The best books on social sustainability

The Books I Picked & Why

The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us

By Diane Ackerman

Book cover of The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us

Why this book?

The experience of reading this book is like being teleported from your everyday life ‘bubble’ into the multidimensional ways humans have changed - and are changing - every aspect of the natural world. This transformative experience leads to pondering what these human-oriented legacies might be, as “our impact is already measurable on the geological record.” For me, the value is observing the author’s talents in weaving together scientific evidence with poetic and speculative storytelling - a fascinating, challenging technique for non-fiction writers in this area to study. A book to read more than once, generating much-needed hopeful discussion and visions for the future, The Human Age always sparks my creative research imagination. It is inspiring for exploring some intriguing connections between people, planet, and technologies, including the insightful question: “Is nature “natural” anymore?”


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The Struggle for Social Sustainability: Moral Conflicts in Global Social Policy

By Christopher Deeming

Book cover of The Struggle for Social Sustainability: Moral Conflicts in Global Social Policy

Why this book?

While future speculation inspires our research imaginations, I believe that our hopes for humanity will never be fully realized without building the critical capacity to connect research into policy processes in governments and intergovernmental organizations. This edited volume of authoritative essays is a pivotal contribution towards accelerating social progress and quality of life. The book contains useful clarification on the meaning of a relatively new term social sustainability, in light of pressing global sustainability issues, such as growing inequality, changing world population, ageing societies, and migration. Based on evidence-based pragmatic wisdom from distinguished academics with international policy experience, these essays examine social sustainability from morally conflicting perspectives - i.e. social cohesion, social justice, social wellbeing - and how they can be navigated through and implemented meaningfully by stakeholders.


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Cultural Sustainability: Perspectives from the Humanities and Social Sciences

By Torsten Meireis, Gabriele Rippl

Book cover of Cultural Sustainability: Perspectives from the Humanities and Social Sciences

Why this book?

Cultural sustainability is the study of how people’s worldviews, cultures, and beliefs impact their positive and negative environmental behaviors. This book makes an in-depth research contribution towards defining and activating human cultural dimensions of sustainability. As a writer with an interest in transdisciplinary ecological humanities, this book deeply resonates: If we are in the Age of Humans, the future is our shared responsibility - understanding ourselves, others, and our own choices - to protect the environment and develop sustainable social technologies. This book offers a compelling case that makes us realize that current standalone green policies of energy efficiency and carbon reduction will not make as significant a difference if humans continue to ignore aspects of cultural change, shared values, and learning through creative and cultural arts, philosophy, economics, and theology. 


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Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World

By Glenn A. Albrecht

Book cover of Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World

Why this book?

Earth Emotions is a landmark guide to new concepts and vocabulary to represent the complex new ‘eco-emotions’, a spectrum of positive and negative emotional responses caused by recent environmental and life changes. From a mental health perspective to social sustainability, this book is valuable for many people currently processing their eco-emotions. One lesson from my research journey is that emotion and shared empathy as forms of sustainability knowledge are underestimated in favor of more rational approaches, when affect and cognition are intrinsically linked. This book advances our understanding of holistic emotions as sustainable information. Having conducted research into knowledge ecosystems, I can relate to the proposed shift from the Human Age (anthropocene) of isolation and despair to a Symbiotic Age (symbiocene) defined by positive mutually beneficial relationships between different groups.


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Social Sustainability, Past and Future: Undoing Unintended Consequences for the Earth's Survival

By Sander Van Der Leeuw

Book cover of Social Sustainability, Past and Future: Undoing Unintended Consequences for the Earth's Survival

Why this book?

As a researcher exploring informational aspects of social-ecological systems, I find this comprehensive open access scholarly book on social sustainability endlessly fascinating and thought-provoking. The book’s central theme is the role played by the organization of information processing and its social evolution in complex adaptive systems throughout human history. The main strength of this work is its future perspective in the detailed context of the past, with this line capturing the shift: “for the first time in the history of our species we are faced with a major transition in that domain, from human to electronic information processing.” The author astutely observes and examines the unintended human consequences of information and communication technology advances, including the potential long-term impacts of artificial intelligence and machine learning. 


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