The Logic of Sufficiency by Thomas Princen

Published: 2005

Genre: nonfiction sustainable development

Length: 365 pages of text, 401 pages with notes and index

Font: Sabon

Interest: I can’t remember why I put it on my reading list in the first place. I’m sure it was recommended in a similar book I’d read previously.

Summary: Princen makes the case that society needs to move to an underlying principle of sufficiency. Right now, efficiency is the name of the game and it most often just leads to increased consumption as things become more efficient. By manipulating how efficiency improvements are measured, there is a bias to benefit those in power. It also tends to concentrate power and agency in the hands of a few, leaving the worker with neither of those. Princen then provides three case studies where sufficiency is the underlying principle in the use of a resource: the Pacific Lumber Company, the Monhegan lobster fishery, and the Toronto Islands (in terms of car access to the islands).

Final thoughts: This is not a pop science book that you can easily breeze through. Instead, it very obviously is an academic book that you’ll need to work at in order to get through and understand. Even so, I found it an interesting book. While I interspersed the reading with some fluffier books, I’m glad I read it. The most eye-opening part of the book was the discussion on efficiency. It’s amazing how often “it’s more efficient” is the winning argument for doing or making or buying something new. Sadly, the efficiency gains are most often offset by increased consumption, so we just keep digging ourselves a deeper hole in terms of discussion.

Sufficiency is the idea that there can be too much of something – too much development, too much use of a resource, too much growth. I find it to be a logical argument since the resources we use are limited so eventually, we will run out. Even the best efficiencies still use up resources. Eventually, we’ll have to say “this is enough” and you’ve reached sufficiency.

I found the chapter on the Pacific Lumber Company a bit long. I felt like the author just kept circling back to the same points over and over. The discussion on the lobster fishery was much more interesting, but I have a Masters in Fisheries (granted I worked on freshwater fish) so I might be biased. The Toronto Islands kept my interest because any discussion of reducing car traffic gets people riled up and irrational so quickly.

Title comes from: It’s a line the author used in the book, and the topic of the book.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 21/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge, and a P in my Author Alphabet Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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