When I found “Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution” by Peter Kalmus at the library I frequent here in New York, I was so excited! It was a few days after I had published my first blog post and I instantly knew – based on the title – that it had to come home with me.
Climate change is the biggest issue facing humanity today and yet it’s not something we, as a society, seem to be taking very seriously. What drew me to this particular book was that Kalmus claims to have reduced his and his family’s fossil fuel emissions by 1/10th of that of the average American, all while living a better, happier life that saved him thousands in the process – a narrative that this blog is all about.
A pet peeve of mine is reading emotional responses that are disguised as facts, so I was thrilled to have found this book. I hoped it would give me solid information about how our actions contribute to climate change and if/how we can change our behaviors going forward in order to reduce the negative effects.
Unfortunately, I found the book to err on the side of the emotional, mainly in the sections where he suggests how we can change our lifestyles to help save the Earth. As a city dweller, I found many of the suggestions impractical and I thought that it romanticized living a lifestyle of bygone eras.
Regardless, the book still contains solid facts and it is an important and inspiring read.
Kalmus is an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory with a Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University, so it’s safe to say that he is a credible source. I don’t come from a science background and found the first few chapters to be heavy on technical language. I mostly skimmed those sections and spent more time with the chapters near the end that discussed his ideology behind how we can affect change.
I really appreciate that Kalmus is a person of action. He knows the facts and has taken the initiate to make tangible change – rather than just preaching about it to others, as he notes many environmental activists do (for example, those activists who fly across the country for meetings dozens of times per year and don’t acknowledge the fact that flying on a commercial airplane is the quickest way for a single person to contribute to global warming).
The book was full of information that everyone needs to hear, such as: “When we send our stuff to the landfill, the organics – food waste, yard waste, paper, and textiles – decompose without oxygen, producing methane”. Thus, warming the Earth, which is why these items shouldn’t be thrown into garbage bins.
However, there were some parts I was pretty taken aback by and thought were too extreme, which can detract from his very important and valid main message.
Throughout the book, he stresses the importance of each of our contributions. I especially liked the section where he noted that most people are waiting for some miraculous solution that “they” will come up with which will allow us to avoid adjusting our lifestyles.
We just assume that the future will be a better place but often forget our place in making that future what it will become (what he calls “the myth of progress” – will we have a Dark Age in the future?).
I think about this often when I hear about government policies about global warming. It’s easy to get enraged about what corporations and political parties are doing/not doing to protect the environment, but I think we all have the ability to affect some degree of change.
I’m not going to wait around for the government to crack down on vehicle emissions – I simply won’t own a car.
I’m not going to wait for regulations in the fashion industry that will give garment workers fair wages and reduce production pollution and waste – I’ll simply stop shopping at stores that don’t care about these issues.
The book made me feel more empowered in my belief that we can vote with our dollars and our time. In fact, it is likely the only way that actual change will happen.
My favorite chapters were “Opting Out of a Broken System” and “Collective Action” but I should note the trigger warning for some people: many of the suggestions border on being a bit hippie-ish for the average person. And this is coming from someone who considers herself a modern-day free spirit.
I would have liked to read about a more modern approach to reducing one’s environmental impact, especially as a city dweller. Many of the lifestyle changes he mentions in the book would be hard for most people to implement, especially across social classes.
I also had a few other issues with the book. There is a section in which Kalmus equates burning fossil fuels with physical assault. He states that “the harm it does is less immediate, but just a real”. Yet, a few pages later he states that “environmentalism has had a strong tendency to use shame, guilt, and fear in an attempt to motivate action. But guilt and fear don’t motivate me – they discourage me”. I was confused as well.
He also describes how in 2013, he didn’t file taxes because he didn’t want money to go to the military. Unfortunately, these sections induced eye-roll.
If you can ignore these few questionable bits, I do recommend giving it a read. The book contains valid information on the state of the earth’s climate, which NASA itself has acknowledged to be true. Kalmus also stresses the importance of mediation and the role our mental state has in how we treat the Earth.
All of us may not be able to reduce our carbon footprints as much as Kalmus has, but the book may open the eyes of some who don’t realize (or are reluctant to realize) how individual actions affect the Earth. And it contains a very convincing argument that maybe the way we live in the developed world – the materialism, the rat race, the greed – are detrimental to our overall happiness and well-being. I know I can’t refuse to fly in a plane ever again nor can I grow my own produce here in Manhattan, but the book inspired me to rethink the way that I live and how I consume. Living slower and less materialistically isn’t hard and is likely to result in a happier, more satisfying life. As my favorite quote from the book says: … Have you read this book?
Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!
All of us may not be able to reduce our carbon footprints as much as Kalmus has, but the book may open the eyes of some who don’t realize (or are reluctant to realize) how individual actions affect the Earth. And it contains a very convincing argument that maybe the way we live in the developed world – the materialism, the rat race, the greed – are detrimental to our overall happiness and well-being.
I know I can’t refuse to fly in a plane ever again nor can I grow my own produce here in Manhattan, but the book inspired me to rethink the way that I live and how I consume.
Living slower and less materialistically isn’t hard and is likely to result in a happier, more satisfying life. As my favorite quote from the book says:
Have you read this book?