"365 Ways to Change the World" by Michael Norton. (Courtesy of Simon and Schuster, Inc.)
Author Michael Norton challenges armchair activists everywhere with his new book “365 Ways to Change the World; How to Make a Difference One Day at a Time.” It’s a call-to-action with suggestions ranging from clicking on a website to save the rainforest to throwing pies at pompous politicians.
GELLERMAN: When Michael Norton says he wants to change the world, he isn’t kidding. The British author and activist has been organizing non-profits since 1975. He’s taught people to read, inspired kids to take action in their communities, he brought solar powered lanterns to a village in India, and the list goes on and on. Well, now you can follow in Michael Norton’s footsteps, and maybe keep a few New Year’s resolutions at the same time. His new book is called “365 Ways to Change the World; How to Make a Difference One Day at a Time.” And Mr. Norton joins me from New York City to discuss his book, and perhaps even inspire us.
Welcome to Living on Earth.
NORTON: Hello Bruce.
GELLERMAN: Was it hard to come up with 365 good deeds for days?
NORTON: It wasn’t hard to come up with 365 issues. Issues abound everywhere; from peace in the world to breaking up your local community. Finding practical things that people could do to make a difference was a challenge. One thing that I noticed actually was when I was out surfing the web and visiting websites there was always a button that said something like “Get involved” or “Take action,” and you pressed on it and all they asked you to do was send money to them.
And one of the sort of missions I feel that I’ve got is to encourage people to involve people in the issues by giving them things to do; which will get them much more interested and involved and maybe lead them on the road to activism.
NORTON: I smiled at someone, say that’s a start. I walked here rather than taking a taxi or driven. I probably do about 100 or 120 things in the book. It’s not possible to do them all. I don’t expect people to. You’d have to be a saint and we’re all a bit of a sinner. And in fact for one of the next editions of the book I’m going to have a page on how to be a hypocrite, because you know we’re all hypocrites. I flew to New York to launch the book and that creates a sort of carbon footprint, which I should be ashamed of. So we do do things that are for the worse for the world. And my thesis really is that we should be doing more things for the good of the world.
GELLERMAN: Mr. Norton, do you have a favorite tid bit in the book?
NORTON: Oh, it’s full of really interesting and quirky things and um I just say from a page at random, hug a tree. Trees create the oxygen that we need to survive. If you plant one tree it will generate enough oxygen for a family of four. There’s a movement in India called the Chipco movement where women actually went out to hug trees to prevent the timber fellers from felling trees and removing the forest for profit. And that’s an inspiration to everyone. If you feel strongly about something put your body in the way of it. Save it. And you will save it.
GELLERMAN: I’m looking at November 15th and it’s in your face politics. And you’re suggesting that people throw pies at other people.
NORTON: (laughing) I’m drawing attention to a particular campaigning technique which has been used in the USA, which is the biotic baking brigade. And they want to pull pompous people down a peg by putting a pie in their face. This is done with a bit of tongue in cheek I should say but I think the ethos behind this and behind things like bare witness, which is spelling out campaign slogans with naked bodies is not to actually go out and do it but to see that changing the world can be a bit of fun as well as really serious.
One of the things I don’t want to do is tell people they have to do things because they have to, or because they ought to, or because it’s just worthy. You want to do things because you want to do them and because they’re fun to do, and because you meet sort of soul mates through doing it and you enjoy doing things together.
GELLERMAN: Mr. Norton, what about the average Joe? Does your book speak to him, you know someone who might prefer just to give money to Green Peace or World Wildlife Fund instead of changing their daily routine and taking action by themselves.
NORTON: Well, if you start small doing some perhaps trivial things. You may go on from there and get really inspired by what you’re able to achieve. I was giving a talk the other day and I suggested that people click on the rainforest site. One click saves one square meter of rainforest. It works because rainforest is cheap and because the site sponsor gives the money per click. You click on the icon and money actually arrives and buys one square meter of rainforest. Do that 365 days a year, you save 365 square meters. Get 9 friends to do it and you save about half the size of a foot ball field a year.
So, starting small, getting involved, feeling you’re doing something, doing something very specific is something which actually gives you a lot more back than just giving money to Green Peace or Friends of the Earth or whatever. There’s a wonderful website called kiva.org k-i-v-a, where you can invest in an entrepreneur in a developing country. Maybe a woman, maybe a widow with a family, maybe an AIDS widow with a family who’s got no means of survival wants to set up a small business selling sweets or dairy products, maybe needs 500 dollars. They’re put on the website and you can put up all or some or a small part of that 500 dollars. I think that’s wonderful because I think you’re actually helping one person change their life and you’re feeling that you’re doing that. It’s done with dignity, not charity.
GELLERMAN: If I picked up your book, skimmed it and then went back to my daily life, what’s the one day’s worth of activist advice that you’d hope I take away with me?
NORTON: Yeah, that’s an easy one. I’ll try to find the date. It’s February 1st: give up apathy. The biggest problem in the world is not AIDS, it’s not global warming, it’s not world poverty, it’s not war. It’s apathy. It’s the fact that we feel like we can’t do anything about any of these problems. We actually can. And I would say that it’s only by doing things that the problems get solved. It’s not governments, it’s not big organizations. It’s individuals caring enough to go and do something that will create change.
GELLERMAN: Michael Norton’s new book is called 365 Ways to Change the World, How to Make a Difference One Day at a Time. Mr. Norton, it’s been a pleasure.
NORTON: Thank you, Bruce. It’s been a pleasure too.
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