Book Review: Patagonia Tools for Grassroots ActivistsAt the beginning of the year, I put out a sort of crie de coeur in my post The Big Lie of Conscious Consumerism. And it struck a chord, generating 27 comments and a dozen personal emails, and even pledges to support me in my mission.

It seems a lot of you feel the way I do, that this whole “voting with our dollar” thing isn’t doing enough. We feel beaten down and discouraged, and yet we can’t stop shopping consciously because we know too much.

What is the solution? One reader asked me what the best way to influence people around you is, which I thought was a great question. I want to know that, too! Another encouraged me to educate readers on legislation, which I would like to start doing.

So, it was especially timely when I was offered the chance to read and review Patagonia’s new book, Tools for Grassroots Activities: Best Practices for Success in the Environmental Movement, edited by Nora Gallagher and Lisa Myers, with a foreword by Patagonia’s founder and environmental activist, Yvon Chouinard. When I got the pitch, I immediately wrote back. Yes. Send me this book. Because I don’t want to just be a blogger any more. I want to be a blogger/activist.

Tools is a medium-weight collection of essays and instructions inspired by the annual Tools Conference for activists. (It’s a paperback printed in Canada on 100% recycled paper, so it’s completely recycled and recyclable. Also, 1% of the sales from the book go to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.) Full of instructions, essays, and examples, each bookended by lush photographs of pristine natural environments and historical protests, it’s meant to be instructive, but also inspirational.

The experts who contribute are pragmatists, but they don’t have time for whining. “When I hear someone say, ‘It’s really hard right now,’ I think, Sure, but so what? It always is. It always has been,” begins the essay by Brock Evans, a Tools keynote speaker with 25 years under his belt as a head lobbyist for the Sierra Club and National Audubon Society. He recognizes the urgency of what we’re dealing with, but that only spurs him on more. “In thirty or forty more years, so many of the places we love will be either protected or they will be gone,” he notes.

This steely-eyed pragmatism and buck-up optimism – like a expert rock climber staring up at an imposing mountain face that he intends to conquer – characterizes the whole book. The experts inside have no patience for the kind of environmental activists who distrust government, or want to bring down capitalism. Instead, they ground their instructions in the reality of our current political system and social landscape. And the chapters are truly useful! There are the big ideas – how to take your work to the next level, in the case of Annie Leonard, who famously narrates The Story of Stuff. And there are details like how to run your social media, design beautiful marketing materials, and grow your email list.

There are two reasons why I might have decided this book isn’t for me. One is that – with the exception of Annie Leonard – it overwhelmingly focuses on getting land protected from development and resource extraction. There’s almost no mention of how consumer products and fashion are responsible for the release of toxins and plastic into the air and water, which can make their way to even the most pristine protected environments. (Thanks, Dupont.) The other is that this book is directed toward people who are currently running working for an environmental non-profit. As a journalist, I’m not trying to raise money or work with politicians to get legislation passed, so some of the topics I can’t really actively use.

And yet, this book is exactly what I needed.

I thought we were losing the fight, but there are so many wins in this book that I didn’t know about! Millions of acres of wild area preserved forever. Huge oil corporations routed from drilling in the wilderness. Dams torn down. Coal plant construction brought to a halt and old coal plants decommissioned. As the successes pile up in the book, you realize that not only is the fight worth it, it’s necessary. And you realize that activists can absolutely win against multinationals, if they channel their passion into smart strategy. It made me look at my pet causes with renewed optimism.

This book also gave me a peek at how successful environmental campaigns work, and in the process taught me how I can best be of help to activists. Even if I’m not working for a non-profit, I can get on their newsletter, sign their petitions with a personal note, show up to their rallies, and donate to their cause. And I can encourage my readers to do the same, for a multiplier effect.

So if you’re feeling discouraged, you want to find out how you can change the world in your own little way, or you are ready to take your sustainability to the next level, I absolutely recommend that you buy this book. It could be game changer for you and the environment. I know it has been for me.