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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

World Changing

Air Date: Week of

Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Outside magazine’s Bruce Barcott reviews the encyclopedic book “World Changing: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century.” He says the book is not only chock-full of useful environmental information, but it’s beautiful, as well.


CURWOOD: More than a generation ago, author Stewart Brand put together what some considered the bible of the ‘60s counterculture. It was called the Whole Earth Catalog. And it brought together hundreds of tools and ideas that were driving political and social change at the time into a single book. Now a new book attempts to do the same thing for today’s environmental movement. It’s called “Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century,” by Alex Steffen. Outside Magazine contributing editor Bruce Barcott has our review.

BARCOTT: Alex Steffan is a radical optimist. A few years ago, amid a deluge of grim environmental news, the Seattle-based activist created a website called Worldchanging.org. Steffan's idea was simple: The tools to "green up" the world already existed. The problem was, not enough people knew about them. So Worldchanging.org became a clearinghouse of green innovation. The site offered a library of brilliant sustainable solutions. Steffan was its head librarian, standing at the door yelling, "Here! Take this idea! It works!"

Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Those ideas have now been bound together in, World Changing: A User's Guide for the 21st Century. The book is a massive 600-page compendium of information about everything from seed banks to biodiesel to carbon offsets and car sharing. Topics move naturally from the personal to the planetary. Early chapters cover stuff we buy, like candles and t-shirts. Then Steffan’s team of contributing writers look at housing design, then city planning, and finally business and global politics.

And this is not only one of the New Year's most useful books, it's also one of the most beautiful. Housed in a slipcase that is its own work of art, World Changing’s designer, Stefan Sagmeister, uses typefaces, graphics, and color photos to create the printed-page version of a beautiful park on a sunny day. Your eye strikes the page and you feel like hanging out for a while.

The beauty of the book illustrates one of Alex Steffan's main points. Don't just live sensibly, he says. Live well. His vision of the future isn't granola and porridge. It's what he calls "bright green:” Creating and buying products and systems that are smart, sexy, sleek, and sustainable.

The author's other guiding principle is what might be called the Ripple Effect. "Planetary thinking is hard." he writes. So he offers some suggestions: take small steps that influence wider markets. Support your green power programs that build the market for wind energy. Buy locally grown produce to keep organic farmers in business. Choose bamboo flooring instead of virgin fir. Want more ideas? Alex Steffan's got thousands.

Near the end of the book, Steffan says that "things are bad. Problems are huge. But despair is a trap. None of the problems we face are insurmountable. The biggest barrier to a bright green future may be entirely in our heads-we simply can't imagine it." With World Changing, Alex Steffan not only helps us imagine it. He gives us the tools to make it happen.

CURWOOD: The book is “Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century,” by Alex Steffen. Our reviewer is Outside Magazine’s Bruce Barcott.



"Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century"


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