There’s a few concepts to get your head around in Slowdown. The most important of all is that this is a book not about change itself (be it change in world population, number of cars, number of books) but about the ‘change in the change’. World population may well be rising, explains Dorling, but what is crucial is that it is rising more slowly than it used to be. Look far enough ahead and this means that at some point, it will stop rising altogether. To focus solely on the change is to miss a crucial trend, engender unnecessary panic and encourage all sorts of false assumptions. That trend is the slowdown.
Dorling takes his time drilling these ideas in and after the first two explanatory chapters it’s all a lot clearer. To demonstrate the rate of change as regards a huge variety of data sets he employs a particular type of timeline (called a phase portrait) which, unlike standard graphs, encapsulates this all-important change in the rate of change. What at first look like incomprehensible squiggly lines playfully dotted with circles, are quickly revealed to be a much more sensible way of portraying information than that which we are used to.
Across 12 chapters, Dorling uses these graphs to demonstrate his overarching thesis – that from the birth rate to economic growth, from technological innovation to our average heights – we are experiencing a slowdown. This isn’t the story we are usually told about the times in which we live, but the data doesn’t lie.
If all this sounds a bit dense and data heavy, Dorling’s conversational style enables it to be otherwise. And it helps that the message is ultimately optimistic. ‘Slowdown means the end of rampant capitalism,’ writes Dorling. ‘Slowdown means goods lasting longer; it means less waste. It means that many of the things we currently think of as great social and environmental problems will not be problematic in the future.