what you get here

This is not a blog which opines on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers to muse about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Thursday, September 28, 2023


I’m re-reading an important book about Artificial Intelligence - all the more important since it comes out of the conversations had by 3 individuals teaching a course on the subject - System Error – how big tech went wrong and how we can reboot (2021) by a philospher, a top-level computer scientist and a political adviser/”scientist”. Such a multi-disciplinary authorship gives me more confidence in the book although its emphasis on the importance of values is perhaps an indication of the philosopher’s influence. I had forgotten that I had posted about it a couple of years ago

At 400 pages it could and should be much shorter and fails two of the tests I set some 3 years ago for non-fiction books

  • its intro doesn’t summarise each chapter to allow the reader to get a sense of the book’s thrust (some chapter subheadings do give hints)

  • it lacks the short guide to further reading which might help the reader understand any author bias

The chapters headings do give some guidance about the book’s argument-

1. The Optimisation Mindset – where tech engineers are set up as the bogeymen

2. the Unholy Marriage of Hackers and Venture Capitalists

3. The Race between Disruption and Democracy

4. Can Algorithmic decisions ever be fair?

5. What’s your Privacy worthwhile?

6. Can Humans flourish in a world of smart machines?

7. Will free speech survive the Internet?

8. Can Democracie rise to the challenge?

Here are some excerpts -

When we uncritically celebrate technology or unthinkingly criticize it, the end result is to leave technologists in charge of our future. This book was written to provide an understanding of how we as individuals, and especially together as citizens in a democracy, can exercise our agency, reinvigorate our democracy, and direct the digital revolution to serve our best interests

We must resist the temptation to think in extremes. Both techno-utopianism and -dystopianism are all too facile and simplistic outlooks for our complex age. Instead of taking the easy way out or throwing our hands up in the air, we must rise to the defining challenge of our era: harnessing technological progress to serve rather than subvert the interests of individuals and societies. We can’t leave our technological future to engineers, venture capitalists, and politicians. This book lays out the dangers of leaving the optimizers in charge and empowers all of us to make the difficult decisions that will determine how technology transforms our society.

There are few more important tasks before us in the twenty-first-century. When we act collectively, we not only take charge of our own destiny, we also make it far likelier that our technological future will be one in which individuals will flourish alongside, and because of, a reinvigorated democracy.

Concluding Chapter In the blink of an eye, our relationship with technology changed. We once connected with family and friends on social networks. Now they’re viewed as a place for disinformation and the manipulation of public health and elections. We enjoyed the convenience of online shopping and the unfettered communication that smartphones brought us. Now they’re seen as a means to collect data from us, put local stores out of business, and hijack our attention. We shifted from a wide-eyed optimism about technology’s liberating potential to a dystopian obsession with biased algorithms, surveillance capitalism, and job-displacing robots. It’s no surprise, then , that trust in technology companies is declining. Yet too few of us see any alternative to accepting the onward march of technology. We have simply accepted a technological future designed for us by technologists. 

It need not be so. There are many actions we can take as an initial line of defense against the disruptions of big tech in our personal, professional, and civic lives. Perhaps the most important first step is one you’ve already taken by getting to this point in the book, which is to inform yourself about the myriad ways technology impacts your life. To fight for your rights in high-stakes decisions, you need to understand whether an algorithm is involved. In contexts such as being denied a mortgage, losing access to social services, or encountering the criminal justice system, you may have a right to seek more transparency into the processes.

One of my criticisms of “System Error” is that it lacks a short guide on “further reading” for those who wanted to get guidance about key books in the field. This, of course, is not an easy task. It requires authors to put their prejudices aside and try to identify the most important texts – not just contemporary but in the field as a whole. These are my suggestions

Background Reading on Technology
The Technological Society Jacques Ellul 1964
The Republic of Yechnology Daniel Boorstin 1978
Between two ages – america's role in the technetronic era Zbigniew Brzezinski 1980
The Technological System Jacques Ellul 1980. . 
The Impact of Science James Burke, Isaac Asimov (NASA 1985)
The Whale and the Reactor – a search for limits in the age of high technology 
Langdon Winner 1986
The Technological Bluff Jacques Ellul 1989
The Second Machine Age – work, progress and prosperity in a time of brilliant 
technologies; Brynjolfsson and McAfee 2014

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Are Centrists Evil?

The older I get, the more radical my opinions become. This is not how its supposed to be – although this fascinating analysis of 40 years of plotting british attitudes does say that -

The public first began to look to government rather more in the wake of the financial crash of 2008-9, though in the event that mood appears eventually to have dissipated. However, the same cannot be said, so far at least, of the COVID-19 pandemic. Expectations of government in the wake of that public health crisis have never been higher. The public shows no sign so far of wanting to row back on the increased taxation and spending that has been part of the legacy of the pandemic, not least perhaps because of their dissatisfaction with the state of the health service. Meanwhile, there are now also record levels of support for more defence spending. So far as the public are concerned at least, the era of smaller government that Margaret Thatcher aimed to promulgate – and which Liz Truss briefly tried to restore in the autumn of 2022 with her ill-fated ‘dash for growth’ – now seems a world away.”
Ultimately any political party that wants to survive has to respect these trends and work within them. Public opinion may well swing back in the other direction in the future, but for now anyone who thinks the Truss programme is one voters will buy is entirely delusional.

Duncan Green of Oxfam has a useful post about the report which focuses more on the increased libertarianism of the UK rather than on expectations about the State

This blog has, on occasion, confessed my erstwhile liberalism or “centrism”. For example I did recently find that this Rory Stewart video interview about “the truth about British politics” just before the UK general election of 2019 was “brilliantly thoughtful” – not least for the care with which he treated the questions; hardly the most common of a politician’s responses. But a devastating profile in The New Statesman about Stewart’s book tour promoting “Politics on the Edge” has made me realise how shallow that reaction was.

It’s a book of recrimination, anger, shame and oblivion. It is about the failures of the Conservative Party, the failures of Britain, and the failures of Rory Stewart who said “he kept coming back to Tacitus” as he wrote. The Roman historian’s Annals describe the eclipse of the senate: its powerlessness under successive emperors and its descent into servile degeneracy. “Politics on the Edge” has the same message: parliament once knew better days. Its members are squandering a precious inheritance. Their failures are moral. Stewart thinks it will “make a lot of people angry”.

Stewart’s big mate these days is, of course, Alastair Campbell – the two of them have presented for the past year what has become the UK’s favourite podcastThe Rest is Politics” which I find a bit too smug and self-satisfied but which does exude a good sense of the “centrism” which is the focus of my concerns. Campbell actively promotes The New European weekly which has gone so far as to feature an excerpt from Stewart’s new book

But why do I find this “centrism” so objectionable?

Is it just GUILT about my previous incarnation?

Perhaps this post from 12 years ago gives a sort of an answer

In 2011 I was invited by a Romanian journal to write a piece about the 10th anniversary of 9/11. My article was entitled “The Dog that didn’t bark” but the editors carried the warning that it was “a view from the left”. At the time I posted that certain issues arose from such labelling -

  • Do the editors not realise that use of such a label for one (only) of the articles is effectively an invitation to their readers to ignore it or treat it with suspicion? What does this say about freedom of expression?

  • It has been recognised for a long time that the left-right labelling makes little sense. Wikipedia has an excellent briefing on this. And I recommend people do their own test on the political compass website - which uses two (not one) dimensions to try to situate people politically.

  • Criticism of the logic and effects of “neo-liberalism” has come from a great variety of quarters – not least the ordo-liberalism which has been the backbone of the post-war German economy.

  • Finally, there is the issue of whether I deserve the label which has been thrown at me – either from the article or from the range of beliefs I actually hold. The references in my article are impeccably mainstream academia (Colin Crouch; Henry Mintzberg) and a final section clearly signals that I have no truck with statism. All my political life I have supported community enterprise and been opposed to state ambitions. My business card describes me as an “explorer” – which refers not so much to the nomadic nature of my life in the last 20 years as the open nature for my search for both a satisfactory explanation of how societies and economies work; with what results; and the nature of relevant mechanisms for adjusting what societies judge (through democratic processes) to be unacceptable trends. I admit to having been attracted in my youth to the British New Left’s analysis of British inequality in the late 1950s - but I was profoundly influenced at University by people such as Karl Popper and his The Open Society and its Enemies, Schumpeter (his “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” and Ralf Dahrendorf; and, at a more practical level, by Andrew Shonfield and Tony Crosland who were also writing then about the benefits of the “mixed economy”.

More recently I have generally been a fan of the writings of Will Hutton (whose stakeholder analysis of UK society was disdained by Tony Bliar on becoming PM). As an academic I was convinced by the critical analysis of UK and US political scientists in the 1970s which went variously under the terms “Limits of the State” or “problems of implementation” and was the softer end of the “public choice school” of institutional economics.

But, unusually, the anarchistic/libertarian sweep of Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire also got to me in the 1970s (which is why I am (unusually) located in the south west quadrant of the political compass). I therefore not only disdained the injunctions of the dominant left and right extremes of British politics of the 1980s but, as an influential Scottish regional politican, used my role to create more open processes of policy-making. Indeed community activists and opposition politicians were more important partners for me than members of my own party.
I held on to my leading political position on the huge Regional Council simply because I belonged to neither the left or right factions amongst my colleagues but was their natural second choice! The definitions I give in Just Words - a glossary and bibliography for the fight against the pretensions and perversities of power reveal the maverick me.

For the past 20 years, however, since I left the UK to work as an adviser on institutional development in central europe and central asia , I have not been involved in politics.
My interest is to find some common ground in all the critiques of the current social and economic malaise – and to develop some consensus about the actions which might be taken.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

HOW CORPORATE POWER undermines democracy

1975 saw the publication of the infamous The Crisis of Democracy – report on the governability of democracies by the Trilateral Commission which argued that democracy had gone too far and was endangering the very stability of the system. It carried the names of Michel Crozier and Samuel Huntington; made respectable the phrases “state overload”; and effectively launched neoliberalism. Some 2 decades later – when communism collapsed in Central and Eastern Europe – the effort moved into a higher gear. Silent Coup: How Corporations Overthrew Democracy,” by Claire Provost and Matt Kennard is a rare book which charts the way the corporate coup d’état was orchestrated. It examines the use of an international legal system (International Centre for the Settlement of International Disputes or ICSID) to control and plunder the resources in the developing world, including the overthrow of governments that challenge corporate dominance. Although one of the authors has been a Financial Times journalist, the MSM has been remarkably quiet in its reviews. One of the few journals prepared to review the book was a leftist one

By mid-2014 it had heard nearly 500 cases almost all since the mid-1990s. This was 
the era when neoliberal free market capitalism was let off the leash following the 
collapse of the Stalinist states in the former USSR and Eastern Europe. This temporarily 
opened an era of a unipolar world dominated by US imperialism, which by the early 21st 
century gave way to the multipolar world we have today.
By 2021, the number of cases heard by the ICSID had risen to almost 900 – with more than 
one new case a week that year. This growth reflects the new multipolar world and the growth 
of the power of multinational giants. It is part of the international investor-state legal system.
Little-known legal system
What has developed over decades allows investor access to a little-known legal system. 
Through thousands of treaties, a state gives advance consent to allow foreign investors to 
take them to international tribunals, such as the ICSID. This means that countries that 
signed up contracts for foreign investors were also signing up to resolve any dispute between 
the national government and companies by agencies such as the ICSID – a subcommittee of 
the World Bank and other imperialist institutions. A huge lucrative legal industry has sprung 
up around this system.
In the early period of the ICSID, most cases were from companies taking legal action 
against countries in the neocolonial world. Now, as this book reveals, this is in the process 
of changing. German investors had filed cases against countries in the neocolonial world. 
But in 2009, Germany found itself in the dock, when the Swedish company Vattenfall filed 
a case against Germany with the World Bank’s ICSID over its controversial new coal-fired 
power plant near Hamburg. This change illustrates the growing power of these enterprises, 
to the point where they come into conflict with competing nation states.

The international investor-state dispute system has evolved over decades; possibly being traced back to a conference of international bankers held in San Francisco in 1957. Around 500 of the world’s senior bankers, industrialists, and politicians gathered together and began campaigning for a new ‘capitalist Magna Carta’ to enshrine and protect the rights of private investors worldwide. A key figure at this gathering was the German banker, Hermann Josef Abs, head of Deutsche Bank and director of several giant corporations like Daimler-Benz and Lufthansa. His rise in the financial world took place under the Nazi regime in Germany, but it didn’t end with its fall. Although he never joined the Nazi Party, Deutsche Bank had handled its accounts. World events in this era in the neocolonial world, such as the nationalisation of the oil fields in Iran in 1951 and the Suez Canal in 1956, were undoubtedly events that drove the ruling capitalist classes in the imperialist countries to instigate steps to muzzle democratic voice.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023


I’ve been reflecting on my last 50 years of efforts at reforming public service systems – seeing if there was anything I could add to what I’ve already written, particularly about one of my last projects - in China.

Initially I belonged to the school which felt that the bureaucracy had too much power. A combination of Thatcher, “Yes, Minister” and New Labour saw my attitude swing back to the political system. More recently, the technocrats seemed to have wrested power back – only for Trump and Brexit to remind us that “the people” also have a voice.

The grand old man of this field is B Guy Peters whose The Politics of Bureaucracy first came out in the 1970s, is now in its 5th edition and is considered the bible on this issue. He has been an inspiration and active presence since 1990 in the network of schools of public administration in central and eastern Europe (NISPAcee) – Politico-Administrative Relations – Who Rules? (2001) very much showing his influence. That this is still an important issue in the region is evident from recent publications such as The Principles of Public Administration produced by SIGMA (OECD) in 2016 and Quality of Public Administration – a toolbox for practitioners (EU 2017).

A lot of what the global community preaches as “good practice” in government structures is actually of very recent vintage in their own countries and is still often more rhetoric than actual practice. Of course public appointments, for example, should be made on merit – and not on the basis of family, ethnic or religious networks.

· But civil service appointments and political structures in Belgium and Netherlands, to name but two European examples, were – until very recently – influenced by religious and party considerations. Rules were set aside to keep religious and political blocks (or pillars) happy.

· In some countries indeed such as Northern Ireland (until recently). the form and rhetoric of objective administration in the public were completely undermined by religious divisions. All public goods (eg housing and appointments) were, until the end of the 20th century, made in favour of Protestants.

· The Italian system has for decades been notorious for the systemic abuse of the machinery of the state by various powerful groups – with eventually the Mafia itself clearly controlling some key parts of it. US influence played a powerful part in sustaining this in the post-war period – but the collapse of communism removed that influence and has allowed the Italians to have a serious attempt at reforming the system. At least for a few years – before Berlusconi scuppered it all

These are well-known cases – but the more we look, the more we find that countries which have long boasted of their fair and objective public administration systems have in fact suffered serious intrusions by sectional interests.

The British and French indeed have invented words to describe the informal systems which perverted the apparent neutrality and openness of their public administration –

· the “old boy network” which was still the basis of the senior civil service in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s a century after the first major reform.

· And the elitist and closed nature of the French ENArque system has, in the new millennium, become the subject of heated debate in that country – the system of senior civil servants moving to business was known aspantouflage”. And Macron recently decided to close the school

It is clear that national european systems are becoming more politicised. This trend was started by Margaret Thatcher who simply did not trust the senior civil service to do what she needed. She brought in individuals who had proved their worth in the private sector and came into government service for a limited period of time (sometimes part-time and unpaid) to do a specific task which the Minister or Prime Minister judged the civil servants to be incapable of doing. Her critique of the UK Civil Service was twofold –

- first that those at the top were so balanced and objective in their advice that they lacked the appetite to help lead and implement the changes she considered British society needed; and

- second that those further down the ladder lacked the management skills necessary to manage public services. The Labour Government since 1997 inherited a civil service they considered somewhat contaminated by 18 years of such dominant political government – and had more than 200 such political appointees.

Such trends are very worrying for the civil service which has lost the influence and constraining force they once had. The two decades since then have seen national reputations for integrity challenged – the British judicial system, for example, took a battering after a series of revelations of judicial cockups and its policing has always been suspect. But it was 2015 before a book with the title ”How Corrupt is Britain?ed by D Whyte appeared – followed a few years later by “Democracy for Sale - dark money and dirty politics”; by Peter Geoghegan (2020).

Conclusion; Too much of the commentary of international bodies on transition countries seems oblivious to this history and these realities – and imagines that a mixture of persuasive rhetoric and arm-twisting can lead to relevant, rapid and significant changes in the behaviour of the political and administrative elites. A bit more humility is needed – and more thought about the realistic trajectory of change. To recognize this is not, however, to condone a system of recruitment by connections – “people we know”. Celebration of cultural differences can sometimes be used to legitimize practices which undermine social coherence and organizational effectiveness. The acid test of a State body is whether the public thinks they are getting good public services delivered in an acceptable way!

The first wave of enthusiasm, in global bodies and academia alike, for anti-corruption (or “good governance” as it was more diplomatically called) strategies ended in the new millennium – when a note of realism became evident. It was at that stage that I realized that some of the best analyses were coming from the anthropologists

Bill Clinton was famous for his election mantra – “economics, economics, economics”. In similar vein, instead of “best practice”, consultants should be repeating “CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT”

Further Reading

Shifting obsessions – 3 essays on the politics of anti-corruption Ivan Krastev (2004) Bulgarian political scientist exposes the hypocrisy behind the rhetoric

Syndromes of corruption – wealth,power and democracy Michael Johnson (2005) An American political scientist who has been involved with the Transparency International work does good comparative work here

Corruption – anthropological perspectives edited by D Haller and C Shore (2005) quite excellent collection of case studies

Confronting Corruption, building accountability – lessons from the world of international development advising L Dumas, J Wedel and G Callman (2010)

Unaccountable – how anti-corruption watchdogs and lobbyists sabotaged america’s finance, freedom and security ; J Wedel (2016) another anthropologist

Making Sense of Corruption; Bo Rothstein (2017) one of the clearest expositions – this time by a Scandinavian political scientist

comment from Patrick Cockburn on the corruption of the British political class



Monday, September 18, 2023

Social Justice and Capacity Development

Two issues have dominated my life – for the first 20 years what we in Scotland initially called (in the 70s) “multiple deprivation” but which has subsequently become better known as “social injustice” and “inequality, Straddling then the worlds of politics and academia, I helped shape Strathclyde Region’s social strategy which is still at the heart of the Scottish Government’s work

In the 1990s , however, I changed both continents and roles – and found myself dealing, as a consultant, with the question of how new public management and governance systems could be built in ex-communist countries to give ordinary ordinary citizens in ex-communist countries a more effective “voice– against the “powers that be”…..

Until recently I saw these two strands of my life as very separate - but I now realize that there is a profound link between the 2 fields of work and indeed some others which have occupied me in my retirement. The overriding theme of my life’s work has been that of managing change – and I find myself in this latter stage of my life wrestling to make sense of the change which seems to be overwhelming the human race

I wanted to put a table here - but BLOGPOST as usual is making a mess of it - so I have had to createtable on my 5 theories of change

I’ve tried several times to pull out some lessons from the rich experience which had its beginning in 1968. Last year it was Modernity’s Last Gasp? Strathclyde Region's theory of change and this year A short note and bibliography on change.

But I haven’t done justice to the period 1990-2010

True in 1999 I did produce few hundred copies of a book In Transit – notes on good governance which I used aș a calling card for my eight years în Central Asia - but this was actually notes about what I had learned from my Scottish and west european experience (it included a chapter on managing change)

And in 2011 a brief Chinese adventure gave rise to Administrative Reform with Chinese Characteristics The same year saw The Long Game – not the logframe” - a caustic paper I presented to the 2011 NISPAcee Conference ( building on an earlier paper to the 2007 Conference) in which I took apart the superficiality of the assumptions EC bureaucrats seemed to be making about the prospects of its Technical Assistance programmes making any sort of dent in what I called (variously) the kleptocracy or “impervious regimes” of most ex-communist countries.

And in 2018 I produced No Man’s Land – journeys across disputed borders but this was simply the notes from my various projects in central europea and central Asia with some initial and very tentative conclusions.

So I have work to do!

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Amitai Etzioni RIP

Today I want to celebrate the life of one of the most interesting sociologists of the modern age - Amitai Etzioni may have lived to the grand old age of 94 but I was still sad to learn of his death this May. I vividly remember reading his “Social Problems” at University in the early 1960s and being deeply impressed with his 3-fold classification of ideologies; he was one of the architects of Bliar’s “Third Way”; and, on his 90th birthday, was still convening civil dialogues on the variety of subjects for which he was famous but, generally, had to do with his lifelong search for the good life.

But it was German sociologist Wolfgang Streeck who brilliantly caught the man in this tribute

I first met Etzioni in the fall of 1972. Having just earned my Diplomin sociology at the University of Frankfurt, I was lucky to have been offered a quite generous scholarship that allowed me to study for two years at an American university of my choice, including travel to New York by one of the two remaining ocean liners, the QEII. For me, this was a welcome opportunity to leave behind the intellectual and political confusions of Frankfurt at the time, where I felt hard-pressed to choose between an academic and a political career. As to where in the United States I wanted to study, I didn’t need to think long. Sociology in Frankfurt was then divided between the Faculties of Philosophy and Economics, the so-called “Frankfurt School” being housed in the former. Experience had convinced me that if I wanted to make a contribution to the practical pursuit of democratic socialism – which I definitely did want – “critical theory”, as it called itself, was not enough. So I sometimes took classes in the other, less esoteric branch of sociology, among them a seminar held by the late Wolfgang Zapf that was devoted entirely to Etzioni’s book of 1968, “The Active Society. That book, scoffed at by critical theorists who at the time were becoming enamored with a normative version of structural functionalism, was a revelation to me. Since with the scholarship I had the means to do what I wanted, I decided to indulge myself and go to Columbia to study with Amitai Etzioni.

Today “The Active Societyis almost forgotten. It never really registered with the sociological mainstream, for which it was too long, too complex, too much political science, too political I presume. To me, it is to this day one of the great books of the sociological tradition, perhaps even its culmination: a heroic attempt to give Parsonian functionalism, the dominant macro-sociological paradigm of the time, an activist twist – conceiving societies as self-governing rather than self-stabilizing, as collective actors rather than collective entities, actively self-transforming rather than passively being kept in a preestablished equilibrium by nature-like mechanisms of social integration. The book, in short, undertakes to explore how a human society should and must be organized to be able democratically to take charge of its future – no longer to be subject to sociological laws which it has no choice but to trust, but rather to discover and discuss alternative futures for itself, choose between them, and make real what it has chosen.

If this was close to themes in the Marxian tradition – the end of prehistory and the beginning of history – Etzioni didn’t really care, and he may not have been aware of it. Capitalism appears in the book’s index only once, pointing to a passage where it is claimed no longer to be a problem as Keynes had devised the tools to discipline it. All that was now required was for society to learn how to deploy those tools to make capitalism serve the collectively determined collective interests of society. The late 1960s when the book was written were the heyday of postwar democratic capitalism, and it was not only Etzioni who was convinced that the issue was no longer to fight capital but to build an effective democracy able to put it to good use. It was in the crises of the 1970s that the political optimism of the Golden Years vanished, and with it the hope for a politicized social theory offering “guidance” – one of Etzioni’s key terms – for a democratic politics in a democratized society.

Soon I found myself hired as research assistant, to work with him on the second edition of his first major book “A Comparative Analysis of Complex Organizations”, published in 1961, a standard text at the time in the sociology of organizations. I never learned more on the craft and art of doing sociology than in those twelve months or so.

For those who want to know more about the man, this is an excellent 90 page piece which does full justice to him.

And this 2017 retrospective gives a very useful flavour of the breadth of his writing

In the 1990s he became famous for his commitment to communitarianism

Wednesday, September 13, 2023


Faithful readers know of my fascination with CHANGE and my relatively newfound interest in global warming. The two came together yesterday with my discovery of a new book “Forgiving Humanity – how the most innovative species became the most dangerous” by Peter Russell (2023) who has gone so far as to give us a video discussion between himself and his AI clone (!!) about the book. Because its so new, I'm not yet able to download it (which I can do for more than half the books which interest me). 

Instead I've put a link in the title which accesses an article which appears as a 
chapter in the book which is one of the best analyses of CHANGE I've ever 
come across – so good that I've just added it to the latest version of my (short)
 Annotated Bibliography of Change which offers notes on some 100 books on the 
subject. It's based on the concept of exponential change/growth which the 
“Blindspot” article explains 

Although we are all well aware of the accelerating pace of change in our own lives, we find it difficult to think in exponential terms. You may have heard the story of the king who was asked for one grain of rice on the first square of a chess board, two grains on the second, four on the third, doubling each time till the 64th square would have how many grains? A mind-boggling 18,446,744,073,709,551,615, about 45 trillion tons, a heap as high as Mount Everest—far more than most people intuitively expect

If the whole of Earth's history were collapsed into one year, then human beings appeared in the last fifteen minutes, civilization thirty seconds ago, and the Information Revolution in the last half second.

A crisis of acceleration

The crisis we are facing is, in essence, a crisis of acceleration. Clearly the human population explosion is the result of exponential-like growth. Thankfully, it is beginning to tail off, nevertheless the implications for food, water, housing, geo-politics, and other issues are major and growing. Oil reserves are running out because we are now consuming it a million times faster than it was created. Similarly with many other resources whose supply is becoming critical—platinum, copper, zinc, nickel, and phosphorus, all of which are crucial for contemporary technology—will have run out, or be very limited, within a few decades. Yet our demand for them continues to grow, especially with the rapidly growing needs of developing countries. On the other side of the equation, rapid growth in industrialization has led to an accelerating growth in the release of pollutants into the air, soil and sea. And they are being released thousands, or in some cases millions, of times faster than the planet can break them down and absorb them. Climate change, for instance stems from our accelerating consumption of fossil fuels and the accompanying increased emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Normally the CO2 is absorbed by plants and the oceans, but we are now producing it hundreds of times faster than the these systems can handle.

We known about all this for some 40 years - ”Limits to Growth” of course came in 1972 but people needed some time to get their head around the message of that book but the definitive warning was contained in Overshoot – the ecological basis of revolutionary change by William Catton in 1982 which cropped up in this useful recent video discussion

UPDATE; Still on global warming, this is an interesting discussion on the excellent site "Plant Critical" which interviews thinkers about the issue