worldchanging.jpg(We are pleased to welcome Alex Steffen, editor of Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, who is joining us in the comments today — JH)

At the opening session of the recent UN conference on climate change, the head of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Mr. Rajendra Pachauri, summarized for the delegates the three IPCC working group reports released over the last year. He closed his speech [short pdf] with these words:

Ladies and Gentlemen, my time is up and I would say: so is also the time up for inaction. I would like to end my presentation with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, a great leader well, ahead of his time. Gandhi said: “A technological society has two choices: first it can wait until catastrophic failures expose systemic deficiencies, distortion and self-deceptions. Secondly, a culture can provide social checks and balances to correct for systemic distortion prior to catastrophic failures”. May I submit, it is time for us to move away from self-deception and go on to the second of these two choices.

It is obvious that the folks behind Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century agree with Mr. Pachauri — the time to correct the problems is now, before catastrophic failures set in.

What sets Worldchanging apart from many other books on climate change and personal action is its tone. Editor Alex Steffen sets things up in the opening words of his introduction: “This book offers ideas about how to change the world.” There is no whining about the size of the problems, and no sugar-coating them either. Instead, Steffen and his company of authors offer concrete ideas that will move things in the right direction. The premise by which they operate is simple: with a community gathered around identifying, exploring, and more widely disseminating these and other ideas, the world can indeed be changed.

These aren’t pie-in-the-sky, untested and unproven things — they are actual examples of what is being done right now, by innovators using the technology we have available today. Worldchanging looks at the stuff we acquire, our shelters, our cities, our communities, our businesses, our politics, and our planet. Some of the things to which the book points are small, like ideas for remodeling your home, changing personal energy consumption habits, or the “pot-in-a-pot refrigerator” that uses no electricity and is changing life in Nigeria in amazing ways. Other ideas are larger, like the Doctors Without Border’ model Refugee Camp exhibit, the work of Heifer International, or technological breakthroughs for clearing landmines. Still other ideas are enormous, like the push for transparency in the worlds of corporations, governments, and NGOs alike.

The value of a book like Worldchanging is that it provides an incredible tour of the movement to deal with global climate change. It reads like a cross between an encyclopedia and a blog. The articles are short (the blog part), and cover an enormous range of material (the encyclopedia). Sadly, for reasons of space, the authors give few if any URLs (or other sources) for the stories they tell, though a simple internet search will let you dig deeper into whatever topic that has caught your eye. (I had the misfortune to do much of my reading of Worldchanging in airports and on airplanes, away from my computer, and found myself in agony wanting to look online for more!)

The 600+ page book, in short, points to the larger, online and on-going, mission. Their Manifesto describes their work like this: works from a simple premise: that the tools, models and ideas for building a better future lie all around us. That plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected. That the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it’s here. We only need to put the pieces together.

Alex Steffen co-founded in 2003, and has pulled together a group of about 40 columnists, correspondents, and contributors from around the world. As their manifesto says, “Changing the world is a team sport.” We at Firedoglake share that approach in our own particular fashion, especially with regard to politics. We also have more than a few puzzle fiends around here, so “putting the pieces together” is right up our alley, too.

I’m anxious to hear where our conversation goes this afternoon. Welcome to the ‘Lake, Alex. The water’s warm, everyone, so jump right in.

(As a courtesy to our guest, please keep this thread’s comments on the topic of the book. Other discussions can continue on the prior thread. Thanks!)



I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.