This is an excerpt from Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival (2021) by Richard Heinberg; posted with permission from New Society PublishersRead more in this series.

One might think that everything that could possibly be written on the subject of power already has been. There are thousands of tomes that discuss subjects related to power in one or another of its many manifestations, and hundreds with the word power in their titles. But no book that I’m aware of has systematically examined the sundry forms of power, and investigated how they are related, how they arose, and what they mean for us today.

When I started the research that would culminate in this book, I wasn’t compelled by a burning interest in power per se; rather, I was driven to better understand the problems that imbalances and abuses of power have caused. I was determined to find answers to three survival-level questions:

  1. How has Homo sapiens, just one species out of millions, become so powerful as to bring the planet to the brink of climate chaos and a mass extinction event?
  1. Why have we developed so many ways of oppressing and exploiting one another?
  1. Is it possible to change our relationship with power so as to avert ecological catastrophe, while also dramatically reducing social inequality and the likelihood of political-economic collapse?

In their essence, these questions had dogged me my entire adult life, though it’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to distil them down to these few words. As I pondered these questions, it became increasingly clear that reliable answers required a clearer understanding of power in and of itself, since it’s the thread tying together our critical human problems and their potential solutions.

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