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Book Review - "Common Wealth" by Jeffrey Sachs

“The defining challenge of the 21st century will be to face the reality that humanity shares a common fate on a crowded planet.” This assertion is made by Jeffrey Sachs in his book Common Wealth (Penguin, 2008). We are all implicated and must all be involved, too, in resolving the many challenges that are confronting humanity at this time. However, these challenges are too often perceived as overpowering and unsolvable, and many people allow themselves to wilt into a negative “nothing can be done” attitude that prevents right action.

It is therefore very refreshing and hugely encouraging to read this book by Jeffrey Sachs. He does more than just detailing the major world problems we all face; he provides realistically practical answers to them. These are the results of statistical analysis, demographic and scientific scrutiny and practical pilot projects. From climate change, through fresh water scarcity, to dealing with the scourge of malaria, for example, he reveals ways forward which are not only do-able but are also easily affordable. Indeed he often remarks that not doing them will result in much more costly and unavoidable activity at a later date.

A central theme of this book is the idea that we, humanity, do have a choice. There are many practical decisions and actions we need to make as individuals and communities, as nations and internationally. Collectively these can set humanity and the world onto a different and much better path.

In the final chapter, aptly named “The Power of One”, he recommends eight actions that each of us can take “to fulfil the hopes of a generation in building a world of peace and sustainable development.” Learn about the challenges we all face; travel and become part of humanity; join an organisation committed to sustainable development; encourage the engagement of your community and inspire others; promote sustainable development through social networking sites;get politically engaged; involve your work place; live personally according to the standards of the UN Millennium promises and goals.

This book is a wonderful wake-up call that reminds us that we don’t have to be victims; we can co-create our common future. As Jeffrey Sachs states: “Ours is the generation that can end extreme poverty, turn the tide against climate change, and head off a massive and thoughtless extinction of other species. Ours is the generation that can grapple with and solve the conundrum of combining economic well being with environmental sustainability. Ours is the generation that can harness science and a new ethic of global co-operation to bequeath a healthy planet to future generations.”