CHAPTER 7. MAXIMIZE YOUR HANDPRINT
If you’ve done all you’re able or willing to do right now to reduce your footprint, work on increasing your handprint. Here are some suggestions:
Increase Your Handprint in the Riot Categories Themselves:
1. Gasoline: Organize a workshop on bicycle safety. Start a neighborhood culture of offering others a ride when you’re going somewhere. Invite neighbors to walk or cycle together to the neighborhood meeting rather than drive. Teach your kids how to use public transportation.
2. Electricity: Share Michael Bluejay’s website: Michaelbluejay.com
Read about passive solar heating and cooling and share your knowledge to help other people use low-tech, inexpensive strategies to reduce the footprint of heating and cooling their homes.
3. Heating & cooking energy: Read up on solar ovens. Get a solar oven for your school or church. Conduct a cooking class or bring sun-cooked cookies to the potluck and let everyone know how they were baked. Find out about Rocket Stoves and Rocket Mass Heaters, haybox cooking, and other DIY alternative heating and cooking technologies. Share your knowledge or start a creative tinkerers’ group to build things.
4. Garbage: Divert other people’s castaway stuff from the waste-stream, then brag on social media about your great curb-scores! Contact a company about reducing its product packaging. If you compost, teach others how to also. If you don’t already compost, learn how and then teach others how. Start a compost bin at your school or church. Get together with neighbors and form a buyers’ co-op so you can buy more food in bulk rather than packaged.
5. Water: Read Brad Lancaster and Art Ludwig to learn about water harvesting. Set up a rainbarrel and show your neighbors. Ask your city to use more native and water-wise landscaping (if they haven’t been moving in that direction already——many cities have).
6. Consumer goods: Donate toys, clothes, art supplies and books you’re no longer using to a school, church, or shelter. Arrange for a screening of “The Story of Stuff” in your community. If you know someone who’s struggling with excess stuff, offer to help them find worthy homes for it.
7. Food: Organize a local-food meetup. Visit a local farm. Volunteer on a farm. Boost your skills and knowledge and share with others what you’ve learned. Host a plant- and seed-swap in your neighborhood. Write an article about food-sustainability issues for your local paper. Talk with your city leaders about the sustainability of your local food supply. Some cities have set up sustainable-food policy boards; yours might too.
These are just a few examples to get your creative wheels turning. And finally, a general overall suggestion: Start a Riot for Austerity study group!
Increase Your Handprint By Tapping Into a Social Movement:
There are a number of social movements aimed at retooling human settlements and ways of life to create a sustainable civilization. The ones I’ve found most effective and engaging are the Permaculture Design movement, the Bioregional movement, and the Transition movement. You’ll find descriptions and links to these movements in the appendix.
The advantage of tapping into a social movement is that you expand your menu of opportunities to make a difference, beyond just reducing your own footprint. You also get the support of a community. This is particularly true if you join, or start, a local chapter in your geographic area. It even holds true if you only participate online.
Increase Your Handprint by Getting Active in Your Community:
Give your time, talent, and energy to your neighborhood and your town. Volunteer for citizens’ boards and neighborhood committees. Do you know your neighbors? Go knock on their doors and meet them, at least the immediate ones. (And in case you have any doubt about whether you’ll meet with a friendly response, go armed with some fresh-baked cookies, or some sun-ripe tomatoes from your garden!)
You could start a community potluck (like Jim O’s, a longtime South Austin tradition) or turn your backyard into a weekly community salon for music and conversation (thanks, Howie and Linda!).
Increase Your Handprint By Unleashing Your Creativity; Find Your Right Livelihood:
“Right livelihood” is a phrase I first learned in permaculture class. It’s basically your ideal occupation, where your creative talents and inclinations intersect with some need in the world. (The community you serve could be in your immediate neighborhood or it could be online, scattered all over the world; as is the case for many writers, artists, and educators these days.)
If you have a good steady day-job but it doesn’t feel like the right livelihood for you, you don’t have to up and quit your job in order to start exploring what might be your right livelihood. Just start reading, researching, and maybe even taking classes on the side.
Then again, I know of many successful entrepreneurs who mentioned that a key factor in finding their right livelihood was that they suddenly lost their steady day-job and had to come up with another way to pay the bills. Two examples of such businesses, off the top of my head, are The Soup Man in Austin (which started out as a bicycle-based soup delivery business and grew into a brick-and-mortar place) and Kale Cafe in Daytona Beach (which started out as a smoothie stall at the farmers’ market and now has multiple store fronts).
If you could do anything and still get paid, what would that be? What do you do willingly for many hours a day without getting paid? There’s a way to turn that into a livelihood. In the “Creativity” section of the appendix, I list several books and other resources that have lit a fire under me to take more creative initiative. These books are not specifically about green or low-footprint life; they’re about creativity, initiative, and courage. But my personal opinion is that those are essential ingredients in making a more ecologically balanced world. When I ask people what they’d really rather be doing for their occupation, the answer almost invariably winds up being something with a lower footprint (and greater handprint) than what they’re doing.
For example, a guy working a typical paper-pushing job wishes he could earn his living by teaching local kids how to garden. Everyone has talent and creativity, but too many of us are holding back in fear of “whatever.” Maybe these fears are based on rejection, failure, wasting time, or simply not measuring up to our own standards.
The following “Creative Champions” have given me a big shot in the arm. After reading a couple of Seth Godin’s books, I organized my first art show, which included six other artists. After reading advice from Stella Orange, Jeff Goins, and Sean Donovan on how to stop procrastinating and start writing, I finally got off my butt and wrote my first book (this one). If all goes according to plan, this book won’t be my last.
To sit on your talent is to hoard resources that the world needs. Right now the planet needs all the creativity it can get, in every field, from agriculture, to textiles, to architecture and construction, to education, to government, to urban planning, to sanitation, to finance, to transportation, just to name a few. And yes, of course that includes the arts as well. The arts are a key vehicle for cultural transmission.
I hope that you will get inspired to deploy your unique blend of creativity, talent, and passion to make a difference in the world.