Summary From the Introduction,
"For nearly every global problem, there are solutions we can implement in our backyard that also save us money and help us live more luxuriant lives. A few of us do these things and bask in the glow of the opulence and extra cash. Others observe and think “I want extra luxury and money too! Not fair!” and then they emulate. And on and on it goes. Then the global problems sorta just dry up and blow away. That’s what this book is all about.
I think the reason we see so many people angry is because they authentically care. But they seem to get stuck at being angry. Some people spend a hundred hours a week for 20 years being angry and not much changes. But I think that if you spend a tiny fraction of that time doing the things mentioned in this book, your global positive impact will be a thousand times greater. ."
Shawn Klassen-Koop’s passion for building a better world grew from many years of working at a summer camp. This time inspired awe and wonder for the natural world through many hours camping in the woods, paddling on a lake, or sleeping under the stars. Seeking to solve world problems with clever thinking, Shawn decided to pursue computer engineering as a career, where he learned the importance of good design and strong critical thinking. In time he felt like modern technology was causing more problems than it was solving and started looking for a better way. "
The Better World Book is an awesome book that distills the knowledge that Paul Wheaton has conveyed over many podcasts, videos, and articles into one short, sweet, and concise book!
The book's objective is to go through many of the problems currently faced in the world today, establish a scale to rate proposed solutions by, go through some of the solutions that exist, and then explore better solutions.
I like the book, because it is well-organized, well-thought out, has wonderful illustrations, and tons of links to discussions at permies.com, where I can learn more and ask questions about topics that come up in the book.
The book starts off describing the general problems that are occurring right now- people hindering each other, carbon emissions, petroleum pollution, and toxic waste.
Then, the book goes on to describing general strategies for handling these issues- moving up the Wheaton Eco Scale, using radiacally deviant financial strategies, voting with your wallet, and eating differently.
Later, solutions are presented that can be used in your own home, your own backyard, and even solutions that you can implement that will soak up the carbon footprints of twenty or more people! Your own actions can become a carbon sink!
Overall, I think this is an awesome book, because I think the solutions presented make practical and logical sense, and I cannot get enough of Paul's bombastic attitude and outgoing in-your-face personality! The book is a whirlwind of information!
I grew up in the 1960’s. All around me was talk of changing the world, saving the earth, peace and love. I wanted to do my part. I always had a huge garden, rode a bike, and wrote poems and songs about ending pollution. But was it enough? How could I do better, learn more? It took most of my life to discover permaculture. Through the wonders of the internet I found permies.com, where I was introduced to the crazy ideas of Paul Wheaton. Now Paul, and co-crazy, Shawn Klassen-Koop , have pulled together all of the answers I have searched for my whole life. Grow better, healthier food? It’s in there. Save energy? Check. Cut living costs? Yep. And all the while I can live in luxury, even build my own natural swimming pool! This book will become one of the primers for folks who want to help themselves and help Mother Nature at the same time. I highly recommend that you read this book and try to move up the “Wheaton Eco-scale”. (It’s in there too.) And if you like this sort of thing, come on out to permies.com, where we talk more about all of these things!
It’s purpose is to help the average person transform the world, one truly ecological act at a time. That means that instead of writing angry letters to politicians and protesting, you can do things in your everyday life to help the Earth. Paul Wheaton and Shawn Klassen-Koop offer easy-to-implement, simple solutions for anyone looking to reduce your energy/petroleum usage and clear toxins from your life. They briefly cover how to save money and make passive income so that you don’t have to participate in the rat race and commute to work (thereby polluting the environment). The theme of luxurious living is in the forefront of the book throughout reading it. So it is not a book about sacrifice in the name of environmentalism. The main goal of the book is to direct your current anger at how messed up we’ve made the world and put it towards doing simple practical things to lessen your carbon footprint and give yourself a better more fulfilled life.
Paul & Shawn’s Eco-Poser Test
Do you spend less than $83/month on energy (electricity & heat)? They say that even if you have five kids, you still have to spend less than that to be a real environmentalist. Not a poser.
It’s a very interesting, thought-provoking argument. Heating and electricity account for a large amount of fossil fuels that we use. However, transportation takes the cake for the highest fossil fuel use : 33% in 2017. Electricity & heating use was 28% of total fossil fuel consumption. So, together, all three total over 60% of overall fossil fuel use in the United States. Next time you book a flight to Mexico or order something Next Day from Amazon, give that a thought!
Back to the book. I love the anecdote about the protester driving to protest fracking and he’s driving his car 1500 miles to do so, thereby using lots of petroleum! Most people don’t think about their iPad use (plus the mining to make the iPad), driving in their car, and taking yearly vacations on cruises or airplanes. The majority of us use either coal, natural gas, or hydroelectric power (still not always environmentally friendly) for our daily addiction to electricity. These are big problems but Wheaton has some good answers that we can all do in our daily lives. In the subsequent chapters, he makes some great points for how to do this without giving up a lot of “luxury”.
Radically Deviant Financial Strategies
One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 10: Radically Deviant Financial Strategies. In this chapter, Wheaton covers some very smart strategies for saving up money to get your own land, or own your own tiny house/shack that you build onto. These practices are critical for anyone who is drowning in debt and wanting to escape the rat race. Wheaton has a great list of passive income stream ideas, which will likely get the creative juices flowing for most readers.
What if many of us could find a way to live free from debt and the “slavery” of working in a big city with long commutes? I know there are many people out there hoping to figure out this puzzle. For a lot of Millenials, it can be easy to save money while living at home with Mom and Dad, with the goal of renting or buying land. It will require a person to give up eating out as well as exercising at home instead of driving to the gym and paying monthly fees.
Permaculture to Grow Your Own Food
The most important part of the book is about permaculture. Paul Wheaton has been lovingly dubbed “The Duke of Permaculture” by Geoff Lawton, (arguably the most famous permaculture teacher in the world, trained by the founder, Bill Mollison) for his contributions in spreading the ideas of permaculture. So it makes sense that Wheaton would give this as a solution to a lot of the world’s problems. Like he points out, petroleum is used to prepare the ground for growing food, to grow food (fertilizer), to transport food to the store, and the customer uses petroleum to go buy it. Growing your own food is a very critical part of environmentalism. Wheaton gives a good overview of some basic permaculture concepts, and tantilizes the reader to learn more outside of the book. Permaculture is a symbiotic way to live with Nature, and it also includes surrounding yourself with perennial plants and trees with lots of diversity throughout.
This year we are planting a long list of perennials in hopes that I and my grandchildren can benefit from the bountiful harvests in the future. We will be planting hazelnuts, nitrogen-fixing trees (called Princess Trees), paw paws, persimmons, walnuts, buartnuts, oak trees, grape vines, and lots more herbs and perennial greens. I hope that Paul’s chapter on permaculture, berms, tree-planting, and lazy gardening will inspire readers to dive into growing their own food.
Paul and Shawn’s book has a lot of chapters and the reader will need to take time to go down a few rabbit-holes of juicy information before finishing the book! They have provided lots of links to Paul’s online forum www.permies.com as there are in-depth discussions about all the topics in the book. So, while reading you can join in discussions about related topics.
Overall, this book is simply a brilliant way of looking at the problems that our world faces in 2019. Although some may not want to try the more extreme ideas out, it can get readers thinking about ways they can dig deeper to help combat climate change and widespread pollution. It goes far beyond simply recycling, and places the responsibility on our everyday actions and choices.
Side Note: The illustrations are really lovely and are done by the amazing and wonderful Tracy Wandling who some of you may have seen on Permies. She is a genius with art! I don't want to leave out her huge contribution to the book.
I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns. This is a book I plan to buy in bulk and hand out to friends, family and strangers. I don't have a "little library" in front of my house, but I think I may be sticking them into other people's little libraries!
The world is burning, and it's hard to know what to do. Watching the news just makes you depressed and angry. Getting angry at bad guys doesn't accomplish much. This book is full of practical things you can do today to make a difference in your life and in the world.
We need to get the word out, and this book will be a tool in that process. Onward!
Oh my, Dave, Miles and Rosemary have done an awesome job of giving everyone the outline of what they can learn from this concise manual on rebuilding the planet earth one backyard at a time. But if we can get 1000's of copies of this book into the hands of 1000's of people who are just stepping onto the Wheaton Eco Scale, we have a recipe for rebuilding 1000's of backyards at a time!
I've read plenty of books about the problem, but far fewer books that give concrete, actionable ideas that are as simple as, *don't put artificial fertilizers or herbicides on your lawn.* That simple act will not only decrease fossil fuel use (which is what artificial fertilizer is made from), but it will save the rivers and oceans that receive the rain run-off from your lawn, start to return carbon to the soil of your lawn, a mixed lawn (mine has crocus that just finished blooming and English Daisy starting to bloom) will support localbees, and keeping the grass looking more like a shag rug than Berber carpet saves more time and energy in the mowing department and conserves water. This is the rabbit hole leading from just one chapter of this inspiring book.
Some of the most critical ideas in this book will stretch people's minds about "what our neighborhood should look like", but it is big business that profit from the current image. Grocery chains and Big Oil profit from the policy of planting ornamental rather than edible fruit trees on boulevards and in parks. Many companies profit from convincing people to buy piles of cheap consumer goods rather than heading over to Permies dot com where we talk about how to grow it, build it, nurture it, cook with it, clean with it, all the time.
This book covers a wide range of entry points into the how-to of Building a Better World. This is not a book to leave sitting on your shelf: read it, pick ideas from it that you feel actionable in whatever situation you live in, and then encourage neighbors and relatives to read it and do the same. Together we can Build a Better World in your Backyard, and being angry with the bad guys just raises my blood pressure - growing edible plants lowers it! This book will give you ideas about how to do just that.
So first before discussing the pros and cons I would like to discuss one thing that stood out to me over and over as I read this book. This book is not a book for someone who is experienced with Permaculture, it is for someone who isn't. That is by no means a bad thing, after all if you are experienced with Permaculture you hardly need to be convinced that the knowledge in this book is good to possess. Unfortunately this makes the book hard to give an unbiased review to because as a person who has browsed these forums off and on for years, most of the information in here is stuff that I learned years ago on the forums and by listening to the podcast.
I give this book 7 out of 10 acorns. As I generally do, I will first discuss the positives.
This book is a surprisingly enjoyable read, more so than most books on the subject or permaculture. The author(s) mixes down to earth experience without droning on in a way that makes it sometimes very hard to stop reading. Additionally, when you do stop reading you almost immediately start thinking of how to implement what is discussed in the book and have a desire to research things further. The book also covers enough that almost anyone will find value in its pages regardless of what level of interest they have in permaculture, homesteading, or environmentalism. This really is a book you can easily give to someone as a gift and for most people it will be a gift that they appreciate and are bettered for it.
Unfortunately there are a few issues that prevent me from giving the book a higher rating. Much like Sepp Holzer's book, much of this book applies to Paul's specific situation. As I said before there is something in there for everyone, but reading through eight things that wont work for you to find two that might can at times be frustrating. If I ever obtain a print copy and move to a cold climate this book will be invaluable, but if I instead move to a warmer climate then the near lack of information on passive cooling and other necessary information will make this book redundant. Additionally while I do agree to pretty much all of the opinions discussed in the book, I do feel slogging through a good part of the book to get to the meat only makes it frustrating when things like chickens, pigs, and other animals are not discussed significantly. Finally I must base my review on the copy I was given, and unfortunately the formatting of the copy did make it difficult at times to find which images went with which. I will be happy to update the review at a later date if I find that the final version does not have this last flaw, but until then I do have to deduct an acorn for presentation.
I got to read this book early. As an author myself, Paul asked if I could be a reviewer. I'm a city girl so I got to read the book from "outside the target audience." I was surprised that I wasn't actually outside the target audience. There were parts that apply even if you don't own land.
There were witty remarks throughout. I liked the bits about the "volunteer" plants and "carrot poop." I also got to learn new things. I hadn't heard of exudates. It was interesting. There was also great imagery. The fact that a tree can't run away from a chainsaw made me giggle in my head.
Most of the book was easy to read. There were some parts that were hard because I can’t relate. And the vocabulary is tougher. For example, I know what a berm is but I still need to think about it. That’s said, I was able to follow all the parts which I wasn’t expecting going in. The parts that apply to everyone were easy to follow.
I also like that this book had so many people providing input. It definitely makes the book better and they were open to feedback. Which means the things I didn't like were fixed :).
Thomas Partridge wrote:Finally I must base my review on the copy I was given, and unfortunately the formatting of the copy did make it difficult at times to find which images went with which.
I just thought I would respond to this so peeps know what's up. I put the draft review copy together in 30 minutes so that we had something to send out to reviewers. I know very little about proper formatting. (Frankly I feel pretty awesome that it turned out as good as it did!) I imagine that a thorough job is going to take a lot more than 30 minutes. We are doing the kickstarter so that we can get it properly formatted by someone who is not me.
Yes. The only thing we have at this time is a transcript draft. It still needs to go through editing, layout and proofreading.
As for the elements about cold weather: we made a decision to limit the scope of the book because the cause of most of the world's problems is in the US. And most of the US is in a cold climate. We hope that there is enough profound information to make the book excellent for people in warmer climates also. And, if nothing else, cold climate information put into the brain of somebody in florida might be interesting for the floridian, and that person might happen to share this information with cold climate people over the next ten years. Change comes from infecting brains.
In addition, Paul, there is a lot of Aussie-centric and tropics-oriented permaculture material, and it's awesome stuff, but I think focusing on the cold-weather stuff has you breaking trail on a lot of stuff, or at least taking the road less-traveled.
I know your permaculture peeps here in the country above the untied states of america appreciate it.
Although I wonder about your determination that the states are the cause of most of the world's problems. I wonder how india and china's figures each compare.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
The book is pretty exciting. Well, no. It isn't exciting. It is nutrient dense, and like a lot of things chok full of fiber it is taking me a while to get through it and at times it makes my brain feel a bit constipated. I think it would be tons more accessible if it were 1/3 that long with 1/3 less nutrients per page like white bread but there is already too much white bread in the world. This isn't white bread. The best most important thing about this book is that it strings together all the disparate things Paul likes to argue about. By themselves they sometimes sound nitpicky or batshit crazy, but this book starts to make a cohesive story arc from them.
If we took everything Paul has ever said and wrote them on cards and randomly drew them one at a time and read them I would want to argue with some of them even if Mahatma Gandhi were doing the reading. Some folks would argue with all of them just because Paul is involved. But this book gives many of his most annoying declarations context and it works. I am excited to see the pictures (there weren't any in the review copy). I am excited to share the results. As useful as each of the ideas is, the sense of context and scale of usefulness connecting the ideas is vastly more valuable. Most valuable is the sense of empowerment. Not "We're all screwed" or "the corporations or government or technology or frugality or Jesus will save us" but "hey I can do something and it matters". Thank you. Thank you to Shawn too. His voice is somewhat invisible in the writing but the fact that the book even got wrote is a testament to Shawn tying Paul down and getting him to focus.
First of all, I would like to thank authors for letting me read a draft review copy and to share my experiences with this book.
I live in a cold climate, so this book is tailored exactly for my needs. I'm in a transition phase between corporate job and early retirement combined with homesteading, so it fits perfectly my situation. I was an avid reader of permies.com and Paul's writings for over six years, so after reading the table of contents I was pretty sure that "I know it all". I was wrong.
The book sums it up. It makes connections between separate topics I thought I knew, by providing metrics for each problem and solution. It is deeply rooted in original meaning of permaculture, it is positivistic and down to earth practical. The book encourages you to take action and to lead by example, which is exactly what I'm trying to do on my small scale. It gives you opportunity to see your score on the Wheaton Eco Scale, which is pretty good reality check of how "green" you are.
In the book everyone will find something that can be applied in own backyard or homestead. Arsenal of techniques is rich: hugels, trees, perennial, wind, polycultures, composting, lawn care, rotational grazing, animal care, fencing, bees, natural swimming pools and famous wofati - a truly ecological building. It even answers a fundamental question where to pee and introduces some diversity to this noble task.
The biggest surprise in this book is that, although it is 200 pages long, it actually never ends. For each concept presented in the book, a link is provided. The links make it very easy to find a reference to the particular concept in a jungle of posts on permies.com - the book can be expanded enormously by following the links! Whooping number of over 350 links! And if it is still not enough, you can ask for more information there, and nice folks will surely help you out.
After attempting to practice permaculture for a couple of years, I know that some things are not as simple, as the book describes them, and before trying to implement them in your own backyard, you'd better follow the links and learn more. This book content-forum content connection is precious and allows me to give this book the highest score. And it is so … permaculture.
I have cackled wildly at least once, with permission of the author :) Why? Read chapter 10. The Story of Gert was a life changer to me some time ago when it has appeared on permies.com for the first time, and I hope it will change way more lives (thanks Paul, I owe you).
As Conclusions chapter says, we have to "share the problems and a set of spiffy solutions that can be done at home." and that's exactly what this book is about. It is a book for eco-warrior, not for an unwitting eco-poser. As the book says "for nearly every global problem, there are solutions we can implement in our backyard that save us money and help us live more luxuriant lives." Let's do it now!
I give this book 8 out of 10 acorns......
Building a Better World in your back yard is chocked full of information on how to do just that! Everything from simple lifestyle changes to blowing holes in corporate manipulation of how we "should" be living our lives, it's in there. I feel like this book hits the bull's eye for its stated purpose....getting permaculture into the minds of folks who otherwise wouldn't be able or willing to think about it. The early copy (thanks guys for letting me have a sneak peak!) was a fairly easy read, with a good flow and layout. For folks who are familiar with Paul and his work (i.e. listened to all his podcasts, read his articles, prowling the forums here for a while) there's not a whole lot of new information here. This wasn't supposed to be a bunch of new information though and the authors were pretty open about that from the start so that's ok!
I like the collaboration of the authors and the overall polishing of Paul's work turned out very well....smoothed a little to be slightly less abrasive for some and creates a bigger audience for permaculture. I will have no second thoughts about giving a physical copy of this book to my 80 year old mother-in-law or letting my teenage daughter thumb through it! Well written an edited, a very good product...well done folks, well done!!!
Book Review for “Building a Better World in Your Backyard” by Paul Wheaton and Shawn Klassen-Koop
By John Saltveit
I give this book 9 out of 10 acorns
This book looks at ways that regular people can change their behavior to make the world a better place. It looks upon many of the well-known problems in our society and offers solutions. These solutions aren’t a bunch of painful sacrifices that each individual must do in order to make the larger society more well-off. The goal is to make the individual’s life more enjoyable as the outcome for society is improved. They look at carbon footprints, pollution, housing, energy usage, food consumption and many other aspects of modern life. They consider and offer many insightful and practical ways to overcome the negative outcomes. Many times what looks initially like the best idea really isn’t when analyzed carefully. They do an outstanding job of looking at the overall impact that an individual has and weighing the options. The only downside to this book is that it isn’t really helpful if you are looking for a gardening book that will help you grow specific plants. Other than that, this book has the potential to move many individuals and the society in general along an improved path.
Full Disclosure: I have received an early review copy of this book to read and review rather than paying for a finalized copy. As such, some things I may mention will potentially differ in slight ways from the print copy.
My Metrics I feel obliged to measure this book by the expressed purpose. It would be easy to judge the book based on how directly useful it is to an experienced individual or to measure it against the specifics of a subjective location. Someone living in the tropics could easily rank this book several points lower than someone living in a moderate to cold climate. I believe doing so would be unfair. I'm also going to attempt to address things in a manner not already covered by other reviews.
As such, here are the expressed intents of the book:
Be a book which is directed at those with limited or no experience with permaculture solutions and which can be given freely to others by those who have purchased copies.
Offer solutions for a colder climate range as a primary focus, while also offering some solutions that can be used elsewhere.
Express information as factually as possible as ideas that have been filtered via crowdsourcing.
Address potential solutions to a focused number of global problems rather than attempting to address all of them.
To keep the solutions and discussions tightly focused and limit the pages dedicated to a given topic so as to stay within a reasonable page count.
Provide a simple method to further dive into any topic which you may find of value.
With those intentions in mind, I would say this book reaches a solid 9.5 out of 10 Acorns.
Overview The book is clear from the onset that these are opinions. Opinions backed by experience and numbers, and honed through the minds of many, but still opinions. As it goes through the topics, the authors touch lightly on the information freely available elsewhere. Just enough to give the reader the information they need to understand. They then expand on these with new information. I feel the target reader will be able to readily navigate the content and find clear solutions to get their minds whirling with ideas. For those of us who are more experienced or familiar with the data, the rehash is not intrusive and there is a surprising amount of new information to dig into.
A Deeper Dive Some formatting felt odd to me, but since this is an advanced copy, there's still only the most basic formatting in place. The one that struck me most was the use of 'Chapter 1' before 'Part 1'. I would have liked for the introduction chapter of Part 0 was just that. An introduction rather than a chapter. It's a nitpick and didn't influence my rating, but it is something I would have personally liked to see changed when they do the final edits.
I would have liked to see the eco scale noted to use average watts rather than average cost. It's easy enough to convert or to simply look up the average watts, but as a personal opinion, I feel that watts won't change the same way that costs do. Cheap energy costs in your area might not indicate less energy use after all. I am hoping that this is adjusted in the final print, but I don't think it really prevents you from understanding in the least. I actually like this eco scale since the first level is about beating the average. Just about anyone can understand that and at least 50 percent of us are able to manage it.
The biggest shock of reading it was my opinion by the end regarding form. I am a staunch lover of physical books. If given the option, I will almost always choose a physical book. With this book, I feel that the proper experience requires an E-reader. There are bound to be people who'd rather receive a copy physically and that's just fine. Still, a physical owner is missing out.
The book is loaded with hundreds of footnotes. Instead of a huge appendix of information at the end of the book for these footnotes, they exist as links on the very bottom of the page where they appear. As you read, you can follow the links for topics that draw you in and then dive down the rabbit hole to learn far more on the Permies site. I can't begin to overstate the value of this in accomplishing the expressed purpose of this book. An unaware reader can instantly link to a wealth of information on every aspect of each topic in the book.
Conclusion: I think that within the scope of its intended purpose, this book accomplishes the goals masterfully. I love that the focus was on colder environments, which don't see nearly the same amount of focus as Tropical and Sub-tropical climates for permaculture designs. Yes, those of us who are already familiar will be reading a lot of things we already know, but there's still a lot to take away. For those with no experience, every topic area is kept to a small block that can be read in a few minutes. It's an easy book to read a bit and set aside as you need. It's almost impossible to find yourself in a situation where you need to reread to remember what the chapter was about. Go into it with the correct expectations and you'll find there is a lot of value to the book.
Wherever you find yourself (on your permaculture learning path) this book has something for you. The way that Shawn and Paul present each topic - direct, with humor laced throughout, made it a joy to read. Even if you have already implemented all of these strategies in your own life, connecting and reconnecting the dots will bring forth perspective and congruency, and will strengthen your creativity.
It was liberating to have some of the larger, more complex topics stripped down into an overview, with the option to expand through the links in the footnotes.
It's so fun to read, would be even more fun as an audiobook.
Thank you for this contribution, for supplying me with something I can get for everyone I know. Sharing these unrelentingly practical solutions with them will, at the very least, get everybody talking. It will also help validate some of the seemingly weird things I do, to people more involved with conventional ways of living and thinking.
Beautiful, clarifying illustrations throughout.
You can never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. -R Buckminster Fuller