'Every inmate in Norwegian prison is going back to the society. Do you want people who are angry – or people who are rehabilitated?'

Although it is clear that we need top get better at evaluating things in non-financial terms, we have to notice also that Norway's radically more effective approach to prisons may in some way be related to its radically better and improving wealth distribution statistics compared to the USA. [156] 

Flow chart of systems thinking inter-relationships
[ Mike offers this resource for a fuller and interactive methodology for applying this kind of thinking here: Bioregional's systemic tools for One Planet Living© 161]

What values do we need to be the new global cultural norms? Clearly, we need to focus more strongly on all the intrinsic values. But I want to emphasize three in particular ... Quite apart from whether they are inherently 'nicer', we need them for purely practical reasons in order to survive the Anthropocene. Cultural diversity is a great thing, just as long as all cultures share these characteristics. Any culture that doesn't is unfit for the twenty-first century, and we should all have a problem with it.

(1) All people are inherently equal in their humanity. With this comes the principle that all should be allowed, encouraged, and enabled to live their lives in whatever way they find meaningful, provided this is negotiated alongside the equal rights of others to do likewise.

(2) Respect and care for the world; its beauty, life-supporting complexity, and all its life forms.

(3) Respect for truth – for its own sake. The honouring of facts, as far as they can be discerned. Allowing others to have the clearest view of whatever you or they may deem to be evidence. Transparency over reasons, methods, and personal interests...

All the evidence and analysis tells us that for humans to thrive over the next hundred years and beyond, we are going to need to learn to be as respectful, as truthful, and as kind to each other as we can. ...I realise that these three values tie closely with what Carl Rogers, the father of person centered therapy, termed the three core conditions for the therapeutic relationship; empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard. They are, of course, as relevant to everyday life as to the therapeutic setting. Perhaps all I am really adding is that, here in the Anthropocene, these values are no longer a choice.

I'm probably no better at practicing them than you are. But we all need to try to be better at it. Simple but hard. [171-2]

What makes our values change?

...Two things in particular push us towards extrinsic values: insecurities and materialistic social messages. If we are worried about not having enough money to look after ourselves or not being socially accepted, we are more likely to want money and status. And if we are constantly receiving messages that our own worth and happiness is tied to our wealth and our possessions, those are the things we are likely to pursue...

Conversely, when we feel secure that, regardless of our wealth, we will always have our basic material needs met and will always be socially included, we relax about possessions and status symbols.

...And if we are continually reminded of our intrinsic values, their role in our lives grows.

How to cultivate the values that we need

  • Create mechanisms that reinforce intrinsic values. This includes universal access to health care and education, and other social support such as entitlement to adequate paid vacation, paid maternity leave and, quite possibly, a citizen's wage...
  • Reform prisons into humane environments...
  • Focus on metrics that emphasize intrinsic values, for example downgrading GDP and upgrading wellbeing measures.
  • Create a business environment in which shareholder profits do not need to dominate and business objectives beyond profit can more easily take centre stage.
  • Emphasize the importance of public and community service perhaps through youth schemes and employees right to take community service days in addition to normal holidays.
  • Find ways to curtail materialistic advertising, for example through restrictions on adverts aimed at children...
  • Do not try to win an argument by appealing to unhelpful values...Examples include trying to persuade people to reduce their energy consumption in order to save money... The reason has to be, without embarrassment, that it is the right thing to do.

At the personal level

  • Spend time thinking about the values we need, talking about them and reading about them. Try to develop communities to do this. Identify what they might mean to you in practice.
  • Consume critically and mindfully. Try to identify and challenge the explicit and implicit messages behind adverts, films, news items, and political arguments. Show our children how to do the same by asking questions like 'What do you think this advert is trying to make you believe?'
  • Try to view fewer adverts. As my Buddhist friends would say, mindful consumption is not just about what we eat, drink, and inhale, it extends to all the information and experiences we consume.
  • Have experiences that bring you into contact with a wide range of people. Make personal contact with the people you feel most detached from and feel least empathy for.


We have seen throughout the book so far how urgently we need to learn how to think in ways that let us deal more effectively with the situation we have created for ourselves. We need thinking skills and habits that fit the twenty-first century context of enormous human power and technology on a now-fragile planet. We've also seen the global interconnectedness of just about everything we do. It is not at all surprising that the ways of thinking that have taken us to this place might not be the same ones that will help us live well now that we have got here. The brain skills that we developed over the millennia as we expanded on a big, robust world are not the same as the ones that will let us do well on the small delicate spaceship on which we now find ourselves. [185]