Book Review: A Safe and Sustainable World

Author Nancy Jack Todd tells the story of the New Alchemy Institute (NAI), founded in the late 1960's, with the goal of building a safer and more sustainable world. As a co-founder of NAI, Todd uses her unique position from the inside looking out to take her readers through the remarkable journey from it's roots as a small community farm to a thriving sustainable community christened by a visit from Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

The story of the growth and groundbreaking research and development of the group is compelling, but ultimately plays a secondary role to their discovery and execution of innovative ways to sustain the human population in harmony with the natural world.Perhaps the most important lesson in the book regarding ecological design is simply that "It works!" Their early experiences farming vegetables and fish to building windmills led to the consolidation of all of their ecological design experience into the construction of two "Arks" -- large greenhouse-like shelters built to sustain those living inside (including their shelter, food and energy needs) independent of the power grid or the rest of the world.

Drawing on design examples from both the natural world (bacterial water filters in the fish tanks) and the human world (our old pal Buckminster Fuller's design ideas), each of these examples builds on the last, showing the power that many individual projects have when combined into a working, living system. Ultimately, Todd's narrative is an impressive, hopeful story that demonstrates NAI's ability not only to simply run a sustainable farm or build a functional windmill, but how to adopt ecological design as a top-to-bottom lifestyle and generate a healthier, more efficient world. She proves that by combining a little know-how with ingenuity and passion, the world not only can be, but should be, a safer, more sustainable place.