James Glave, Almost Green

I'm not sure how many times I've picked up James Glave's book Almost Green and put it back on the shelf - though in my defense, I did buy one as a gift. (Unaccountably I didn't read it before I gave it away, which is hardly the way I prefer to operate.)

And then a few weeks ago, at a recent UVic luncheon to discuss the university's draft sustainability policy and action plan, I turned up to discover that I'd been seated next to James Glave. He was in town to speak at the AGM for the Victoria Car-Share Co-op, and he'd been convinced to come along for a quiet lunch. Unfortunately for him, a few of us used the time to lament that the university appears comfortable giving up its pretensions to environmental leadership, if these documents don't get heavily revised. But James seemed a thoroughly decent chap with some thoroughly wise things to say. It was a room of talkers, too, many of us with entrenched positions, and he held his own just fine. Now that I've read the book, I can see why, and I can see why I was comfortable listening.

The subtitle to the Canadian edition, from Greystone Books, is How I Built an Eco-Shed, Ditched My SUV, Alienated the In-Laws, and Changed My Life Forever. The American version is from Skyhorse Books, who gave it the subtitle How I Saved 1/6th of a Billionth of the Planet. The American one does a better job of communicating the book's self-deprecating humour, but it also undersells the elements of genuine revolution that the book plays with.

Basically, the book follows Glave's efforts to build the greenest possible writing studio in his yard, at around 280 square feet. He lives with his family in a new subdivision on Bowen Island, so he's going through some guilt at living a suburban lifestyle, and the Eco-Shed is key to his new mission. I've stumbled across a few of his articles recently (including a terrific one from March in The Tyee, for example), so I know the mission is far beyond the one building, and I'm both tickled and impressed by the effort he's putting in.

Mind you, I'm also feeling crazy guilty, since I just bought a 4wd Mazda MPV - from 1994, at least, rather than new, following the untimely demise of our 1991 2wd MPV (which was the planet's most unreliable vehicle in snowy conditions). Plus today I burned out the motor in my garage-sale Braun hand-mixer, barely three years in my possession, trying to make peanut butter from nothing but peanuts - honest to God sparks and smoke, unrecoverably damaged. Excellent peanut butter, at least.

Guilt is part of the effect of books like Almost Green, but I hasten to say that Glave doesn't carry the guilt stick himself, unlike some other writers in this mode. I generate my own feelings of guilt: a little something I've honed to the level of a self-crippling superpower. No, James Glave is a fan of an essay called "The Death of Environmentalism" (pdf download) by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, who have since founded The Breakthrough Institute. In brief, if I can avoid getting bogged down in nuance and my own self-righteousness and -flagellation, their position is that as long as environmentalism is about self-denial and public shaming, it's doomed as a movement; it'll only gain steam if it gains at least a hint of fun.

And this book was a lot of fun, even if at the end I found myself wondering just how far he'd really managed to go. I recognized myself and a lot of my friends in its pages, our desires as well as our sometimes half-assed actions, and it's a heartening read as well as an educational one. I snorted audibly more than once, in a good way, and I can just tell I'm going to be working Almost Green into conversations for months to come. My loins are girded slightly more effectively than they were a few days ago, and I just might not go Christmas shopping tomorrow after all. So there.

I'd highly recommend that you read an excerpt from November's Salon.com, or visit James Glave's website. And if you've got 4:03 to spare, treat yourself to his earnest clip "Have an Almost Green Christmas", for the gift ideas if nothing else!


Anonymous said…
Great piece, Richard. My three grown children are home for Christmas, all from cities (Toronto, London, Victoria) and all three are wildly nostalgic for their childhood Christmas mornings where the gifts were decidedly small and not plastic. Books, lego, etc. So it is possible to detour around that stuff and still raise happy healthy individuals. Because of this year's heavy snowfall and treacherous road conditions, we were all remembering the year we were snowed in and lost power for several days. We read Arthur Ransome's Winter Holiday and it was magical. Have a very happy Christmas!
Theresa K.
Anonymous said…
Ooops. Of course I know Lego is a kind of plastic but I think it's an amazing toy all the same.

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