The Focus Book Series (review)

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The Focus Book Series 

Written by Quaker Institute for the Future

Reviewed by Carol Chatfield

With global warming’s impact of floods and droughts becoming ever more apparent, this ten-book series gives hope that, oriented by the spirit and coupled with mindful research, people can make a difference in reducing causes of environmental destruction. I read three books in this series:

Fueling Our Future: A Dialogue about Technology, Ethics, Public Policy, and Remedial Action; Ed Dreby and Keith Helmuth, coordinators; Judy Lumb, editor; March 2009.

Climate, Food and Violence: Understanding the Connections, Exploring Resources; prepared by Judy Lumb, Phil Emmi, Mary Gilbert, Leonard Joy, Laura Holliday, and Shelley Tanenbaum; 2014.

Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith; prepared by Ruah Swennerfelt; forward by Rob Hopkins; 2016.

These three books can be read independently; however, they also interconnect to tell a larger narrative about climate change and our human obligation to recognize it and mitigate it. They go beyond the technical, scientific, and sociological analysis that other writings have given to global warming; they acknowledge the spiritual sense of this crisis.

The Quaker Institute for the Future (QIF) is a network of Quaker thought leaders working to advance “a global future of inclusion, social justice, and ecological integrity through participatory research and discernment.” They have produced over thirty books, pamphlets, research papers, think pieces, and videos – all available on their website: www.quakerinstitute.org.

As a Friend, I like that these publications are informed by Quaker reliance on queries and testimonies. Indeed, QIF writings proceeded from a mindful method of religious inquiry they call, “circles of discernment,” which are “small groups of Friends who study and research topics of critical importance for the future of life on Earth.”

Of the three books I read, I found the first one, Fueling our Future (2009), rather confusing and difficult. The content was good, but I was disoriented by the lack of subheadings, chapter numbers, etc., and I found it difficult to see how the different sections of the book related to each other. The good news is that by the second and third books, QIF had straightened out these problems, and the ideas in the books were easier to follow. 

Fueling Our Future examines the dilemmas of using carbon-based fuels and the remedial possibilities of technologies such as solar and wind to better fuel our human endeavors.  Climate, Food and Violence outlines ways that climate change creates difficulties in growing and distributing food, and how those difficulties can trigger dangerous regional and international conflicts. It also offers some innovative solutions. Rising to the Challenge describes the Transition Movement, an encouraging international movement of communities committing themselves to create local economies and lifestyles compatible with a low-carbon future.

In the ongoing debate about what can be done about global warming, these books offer caring and spiritual guidance for resolving what many people think of as intractable ills. They present reasoned hope for the world. They demonstrate, in the very way they were created, that reliance on community study, discussion, and engagement is a strong way to make headway in the struggle to “save the world.” Should you not be acquainted with the Quaker Institute for the Future, as I was not, I urge you to read these books. ~~~

Carol Chatfield worked as a research assistant at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO, where she began to learn about global warming many decades ago. She is a member of Palo Alto Meeting (PYM).