Friday, October 10, 2008

Book Review: Small is Possible: Life In A Local Economy

Melinda at 1 Green Generation gardens, cooks, documents, challenges and generally makes things happen. Lucky for us she reads too and said yes to writing a guest review, which gives me the opportunity to put in a plug for her Buy Sustainably Challenge. The challenge has caused more than one pause in my buying habits. Good ones I might add. Check it out.

For now though here's her review. Enjoy.

Small is Possible: Life in a Local Economy, by Lyle Estill.

I have been making personal lifestyle changes for years now. I've replaced toxic home products with non-toxic products, and now I'm replacing those products with handmade cleaning and beauty mixtures I make from simple ingredients. I've reduced my family's CO2 output down to just 10% of what the average American household emits. I live in a small apartment that has a relatively small land and utility impact. Most of my furniture and at least half of my clothing are used. I eat just about as locally as I can. I don't live perfectly sustainably, but I'm doing a pretty good job.

And there came a point a few months ago, where I realized that all of those personal changes were great, but not enough. I needed to do more. Because as I make these changes, I am confronted daily by hundreds of people around me who are not making those changes. And as I make these changes, our community, our city, our state, our country and the world as a whole still has a lot of work to do.

So I came to read Deep Economy, by Bill McKibben. And I loved it. It was a book that exposed some of the real risks of climate change and resource depletion. And then -gasp- it began to delve into possible solutions. It hinted at an idea I'd been thinking about: that sustainable living is not just about eating locally, it's about living locally.

Once I finished with Deep Economy, I was hungry for more specifics. It took me a while to find another book to read. I picked up Simple Prosperity, but the book is dense, and I wasn't ready for such density. I was ready for a quick, easy, and informative read.

And so I happened upon Small Is Possible: Life in a Local Economy by Lyle Estill. It's full of inspiring tidbits about one community's attempts at creating a local economy, and it's fun to read.

Small is Possible reads as if it were fiction, telling the stories, trials, and tribulations of the individuals within the town of Pittsboro, North Carolina. And along the way, you begin to feel you know the characters, and you take a part of them with you into your own community. While certainly Pittsboro and its people are not perfection, they are real, and their successes are inspiring.

I will note that when I first began reading this book, I was turned off because the stories take place in a small town, while I now live in a large urban area with very different needs. But as I continued reading, I found that many of Estill's words apply to any community.

Open Source

One of my favorite ideas in the book is the idea of open source. Once you let go of this idea that everything must be copyrighted, everything must be owned and protected in order to make money, you become free. As you make new information available to others, they use it, improve upon it, and somehow down the line opportunities arise for you. Either you are hired as a consultant, or you have an idea that has been improved upon for free, or in some other way you are rewarded. And when you are working toward an model of sustainability, the planet is rewarded as well.

I have taken this idea to the blog world, where I no longer get angry when someone posts a blog entry of mine without asking. Because it's going out into the world, someone else is reading it, and when I let this go, usually I am somehow rewarded down the line.

I have taken this idea into the consulting world, into business relationships, and into life as a whole. It is an amazing thing. Like magic, or some would call it karma: as you give, somehow it comes back to you in a positive way.

Open source ideas quickly foster a more open community, a more open and honest society. A group of people or organizations all start working toward a common goal rather than all working against one another.

Beautiful, isn't it?

Finding Your Niche

Another beautiful idea is that a community needs a variety of people and businesses to thrive. And that as you begin living locally - and begin working toward a healthy community - people and businesses find their niches. And when you find your niche within the local economy, your own happiness rises. Your sense of well-being increases as you realize your positive and necessary contribution to society.

As we go further into debt and economic security throughout the world, nurturing our small, local, sustainable businesses and infrastructure will become increasingly important. It is our local economy that insulates us, it is our local infrastructure that protects us, it is our local community that sustains us.

I recommend this book. 4/5 stars. (Note: since it reads so quickly, I recommend checking it out at the library rather than purchasing it!)

** From here I plan to move on to more reading about local economies, so if anyone has any recommendations please let me know!! **


Green Bean said...

Thank you for the review, Melinda. I'll pick it up. Like you, I think local economies and local communities are the answer - or at least a big part of the answer. I'll pick this up from the library.

Sorry, I don't have any other local economy books to suggest.

Kale for Sale said...

The only other reading about local economies I can think of are all the eat local books. I suspect you've already read those. The other person would be Wendall Berry but I know you read him too.

This book sounds good because it's stories about individuals and a place. Those are always my favorite reads. Thanks again for the review.

Chessa said...

This sounds great! I just requested it from the library. I'm excited, thanks so much for the recommendation. I loved Deep Economy, too. I wish I could offer some more recommendations, but the only types I can think of have a lot of artificial parameters about them - like See You in One Hundred Years - where they live like they did in 1900 for one year. They ended up, of course, having to rely very heavily on their neighbors and local resources, but of course we aren't all going to live in those particular conditions. But it was a good read.

Anonymous said...

GB, You're welcome! It was nice to compile my thoughts about the book. Enjoy!

Katrina, Mmmm, probably have read most of the eat local books. I do plan on reading some more Wendall Berry soon, as I love what I've read of his - mostly essays. Beautiful essays.

I enjoyed reading this because it was very real. I hope you like it!

Chessa, Deep Economy is definitely one of my favorites. I have heard of See You In One Hundred Years, but haven't read it. Will check it out. Relying on neighbors sounds like part of the solution - very important!

I just noticed (in your profile) that you're in Seattle - so am I! I'm a vegetarian, though not vegan. We just had a local blogger get-together that was really lovely. I'll let you know when we have another!

Bobbi said...

I was also taken with Deep Economy and his concept of local communities. Not sure how one does that in the sprawling suburbs where you have to drive miles to frequent a local, non-chain store merchant. It's frustrating. I'm going to check our library website to see if the system has your book. Thanks for the excellent review.