With Fay Weller, wrote Changemakers: Embracing Hope, Taking Action, and Transforming the World (New Society 2018). Based on the notion that every individual has the power to make personal changes that drive local changes and cascade into larger social tranformation, this guidebook is for ordinary people who want to create a new society.

Weller is a community organizer, homesteader, researcher,and artist with a PhD. Mary Wilson is a facilitator, researcher, instructional designer and activist with a PhD in education. Both writers live on Gabriola Island.


Changemakers: Embracing Hope, Taking Action and Transforming the World by Fay Weller & Mary Wilson
(New Society $17.99)

Ten years ago, i was carrying glass straws because I could see the damage plastic ones were doing. Eventually I gave up.

After years of trying to make a difference by helping our environment, I became jaded. I became lazy in my efforts because it felt like so many others were doing nothing.

This book explained to me how iterative learning happens: change is slow and individual changes in lifestyle are necessary even if they feel pointless-they are the starting point.

Millions of other people were still using plastic straws, so what difference would my little action make? Well, we are at a tipping point as enough people now see plastic straws affecting ecology and wildlife that plastic straws are being banned.

It's a success started by many individuals like myself who acted a decade earlier. Our actions weren't for naught. Environmental improvement is a process and what we do matters.

"By changing ourselves or changing a relatively small detail of the way we live, we change the world,"; write Fay Weller and Mary Wilson in Changemakers: Embracing Hope, Taking Action and Transforming the World. As they explain the psychology of it all, how social change happens, they provide examples of individual and community efforts in the Gulf Islands, one of Canada's more environmentally-conscious areas. This is the area that elected the only federal Green Party MP, Elizabeth May.

Many of these island communities changed drastically in the 1960s and '70s when draft evaders came to Canada from the U.S. The isolated nature of islands like Salt Spring, Pender and Gabriola made them ideal bastions for left-leaning immigrants-places where action could happen under the government's radar. In conjunction with B.C.'s so-called counter-culture, attitudes in these communities generated an alternate-thinking, regulation-bending atmosphere where people were more apt to think outside the box and to be cooperative in community action.

The creation of The Islands Trust by the provincial NDP also empowered local activism.

One important dynamic discussed by Weller and Wilson is the "neighbour effect"; whereby a change by one person will inspire others nearby to make the same change. Whether it is, for example, the use of solar panels or heat pump systems, one person influences another, who then influences another, and so on.

Change can induce distress when it becomes clear that shifts in attitudes and actions need to be made. The authors describe how dissonance often occurs when "the societal story that we have learned [about our way of life] does not fit with our reality or experience [when we see that we have to fix the environment].";

Coincidentally, we can feel a positive resonance when we see people working towards a new world that fits with our core values. Weller and Wilson argue that we need to develop a new societal story that matches the changes we need to make in order to protect the environment. To support this argument, about half of the book is dedicated to examples from Gulf Island communities that have made significant adjustments to help the environment.

Informative narratives show how small groups of dedicated individuals have created change for their communities. The topics include food (production and provision), transportation, plumbing, clothing, resource re-use, energy options, and challenging the economic system.

The process of expanding similar changes to larger groups might seem arduous and grim but there is something satisfying about reflecting upon the way we exist in this world, and something even more satisfying about living a life aligned with our values. It is one definition of happiness.

The final fourth of the book is a hands-on manual for individuals wanting to build change in their communities. There is room for reflection and mindfulness here, and the examples are useful guidelines for community action. Facilitation techniques are provided.

If you are the kind of person who likes to engage people, do workshops, and wants to make environmental change or other community changes, Changemakers is a vital resource.

In the era of Trump, when environmental protection measures are being cut and environmentalists are losing ground, it is a relief to read about people who are making important changes for our environment.

Review by historian and blogger Sandi Ratch who received her master's degree in archaeology from Simon Fraser University in 1995.


Changemakers: Embracing Hope, Taking Action, and Transforming the World (New Society 2018) $17.99 978-0-86571-875-3

[BCBW 2017]