'The Post Carbon Reader' at one year old
Posted Dec 9, 2011 by Daniel Lerch
Just over a year ago we released our flagship publication, The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century's Sustainability Crises.
In that time, this hefty book from a small publisher (and with an even smaller marketing budget) has sold over 10,000 copies, and its chapters have been downloaded over 20,000 times. It's in classrooms at over 25 different colleges across the United States. It's received praise from academics and professionals alike. It won an independent publishing gold medal. (And it may or may not have been featured on Oprah!).
Most satisfying to us has been the feedback we've gotten from readers:
- The entire book is fantastic and extremely useful! - Stephanie Kennedy, graduate student
- My dog-eared copy is full of notes, underlines and highlights. - George Dondero, Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission
- One of the best readers that I have seen in my 48 years as a university professor. - Al Williams, University of Nebraska
People often ask what the story is behind the book. So here it is:
When Post Carbon Institute was founded in 2003, few outside the field of petroleum geology had any inkling that we might soon be facing a squeeze in global fossil fuel supplies. We set about collecting and disseminating critical thinking by field experts on the coming challenges, and helped individuals and groups start the vital work of relocalizing their communities.
Over the next few years, James Howard Kunstler's book The Long Emergency, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth campaign, the emergence of the Transition movement, and many other factors contributed to a growing awareness of our complex energy/climate plight. And then came the pivotal year of 2008:
- To the surprise of just about everyone, oil prices crossed the $100 barrier (in real dollars) for the first time since the 70s—and then skyrocketed to nearly $150 by July.
- In September came the further surprise of Lehman Brothers' collapse, and the near-collapse of Wall Street and the U.S. economy.
- And suddenly in November came the surprise of a generation—a black man elected president—and a grand, giddy hope that the country might finally be able to change its course on energy and climate policies.
It was clear that big changes were underfoot, and we at Post Carbon Institute saw an opportunity and a need to push the public conversation on sustainability to a deeper level. It was time to start talking openly about the big, complex challenges the world faces, and the hard truths about the limited responses available to us.
In 2009 we began building the framework for this new approach by recruiting 28 Fellows who are leading experts on a variety of sustainability issues—and who, critically, understood the two realities that had come to define the Post Carbon worldview:
- The world is hitting the limits to growth, and
- the best path forward is to build the resilience of our communities and our society.
The Post Carbon Reader was the first product of this new collaboration. Our hopes for the book were modest. We knew that "readers" generally don't sell well—our main goal was to simply compile, in one place, a comprehensive statement of what we believe as an organization to aid our further efforts. But we also knew that there was a hunger for this kind of information, and that if we put it together in the right way, it could go far.
So we made some rather unusual decisions. We kept the graphs and charts to a minimum. We kept the chapters relatively short. We purposefully mixed graduate-level writing with conversational pieces. We got a rock poster artist to design the cover. We set a low price ($21.95) and starting releasing nearly every chapter in PDF format, for free.
The results, as mentioned, have been remarkable. As The Post Carbon Reader enters its second year we're looking for new ways to promote its message, especially among academic audiences where it has done so well. We have a growing fan base on Facebook, and we've recently launched a LinkedIn site for more in-depth disucssion and networking. If you're a fan of the Reader, THANK YOU for your support, and please both spread the word and tell us how we can make it better for future editions.