Peter Kalmus’ Being The Change combines a scientific account of the looming disaster that is man-made climate change with a personal tale of learning to live peacefully while recognizing the impending disasters of the coming decades.
Kalmus is a climate scientist and the first part of the book is a readable and clear-eyed description of the climate crisis, what’s causing it, and the changes that will occur as the global temperature rises. This part of the book is a bit out of date now and I didn’t find much information that I was not already mostly aware of, but it is a useful introduction into the science behind climate change.
The second half of the book is where things went off the rails a bit for me. Peter seems to have done an admirable job of dramatically reducing his own carbon footprint, and this book exists as a call to action for others to reduce their own carbon footprint by following Peter’s example. The thinking goes that the climate crisis feels completely overwhelming for most people and taking any action can feel pointless in the face of worldwide doom driven by governments and massive, globe-spanning corporations. Instead of giving into the paralysis, make changes, talk to other people, and do your best to limit your impact and change your lifestyle, not with the idea that your individual actions will stop climate change, but with the idea that your actions will help you feel less hopeless while inspiring your friends and neighbors to start changing too.
This is all great — my wife and I already practice many of the individual actions that Peter advocates for and I hope others will take simple actions towards a more sustainable way of life too. Despite the general agreement I have with Peter on the big points, I didn’t enjoy the second half of the book. I found there was very little useful advice for making lifestyle changes in the book, it was very much just things that Peter does, from the simple and practical (growing food in their yard, beekeeping, biking instead of driving), to the more unconventional (composting his own feces, dumpster diving). Others might find more revelations in this advice than me.
The major thing I struggled with in the book was Peter’s almost single-minded focus on meditation as the solution to dealing with the existential dread that many of feel was a struggle for me. I have practiced meditation at various points in my life and can definitively say that meditation is not for everyone, particularly neuroatypical folks. There are other paths to comfort and calm in the face of adversity.
At various points in the book, the way Peter presented himself and the folks around him also left me feeling a bit uncomfortable, particularly when he chose to share that his wife had made him stop withholding their taxes in protest. The presentation of that information felt to me as if Peter was throwing his wife under the bus for being less devoted to the cause than him, which felt unnecessary and odd, personally.
There are other books and resources that are more current on the state of the climate crisis, and more capable of offering actionable advice for reducing your own carbon footprint and coping with the existential dread that can accompany learning about the very real, immediate, unavoidable danger that climate change poses.
I went into this book excited and came away disappointed.