On this page are reviews of three recent books with environmental themes -

The books are quite different, being respectively a manual for activism, a manual for individual action, and a caustic but entertaining look at some of the policies that have led towards our looming predicament.

Michael Norton: 365 Ways to Change the World

Most of us would like to see changes in our world but we usually don't do anything, and often that's because we simply don't know where to start. Whether we want better school lunches for our kids or more protection for the Amazonian rainforest, this book will help.

It tackles a new subject every day of the year. In one page we get a quick summary of the topic, web sites to visit to get more information or to act immediately (through online petitions, donations, etc), and a short list of actions anyone can undertake locally.

The activities are as simple and obvious as 'Make Amends' (apologise to someone you have harmed) and as odd as 'Drinking for the Environment' (Brew your own, or at least drink local beer, to reduce transport costs). In one week, for instance, we learn about conservation holidays, the benefits of walking to school, billboard liberation, treating diarrhoea in the third world, concerts for peace, and school-to-school internet link-ups.

As this sample suggests, the proposals are varied and often entertaining. Some of the 365 actions will be impossible, irrelevant (composting toilets can't be installed in a seventh-floor unit) or just too hard. But there will be dozens that make the reader think and might encourage her or him into action. Some of them will take more than one day's spare time so it might all average out pretty well.

An icon at the top of each page identifies it as belonging to one of a dozen themes: Community and Neighbourhood, Culture and Creativity, Democracy and Human Rights, Discrimination, Employment and Enterprise, Environment, Globalisation and Consumerism, Health, International Development, Peace, Volunteering and Citizenship, and Young People.

365 Ways to Change the World is linked to the internet in both directions. The publishers have a web site, http://www.365act.com/, which was promoted as an internet equivalent of the book. The possibilities for a web version (or extension) of the book are endless, but development of the site seems, sadly, to have stalled about October 2006, soon after the book was published.

A set of links for each topic in the book should already be on the site, according to the bookÕs preface, but was not fully developed when I visited it in October and had changed little by January 2007; an activistsÕ booklist with reviews and online purchasing, and free ads and links for conservation and social-change organisations are likewise partially implemented. Meanwhile, however, the site will sell you any of the international editions of the book. (The UK edition is the original, but they have done a great job on the Australian one.)

Finally, 365 Ways to Change the World is written for adults but many of its pages would be wonderful lesson-starters for upper primary to middle secondary classes on social and environmental themes.

Afterword

The website has grown sideways during 2007: it has not significantly expanded its set of links or activities, but Michael Norton has added a blog (http://365ways.blogspot.com/) and a free monthly e-newsletter (http://www.365act.com/getInvolved.html). Items in both are similar to those in the original book, so the original purpose of the site is being achieved through different means.

And Norton has written another book -- The Everyday Activist: Everything You Need to Know to Get Off Your Backside and Make a Difference, published by Boxtree, October 2007; £9.99 in the UK.

Penguin, $24.95; released Sept 2006
Review added Jan 2007
and updated November 3, 2007

Angela Crocombe: A Lighter Footprint

Australians Š yes, all of us Š use far more than our share of the EarthÕs resources. For sustainability, everyone on Earth must consume them at less than a third of the rate we now take for granted. A Lighter Footprint is dedicated to showing us how we can cut back.

A short introduction explains the need for change and an even shorter final chapter encourages the reader to spread the word, but otherwise it is thoroughly practical: do this, not that; buy this, not that. Crocombe covers one aspect of our domestic consumption per chapter, from Transport, Energy, Building and Renovating, Water, Food and Recycling to Ethical Investment, and then suggests tactics to have similar principles applied in our workplaces. This arrangement of material leads to some repetition but does mean that each chapter can be used as a stand-alone reference.

Crocombe identifies many small ways in which we can change our behaviour (and, incidentally, save ourselves money) and shows that all together they can make a big difference to our impact on the environment. Little of the content will be completely new to the book's likely audience, but most readers will find plenty that is useful.

Scribe, $24.95; released 28 July 2007
Review added December 2007

Robyn Williams: Future Perfect

Thirty-five years as a science journalist for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have given Robyn Williams a terrific overview of the innovations shaping our world. In Future Perfect he looks ahead to see their likely medium-term results. He is, as his regular listeners will expect, perceptive, merciless and entertaining.

Science education in Australia, 'Intelligent Design' and the corporatism that treats employees as consumables are all targets of his very critical attention. So are the future of cities and of transport: he reckons we have ten years to fix our worst habits or suffer appalling consequences, but that we can do it if we try. In 'The future of sex', though, he lets himself relax: 'Rumpy Pumpy 101' for teenage boys and É no, IÕll stop there. Read it yourself.

Allen & Unwin, $17.95; released August 2007
Review added December 2007

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Page updated May 2008