Being the Change – Book Review

What if burning less fossil fuel made you feel healthier and happier?

Reading Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution will show you that you can hugely reduce your fossil fuel use and have a good time doing it.

Being the Change by Peter Kalmus Book CoverLast November, I was browsing the Volumes of Pleasure book table at the Central Coast Bioneers conference in San Luis Obispo, CA when I spotted Being the Change by climate scientist Peter Kalmus. I read the back cover and flipped through the book.

Kalmus’ message seemed to be that you could substantially reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and still enjoy your life. I think many people are fearful of life without fossil fuels because they are worried that it will be all about struggle and deprivation. I liked the upbeat tone of the book so I bought it.

Book Review

In the first part of Being the Change, Kalmus talks about what motivated him to change his life and then provides an overview of global warming. In the second part, Kalmus describes specific changes he has made in his own life on the individual/family level and then wraps up with a review of large-scale actions that we need to take at the governmental and societal level to mitigate climate change.

Part I: Predicament

It comes as no surprise that Kalmus became interested in learning about global warming just after the birth of his first child, which made him look further into the future and beyond himself.

Like many of us, Kalmus’ life ran on burning fossil fuels and he lived enmeshed in the society that constantly urges us to buy more stuff. He decided to reduce his own fossil fuel use dramatically and in doing so perhaps encourage some other people to join him. I agree with Kalmus that small actions do matter and can lead to larger actions. I also concur that trying to make people feel fear or guilt is not a good motivator and that we cannot shop our way out of our predicament.

I think Kalmus did a good job of explaining the science and far-reaching consequences of global warming using mostly “regular people” language. However, I do understand if you find your eyes glazing over and want to skip ahead. This information is really, really important so if you can only absorb a little at a time, read ten or twenty pages and then go do something else or read ahead and then come back to this part later.

“The Earth system answers only to the laws of physics, not to the needs of humans.” —Peter Kalmus

Part II: A Mammal in the Biosphere

Over several chapters, Kalmus tells stories about starting a food garden, converting an old car to run on waste vegetable oil, biking everywhere, beekeeping, and a variety of other actions. He openly shares his successes and setbacks. I see these pages as being more about describing what is possible and encouraging you to think about what changes you can and want to make in your own life versus following his path.

Perhaps because he is a scientist, Kalmus calculated his pre-change and post-change carbon emissions or maybe he just did it for fun. He provides information for readers who want to do their own calculations.

The last few chapters describe actions requiring legislative support like putting a price on carbon, community actions such as participating in backyard produce exchanges, and love.

“When I feel unsure about whether or not I should speak out, I think of the billions of people with no voice on the matter. I think of those who are most vulnerable. I think of my children. And then the decision to speak out is easy.” —Peter Kalmus

The Bottom Line

By day, Peter Kalmus is a physicist and climate scientist working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The rest of the time, he strives to reduce his reliance on fossil fuels and live happily with his family.

As a climate scientist Kalmus has the necessary chops and knowledge to write about what causes global warming, how it impacts Earth (and us), and what the future holds (of course, no one really knows what will happen in the future).

I am an avid reader and I have read many books about global warming, climate change, and activism. I think Being the Change provides readers with solid information and practical inspiration. One thing that sets it apart from many of the books I have read is that Kalmus focuses on the joyfulness possible in a world without fossil fuels.

I recommend reading Being the Change to anyone who is planning to continue residing on Earth or who is concerned about his or her children or future people’s ability to do so.

Featured Image at Top: Gingerbread Person with a Smile Peeking out from of a Line of Gingerbread People – Photo Credit iStock/AlasdairJames

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National Bike Month Logo - The League of American BicyclistsMay is National Bike Month. Celebrate by biking to work, school, the store, or around the neighborhood.

In 1956, The League of American Bicyclists first designated and promoted May as National Bike Month. During the month of May 2013, biking events will be held all across the country including:

May 8th – Bike to School Day

In 2012, almost 950 schools participated in the first National Bike to School Day created to encourage kids to bicycle to school.

May 14th – Bikes & Bytes: National Bike Month Hackfest, Boulder, CO

Web developer Quick Left is hosting a Bikes & Bytes Hackfest for bike enthusiasts and geeks to create a bicycle themed application in three hours or less.

May 15th thru 17th – International Cycling History Conference, Lisbon, Portugal

Since 1990, the International Cycling History Conference has provided a forum for sharing ideas and information about the history of bicycling and bicycle technology.

May 17th – Bike to Work Day (May 13-17 is Bike to Work Week)

As part of National Bike Month, businesses and communities host events to promote and facilitate commuting to work via bicycles such as car vs. bike commuter races, bike valet parking, and smart cycling classes.

May 19th – Strawberry Fields Forever Bike Ride, Watsonville, CA

2013 marks the 24th annual Strawberry Fields Forever Bike Ride fundraiser hosted by Cyclists for Cultural Exchange, a nonprofit organization that promotes peace and friendship around the world through cycling.

Health, Economic, and Environmental Benefits of Biking

Bike to Work Day 2010 in San Francisco, CARiding a bike is good exercise, saves money, and uses renewable energy—you.

Approximately 40% of all trips are less than 2 miles in length, in other words, a 10-minute bike ride or 30-minute walk (2009 National Household Travel Survey).

Biking and Walking Organizations

Nonprofit and industry organizations promote bicycling riding and advocate for safe biking conditions and bike-friendly transportation legislation. Some groups combine biking and walking. A few are listed below and in the resources section.

Bike Related Legislation

The latest legislation passed by Congress is Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 6, 2012.

Bike to School Day 2009 in Seattle, WAThe Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) authorized under Section 1122 of MAP-21 determines how funds are allocated to each state for facilities and infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists including recreational trails, safe routes to school, and improving non-driver access to public transportation. MAP-21 authorized funding for 2013 ($809M) and 2014 ($820M).

I did not realize there is currently no national helmet law in the U.S. however, several states have mandatory helmet laws. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute maintains a list of helmet related state-wide laws and local ordinances.

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Resources