When everything seems to be falling apart in the world, the most useful thing you can do is focus on your own community and making it a better place.
Sometimes I wish I had a magic wand that I could use to change the world. I'd eliminate plastic packaging and clean up the oceans. I'd surround every town with acres of organic vegetable gardens. I'd build train lines, bicycle superhighways, and fleets of sailboats. My imaginary list goes on but, alas, there is no magic wand; and even if there were, my vision of an ideal world would likely be different from yours.
Just because there is no magic wand, however, does not mean that we should desist from our efforts to transform the world into a place that reflects our dreams. The magic wand, in truth, is our hands, our unique skill sets, our vision, and our stubbornness to fight for the places we inhabit and love most deeply -- and people all over the world are doing precisely this. They are what authors Fay Weller and Mary Wilson call 'changemakers', intelligent and determined individuals who fight to fix something that they perceive as wrong, while forging a new way forward for subsequent generations.
These individuals and their impressive philosophy are the subject of a new book by Weller and Wilson, titled Changemakers: Embracing Hope, Taking Action, and Transforming the World (New Society Publishers, 2018). The book is a wonderful collection of stories about real-life changemakers, most of whom live on the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, Canada. They give us reason to hope for the future at a time when it's easy to feel discouraged.
Changemakers opens with a riveting story about eggs, and how the health inspector on tiny Gabriola Island tried to shut down a community kitchen for using farm-fresh local eggs that had not been officially graded. The cook refused, which resulted in a battle that reached national news headlines. In the end, the community kitchen won the right to serve its eggs, but it was a powerful lesson in why we must all examine and question the stories we're told, and get to the roots of their existence. In this particular case,
"The truth at the heart of the government's story is the dangers of salmonella, and the government's duty to safeguard public health... The government's rationale for the problem of salmonella is based on records of food contaminated by food handlers and problems with ungraded eggs. It doesn't include the research that found five times more incidences of salmonella in battery egg operations relative to organic farms. The regulations are designed to address the problem the official story tells us about but nothing else."
By questioning 'why', we open the door to alternatives that we may never have thought of before. Changemakers goes on to show how Gulf Island communities have done precisely this in a number of areas, including:
Food: Establishing community gardens and figuring out ways to make them accessible and appealing to residents; eating more seasonally and locally
Shelter: Building smaller homes by hand, using recycled materials, solar power, rainwater collection, green roofs; the impressive work done by the Mudgirls Natural Building Collective, run by a group of women who build homes along B.C.'s coast out of mostly unprocessed natural and recycled materials
Transportation: The use of car stops (like taxi pickup points for personal transportation); incentivizing bicycles; and the introduction of a waste vegetable oil-powered public bus
Energy: Communities staying off-grid and introducing solar power and air-to-air heat pumps
Waste management: Installing composting toilets; upcyling and swapping clothing; creating a 'free store' where people can leave unwanted goods; the afore-mentioned waste vegetable oil that fuels public transportation; and a soap named Glean that author Fay Weller makes from the glycerin byproduct that comes from the bus's bio-diesel-making operation
The list of changes made by these islanders is explained in much greater detail in the book, but the overall effect is one of hopefulness. If they can do it, why can't the rest of us?
Before you fall into the trap of assuming that individual changes amount to little these days and are hardly worthwhile in the face of ineffective government policies and huge polluting industries, Weller and Wilson argue that this is where it starts. In fact, it's the only place you can start.
"Governments rarely make changes unless the politicians know that a substantial portion of the population wants that change... An accumulation of local actions can produce corresponding changes to regulations with support from government."
Working toward change is, at the very least, a way to stay positive.
"It is easy to feel that there is absolutely nothing that we as individuals can do -- and yet, if anything is to be done, it will be done by individuals. Working toward a positive change engages us and is a powerful antidote to despair."
Changemakers is a quick and easy read, with only 150 pages of text, plus a 30-page manual at the back for guiding your own community group toward real-life change. You can buy it here.