The Power of One

In this age of social media, trying to reach people and have an impact can feel like a lost cause. How ironic that it would feel this way! Here we have all these apps and all these different channels, which give everyday people the potential to reach more viewers/listeners than ever.

The potential. I guess that’s where the “lost cause” feeling comes in. In an age of rockstar bloggers who get a million Likes and are constantly being jetted around the world to give speeches and endorse products, and are making a huge impact, a blogger who only reaches five or seven people (or one person, or sometimes zero) is pretty much a failure, don’t you agree?

But wait! That’s a trick question. First of all: Nobody reaches zero people. There’s no such thing. We all end up reaching at least one other person. It may not happen instantly but pretty much everything we do has some kind of impact.

And second of all, as wonderful as online channels are, good old low-tech communication has not lost its power. Back in the days when my job was to promote permaculture design courses in Austin, and I had beaten the online channels to death, sometimes I’d go out on foot and tack flyers to utility poles! (And if I didn’t have even a few bucks to make copies, which sometimes I did not) I would individually hand-draw the flyers. Yes it was time-consuming, but my time was not worth much in monetary terms, and anyway I like to draw. Well, what do you know, those utility-pole flyers ended up bringing in quite a few students!

Third of all, and perhaps most important: Sometimes all it takes to make a crucial difference is for one person to reach one other person!

One night some years back, a disillusioned environmentalist of my acquaintance suddenly had his hope rekindled, by stumbling on the permaculture design movement. He heard about permaculture serendipitously: He happened to be listening to some obscure late-night radio show while he was working aboard a commercial fishing boat. Actually I don’t know that it was at night; it could just as well have been in the daytime. But the lonely late-night airwaves is how I always picture it: sketchy reception; one voice traveling out over the choppy dark sea, reaching into the ears of a person who just happened to be fertile ground for the ideas being presented.

Maybe the radio show reached many other people; maybe it reached only that one guy. What I do know is that the one person I know who did hear that radio show has ended up sharing permaculture design knowledge with probably thousands of other people.

A one-to-one transmission can feel flimsy, particularly in this day and age of so many channels and such wide reach. But that “one” can be all it takes to sprout many thousands of seeds.

I mention this because I know a lot of you are working hard to make a difference in the world and in your communities. Don’t get derailed by someone else’s stellar numbers. Be happy for that person, be grateful to them for doing their part, and bring your attention back to your own piece of the work.

You might find it helpful to recall examples of how the “Power of One” has influenced the course of your own life. Think of one person who reached you and made a huge impact. (Don’t limit yourself to people you’ve met in person or heard “live.” Some of my strongest influences have been books or songs or paintings from hundreds of years ago!)

The above advice is for myself also, as I venture down intricate and obscure pathways where I may reach only one other person, and maybe not in this lifetime. No matter! Here I go, here we all go.

Grit and Resilience

One of my biggest challenges in life is that I have a tendency to be a bit lazy, and also to want to give up at the first sign of difficulty. “Persistence is 99% of everything,” I’ve often heard it said. And looking around me, at successful people and at the successes and failures of my own life, I have to agree.

Just about everything I’ve done that ended up being useful and helpful (from teaching myself a language, to writing letters to the editor, to writing a book — to name just a few examples) were things I almost quit before finishing, or never started in the first place.

Rick Hanson, PhD (author of RESILIENT: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness (written with Forrest Hanson)), has written the most well-organized breakdown of the components of resilience, and how to cultivate each component, that I’ve ever run across. The attributes we think of as baked-in to our personality are far more malleable than we think; we really can re-wire our own brains for the good. Check out Mr. Hanson’s TED talks also.

I also recommend Angela Duckworth’s book GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Check out her TED Talk on that subject here; it’s what inspired me to go ahead and buy her book.

And finally, Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement, a book by Kenneth W. Christian, Ph.D., really spoke to me.

What does all of this have to do with living a low-footprint life?

For starters, the point of low-footprint living (other than conserving resources and setting a good example for others) is to lower our overhead so we can focus on what really gives meaning to our lives. Also, to mobilize our creativity for the greater good. And a big part of lowering our overhead is clearing mental obstacles. Strengthen your mind, make a better world.

A final note: This blog post had been sitting in draft-limbo for months. It just seemed too lame and too difficult to finish. I have a bunch of other posts piled up in my draft stack. I’m going to plug away and get them done.

Persistence. It isn’t always easy and it’s not my strong suit … and yet I persist in cultivating it, so I guess I’m not a lost cause. I hope you do too. Keep plugging away, don’t give up! Make that sketch, write that letter, call that person, sort out that closet. You never know what you’ll find, who you’ll help, what you’ll gain.

Wine Footprint

There are many approaches to tackling the overall task of footprint reduction. Here are some approaches I’ve found to be effective and personally beneficial:

  • — Riot for Austerity (90% Reduction Challenge): Set out to cut your footprint to 10% of the U.S. average in as many areas as possible (water consumption, electricity usage, gasoline, food footprint etc.)
  • — Journey to Zero Waste: Strive for zero waste (or as close to zero as possible) in various areas such as water usage, product packaging, etc.
  • — Tackle categories that are “big” for you personally. Travel might be a big area for one person; food or home energy usage could be big for another.
  • For wine lovers (like me!), a good example of the third approach is this article in the New York Times which brings up good questions to ask in determining the footprint of wine.

    “Do producers plow or till the rows between the vines, which releases carbon to the atmosphere? Or do they plant and maintain a cover crop, whether grasses, legumes or something else? An organic or biodynamic grower could do either. But maintaining a cover crop creates a lower carbon footprint.

    Do they mow the cover crop? Or simply roll it? Rolling it releases less carbon from the soil.

    “Using organic compost is good for vineyards. But do producers make it themselves? Or do they buy it and ship it, possibly from a distance?

    “Do they use electric or hybrid vehicles? Or standard combustion engines?

    “Are they practicing regenerative agriculture by minimizing use of chemical sprays and acting to promote biodiversity and soil life?

    “Have they converted to renewable fuels? Do they practice carbon sequestration, in which carbon is captured and stored rather than released into the atmosphere? 

    “Where does their electricity come from? How do they manage their use of water?”

    Excellent questions all! If you aren’t sure of the answers, or can’t find them out, there are other things you can do. One is to choose wine that comes in lighter-weight bottles. (According to the article, over the past 20 years heavy bottles have been used as a marketing ploy, to create the perception of better wine.) You could also try making your own wine from local fruit in season.

    We can choose to ask similarly probing questions about any product we consume, service we use, etc. Just take care not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. As a fellow member of the Journey to Zero Waste group (Facebook group) says, “We don’t need a few people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of us doing it imperfectly.”

    Going Drastic on Plastic

    A local grassroots eco organization in my area has launched a massive campaign to reduce use of single-use plastics, and to clean up the plastics that are already out there littering the land and floating in our waterways.

    I’m at their event “Go Drastic on Plastic,” where various experts are reporting grim statistics and showing photos of injured marine animals.

    Just a few things I’ve learned today:

    Some huge volume, x hundred billion tons, of plastics have been produced since the invention of plastics in 1907. Only 9% of the total has been recycled.

    Single-use plastics account for 50% of the total volume we consume.

    500 million plastic straws are used in the USA each day (that is more than our population!)

    In the past 10 years, we’ve used more plastics than in the previous 100 years.

    Those are just a few of the figures that stood out.

    It’s good that people are getting more aware and are working on various fronts to address the problem.

    The eco organization I mentioned is called Dream Green Volusia, in case you are located in my geographic region and/or want to see what they are up to, to get ideas for what you can do in your area. You can find Dream Green Volusia on Facebook.

    On an individual level, you can make more of a difference than you might think. I’ve been continually surprised at the number of friends/neighbors who told me they were influenced by seeing me bring reusable bags, reusable water bottle, and so on.

    The plastic trash problem, along with other grave problems such as climate change and the loss of biodiversity, are actually symptoms of a much larger overall problem: humankind’s disconnect from nature. As we address the root issue, we’ll be addressing the symptoms too. Still, the symptoms are sufficiently severe at this point that we need to treat them as problems in their own right.

    Don’t give in to discouragement though. Do what you can on a personal level, and join forces with any likeminded people you can find.

    The Value of Doing Nothing

    One of the projects on my “back burner” is to write a book called Constructive Laziness: How To Save the Environment and Vastly Improve Your Life By Doing Absolutely Nothing Whatsoever. I’d like to say the reason I haven’t written the book yet is that I’ve been busy doing nothing, but actually, it’s just that I’m working on other books and projects.

    That said, I may be one of the top five working people I’ve ever met in my life who manage to spend a significant percentage of their time doing nothing. I actually build it into my day. This is not a skill I was born with, and if I can learn it anyone can.

    I grew up in a family that did a lot of camping and travel. We had many adventures together. One fine morning at a campsite, we were discussing options for what to do that day. Hiking, scenic drive, that sort of thing. That’s when I came up with the suggestion, “Can we just sit around and camp?” By which I meant, savor the experience of just being there. We probably ended up picking a more active option (I don’t remember), but that attitude has stayed with me my whole life. Whether at home or on the road, I like to just sit around and camp. Look up at the trees. Notice things in the street. Let thoughts flow through my head. Enjoy sitting at the table I’m sitting at, drinking from the cup I’m drinking from. Watching clouds.

    There is zero goal other than just appreciating my life and the world. But I end up getting great benefits. Obviously it’s a great way to recharge. But also, a lot of creative ideas pop into my head. (At which point I usually grab a notebook or my cellphone and write them down, thus interrupting my “do nothing” time — but only for a couple of minutes.)

    A popular quote from Bill Mollison (who founded the permaculture design movement with David Holmgren around 1980) is, “When in doubt, do nothing.” In the context of permaculture, this means don’t intrude/intervene until you’ve spent ample time observing a site or situation. And even if/when you do decide to do something, make the minimum necessary intervention.

    It would probably help the environment quite a bit if everyone who longed to spend at least a few minutes a day doing nothing, were to make a point of doing so. Toward that end, I’ve gathered some articles to provide moral support to those of you who have aspirations of doing nothing but are not sure where to start.

    Further Reading:

    Treehugger.com: Why you should join the ‘do nothing’ club: “The Italians called it ‘il dolce far niente’, literally translated as ‘sweet doing nothing,’ or more colloquially as ‘pleasant idleness’. It has a strong positive connotation because it’s seen as valuable, even necessary to wellbeing.

    Forbes.com: The Importance of Doing Nothing: “If we don’t allow ourselves periods of uninterrupted, freely associated thought then personal growth, insight and creativity are less likely to emerge.

    (A book I haven’t read that sounds good) How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell. “Odell sees our attention as the most precious—and overdrawn—resource we have. Once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress.

    And on a somewhat related note, from one of my favorite writers/thinkers, David at Raptitude.com, Go Deeper, Not Wider: “I keep imagining a tradition I’d like to invent. After you’re established in your career, and you have some neat stuff in your house, you take a whole year in which you don’t start anything new or acquire any new possessions you don’t need. … You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more. You read your unread books, or even reread your favorites. You pick up the guitar again and get better at it, instead of taking up the harmonica. …”

    Meadow Magic

    This photo is courtesy of my friend Dave Gallaher, who writes: “You may recall my telling of trying to keep my back yard in ‘meadow status’ as long as allowed. Here it is today, almost the end of April. Nothing exceptional, but a source of joy for me.”

    What a soft, soothing green landscape! And the fact is, in many places such yards have become exceptional, as the social norm of relentless mowing extends to every corner of the land.

    (Today I actually saw an advertisement for a mower that operates automatically — like one of those house-vacuuming robots, but for the yard. It sells for $1,500 and can be operated by remote control from a smartphone. Ye gods.)

    When I walk into a shaded patch of meadow, even a small one, I feel myself relax and breathe more deeply. And of course, many nonhuman creatures are benefiting too.

    Further Reading:

    Micro-Meadow: Using Small Spaces for Big Impact: “By creating a ‘micro-meadow’ in these spaces, we have the combined benefit of beautiful aesthetics and diversity of habitat.  Whether the space is dry or wet, there are meadow plants uniquely suited to fill these spaces.  Through many years of experience and study, we’ve found a combination of clumping and spreading native grasses, with a selection of colorful native perennials can achieve a beautiful and functional micro-habitat.

    Micro-prairies: No yard is too small to go with earth-friendly native plants (Pinterest page – lots of photos)

    National Wildlife Federation: Turn Your Yard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat: It’s not as hard as you might think; even a container garden on a balcony can qualify.

    Earth Day

    Today, April 22, is the actual Earth Day. It is the 50th Earth Day. (Next year is the 50th anniversary, but this year is the 50th time.

    A couple of weeks ago I suddenly decided to organize an Earth Day event in my city. It’s been some years since anyone organized Earth Day event for the general public in Daytona Beach. (There are plenty of public Earth Day events going on all week throughout the area, so we are not deprived in any way!)

    The Earth Day festival in downtown Daytona Beach is happening today from 3pm to 9pm at Cinematique Theater, 242 S. Beach St., Daytona Beach. Cinematique is the only independent cinema I know of in the area. It’s a real treasure of our community.

    We’ll be having vendors, a saxophonist, a poetry reading or two, free beverages (you must bring your own reusable cup, or else buy a cup for $1 from the “Landfill Rescue Cup” table). And I’ll be showing a smorgasbord of green/permaculture-related video clips. Stop by if you are in the area!

    And, if you don’t yet have any Earth Day events in your area, I strongly encourage you to organize one!

    Happy Earth Day.