Category Archives: About the Book

Coffee with Friedi: Relaunching Gaia’s Dreams

This is a post under the category “About the Book,” which includes writing that reflects on the book itself and the process of writing it. For a more general introduction to Gaia’s Dreams, see the Intro to this website.

I was drinking coffee in a classic old Stockholm cafe with my friend and former intern, Friederike May, who was working at Uppsala University.

“So, how’s the book going?” she asked. I confessed that I was a little stuck, and finding it hard to get going. Actually, I’m not sure what I said —  except that I wasn’t sure a normal “book” was the best way to tackle my ten-years-and-growing mountain of subject matter.

And Friedi (her nickname) started bouncing around ideas with me. Both of us, it turned out, were admirers of David Mitchell’s book “Cloud Atlas” (the movie version was not great), and the way it hops around between timelines. I started thinking of Theodore Gray’s classic book on The Elements, and the “Elements Vault” that followed: a collection of curiosities that helped to illustrate the core concepts and even the physical realities, including an actual piece of gold foil. We talked about a site that curated “artifacts”: videos, audio, imagery, the books I’ve been collecting on how we view the future, the old magazine covers that reveal how poorly we predict it, and whatever else seemed relevant (and fascinating).

And then I remembered this blog. As you can read here, I actually launched this book/website in 2009, and planned to write the whole book online, or at least to blog about the process. I wrote a couple of short, quirky essays.

Then I got sidetracked for about 9 years — working with the UN, promoting the SDGs, analyzing the economics of the oceans and seas, and many other projects. But during all that time, I kept clipping articles, saving links, and making notes about the third book in my “Optimist Trilogy,” Gaia’s Dreams.

And of course, the Internet changed during the last decade. “Blogging” is barely a “thing” anymore. The opportunities to approach a topic creatively, from many different angles, through many different forms of social and digital media, have exploded.

Coffee with Friedi helped me reconnect with my original intention around this book: to make it more than a book. To make something a bit more, shall we say, future-friendly.  (While still also resulting in a book. I love books! I predict books will be with us, in one form or another, for a long time to come.)

That’s how this new/old website came to be. That same afternoon, after coffee, I opened this site’s admin page, reorganized it, and started the process of relaunching Gaia’s Dreams. Why delay any further? The future can only wait so long, before it insists on becoming the present.

Thanks, Friedi!

An Experiment in Book-Writing

Update note, 1 Feb 2018:

This post, the original intro to this website, was drafted in September 2009. Many things have changed since then. For one, I changed the name of my second book, “The ISIS Agreement”, and everything associated with ISIS (including our sustainable development planning methodology, now called VISIS). My second book is now called The Sustainability Transformation — but I have left the original text below just as it was drafted, in 2009. Also: Smartphones were not ubiquitous yet. Twitter was a curiosity. Kindle was still pretty new. In other words: this text is a time capsule. When I wrote it, what we now think of as the take-it-for-granted past was still the soon-to-be-amazing (and worrying) future.

Original post, 27 Sep 2009:

As readers of my new book The ISIS Agreement will know, for the past fifteen years or so I have been working on a three-volume series on sustainability, beginning with Believing Cassandra (1999), and following up with ISIS. The series has the temporal structure Past-Present-Future, and all three have mythological goddess-figures in the title. I tend to call the books by those names.

Cassandra focuses on the past, and on how we muddled our way into this mess that the intellectuals of the 1970s called the “global problematique,” and which we now call the global sustainability crisis, or even just the climate crisis (since climate is the headline issue of the day). Cassandra looked at these developments through the lens of the classic global study from 1972, The Limits to Growth, and it introduced the concept of a “sustainability change agent,” someone who works to spread ideas and innovations. I am happy to report that the book is still being used in university courses, ten years later; and it will get updated in a revised edition soon.

The ISIS Agreement is about the present: what we do, today, to practice sustainable development. “ISIS” stands for “Indicators, Systems, Innovations, and Strategy, in addition to echoing the name of Egypt’s ancient goddess. ISIS is a book about tactics and empowerment, tools and methods, breakthroughs and power battles and codes of ethics. It is designed for a general readership, but one that is interested in (or even already committed to) making change for sustainability. It stands alone, while also picking up where Cassandra left off. Like that first volume, ISIS offers a message of hope, one that is grounded in observations and experience about how hopes become strategies and actions.

The final book in the series is tentatively titled Gaia’s Dreams, and is about the future: what we imagine, and how we imagine it. It intends to cover the biology, sociology, politics, even the natural history of our capacity to dream up the future and then try to realize it. I am still early in the process of writing this book, but I am already actively writing it.

The ISIS book is starting to gain the readership I had hoped for: a broad base of professionals, amateurs, and students who are working for sustainability. That book was built on the input of many colleagues and friends with whom I have been working over the past decade or more to develop the “ISIS Method” and “ISIS Accelerator” tools. Both the tools and the book should properly be seen as the product of collaboration, rather than solitary authorship.

For Gaia, the traditional archetype of the solitary author seems even less appropriate. I am attempting a very broad-brush picture of a very complex topic, while maintaining the high degree of readability that people liked about Cassandra and ISIS.

Hence this blog: an experiment in writing more publicly — or at least, thinking about the writing (notes, links, research, etc.) more publicly.

Welcome to the process of dreaming up Gaia’s Dreams