Steal This Book!

I have been promoting my book Live Sustainably Now by placing free copies in a Little Free Library in the North Woods Wilderness.

Steal This Book was, of course, the title of 60s activist Abby Hoffman’s 1971 bible of underground living and activism. Hoffman is sometimes miscredited as the source of the environmental activist’s credo “Think globally, act locally.”

I suppose some people write books hoping to become famous, others to monetize the fame they already have. But far more authors write because they think they have something worth saying and hope to find readers who will hear it.

I am definitely in the latter category. I have no fame to monetize, and I have a deep ambivalence about fame as some sort of personal goal. If my book ever pays royalties in excess of my out of pocket expenses, I plan to donate them to the relief of global victims of climate change.

I started writing Live Sustainably Now a few years ago because I saw something missing in the literature on climate change: there were plenty of books about the science of climate change and the need for policy measures to forestall its worst impacts, and books on the policy choices and politics of responding to climate change. And while there were some books about the climate impacts of individual consumption choices on climate emissions, there was no book out there about setting a personal carbon budget consistent with global greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals, and living within that budget.

I am one of those climate people who think that individual action on climate matters on both a personal and political level, and the first two chapters of my book explain why. Part of the climate benefit of individual action comes from talking about it with others – so that individual change becomes collective. No environmental leaders seemed to be talking about, much less modeling, the sort of low carbon lifestyle developed world culture needs to adopt to address climate change.

I have for years been sharing my low-carbon lifestyle choices with family, friends, colleagues, and students. Conspicuous non-consumption, if you will. But my social and professional circle is a fairly limited audience. It seemed the world needed to hear from someone about the why and the how of living consistently with one’s beliefs about climate, and I felt the calling to try and fill the gap.

While I was working on my book, Peter Kalmus’s great book Being The Change came out, and helped fill that gap. Given Peter’s book, I wasn’t sure I would finish the project, but Columbia University Press offered to publish it. My approach is sufficiently distinct from Peter’s that it seemed worth the effort. Peter is more Abbie Hoffman radical than me – he lives on a stricter carbon budget and calls for composting all of your sanitary waste, tearing up your credit cards, and refusing to file tax returns. I talk more about getting an electric car, signing up for renewable energy, and flying less approach, while working for the political changes we need.

My book came out (finally!) in December. It was reviewed well in the few places that reviewed it. The publisher was happy with first month’s sales, which they called “very good for a hardcover” book. Still, I was hoping for wider circulation.

In 25 years of teaching, I have touched the lives of perhaps one thousand students. My book has reached well more readers than that already, so I should be “glass half full” happy. But I still am hoping to get the word out to random people who might not otherwise hear about the book.

Hence the Bewilderness Free Library copies. Now, a cross country ski trail in the mountains might not seem like the best place to be promoting an environmental philosophy and how-to book. But our little library is right where the Garnet Hill Lodge shuttle stops to take tired skiers back up the hill. And cross country skiers, who generally love winter and the natural environment and want to preserve them both, are my target demographic. I’ll be giving my second book talk up at the lodge this evening (I’ll ski there in the rain in order to avoid getting in my car, and because I like to ski).

So Live Sustainably Now has been the Bewilderness best seller! I have put about seven copies out by now, and they all have disappeared within a week.

Problem is, as a way of reaching out to new audiences . . . it has not worked so well. Somehow, in this tight little mountain community, I ended up hearing about almost everyone who “borrowed” a copy. They are all friends of mine. And I happened to ski by and talk to the one stranger who borrowed the book (an EPA scientist, as it turns out).

So if you want to steal this book – ski on out to the Bewilderness trail. I’ll leave a copy out for you.

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