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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Let My People Go Surfing Second Edition – Book Review

“To do good, you actually have to do something.” —Yvon Chouinard

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman melds adventure, business, and environmental stories into a book for everyone.

Reading this book will give you hope for the future of the planet by demonstrating that a business can be profitable, treat its employees well, and care for the environment.

Let My People Go Surfing 2016 Edition Book CoverThe book’s colorful author Yvon Chouinard is a self-professed dirtbag who began his business career blacksmithing climbing pitons in a tin shed in Southern California.

This tiny business led to Chouinard founding outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia in 1973. Over 40 years later, the company is going strong with customers all over the world.

I read and wrote about the first edition of Let My People Go Surfing several years ago. When I discovered that the second edition covers ten more years of what Chouinard calls “business unusual,” I immediately knew I wanted to read it and I am glad I did.

Book Review

Let My People Go Surfing opens with a combination of Chouinard’s autobiography and the history of the two companies he founded Chouinard Equipment and Patagonia. The second half of the book covers Patagonia’s business philosophies and provides a look into the future.

History

The history section will both entertain and inform you. Chouinard openly shares tales from his own life as well as business successes and failures.

As a young rock climber, Chouinard and his friends were constantly practicing, improving, and innovating techniques and gear. They took risks and learned from the outcomes. These are all attributes that Chouinard later carried over to his business enterprises.

“If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, ‘This Sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.’” —Yvon Chouinard

Philosophies

As you read part two, you will discover how Patagonia builds customer loyalty, which employee benefit the book drew its name from, and how concern for the environment is woven into the company’s decision-making and operations.

“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” —Patagonia Mission Statement

Here are two examples of Patagonia’s business unusual approach.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Chouinard and his fly-fishing friend Craig Mathews started 1% for the Planet, an alliance of businesses who pledge to donate at least 1% of their sales (note the word sales, not profits) to organizations and projects actively working to protect and restore the natural environment.

Product Stewardship

Patagonia makes products to last and takes them back at the end of their useful life to be recycled into new products.

The company helps customers get the most out of their Patagonia merchandise by assisting customers with making repairs or doing it for them.

To encourage customers only to buy what they need, Patagonia placed a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” The ad came out on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

The Bottom Line

Yvon Chouinard’s affinity for rock climbing probably heavily influenced his decision to go into business. First, he needed to make money so he could do more rock climbing. Second, he and his friends had ideas on how to improve and reinvent the equipment they used.

Through his outdoor adventures, Chouinard came face-to-face with the damage occurring in the natural environment. He decided that Patagonia needed to clean up its own environmental act and that the company could and should set an example and inspire other companies to do the same.

Let My People Go Surfing shows that there are ways to conduct business that is good for people, the planet, and the bottom line.

Company CEOs and managers concerned with engaging and retaining their employees and building a resilient organization might learn a thing or two from this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the second edition of Let My People Go Surfing and look forward to reading the third edition in another ten years.

Reader Note: my imperfect understanding of the term dirtbag is that it refers to a person who is so enthusiastic about an activity (like rock climbing) that they work only enough to support their activity.

Featured Image at Top: Surfer Dressed as a Businessman Catches a Wave – Photo Credit iStock/stephfournet

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