When I met Lisa Harrow at that Greenpeace rally, I fell in love with her in the first fortyfive seconds, maybe less. When she was speaking I couldn’t see her from where I was standing, but the intelligence of her voice came burning through all the traffic and hubbub of Trafalgar Square. As he thanked Lisa, the host of the rally said, “I wish all of you could see Miss Harrow’s blue eyes up close. She has such beautiful eyes.” He was dead right. But I think it was her fierce intelligence that stole my heart so entirely. As we talked I quickly established that neither of us was married or involved with anyone else, and all I could think of was, “How can I marry this extraordinary creature?”
I was staying with a friend in London who knew Lisa’s work from television, and that night when I told him about having met her, and that I was determined to marry her, he turned to his partner, and murmured, ”In his dreams.”
At the moment I met Lisa, Tim was off with his nanny, playing on Trafalgar Square’s famous bronze lions. By the time he appeared, half an hour later, I had realized that although Lisa and I could probably always get along, unless Tim approved, it would never work. So from the moment I met him I was determined that Tim should never feel left out of anything we did. Thus, our first date, which was the following morning, became a trip to the London zoo with Lisa, Tim, his nanny, and two cousins. Two weeks later, although we had hardly seen each other, Lisa had agreed to marry me.
But I felt that I must ask Tim for her hand, and that if he didn’t approve we shouldn’t go through with it. It was the scariest phone call I’ve ever made. But when I’d screwed up my courage and blurted out my request, he calmly said, “Yes,” and then, with a dignity that only an extraordinary eight-year-old can achieve he said, “This is the happiest day of my life.” Heaven knows, it was mine.
Because I could work from anywhere with a phone and a laptop computer, I moved to London after we were married and started accompanying Lisa wherever her work took her. When she did a play I tried to see all the performances (I watched her do Wit forty-two times), and from this I began to appreciate more fully her extraordinary ability. I saw that she could speak not just to someone’s reason, but to their soul, and I realized that if it were possible to focus the burning glass of that ability on the problems humanity is creating for the environment, she might start bigger waves propagating through the human psyche than any mere scientist could ever achieve. It is with that in mind that I set out to write Lessons from Copernicus—a program we could do together.
Its message would be about the importance of our species living in accordance with the laws of nature—by doing everything sustainably. One of the most appealing reasons for embracing such a major lifestyle change would be the sheer delight of the vistas that would open up to people everywhere as each of us made our way along the road to sustainability—and learned to live in the world without destroying it. It would transform our current landscape of despair into one of hope.
As Lisa and I researched our program, an exciting, unexpected, and hopeful reality appeared: that humanity’s worst problems are solvable; that most solutions are simple; and that existing scientific knowledge is sufficient.
It is clear that current science provides enough understanding to act; it is our collective will that needs work. And what could Lisa and I do to help fortify that will? Such fortification has occurred before when dissatisfaction with the status quo has roused people to action, and the success of their actions has energized their wills enough to trigger true change. It always seems to have been a process involving both information and inspiration. Perhaps Lisa and I could engage listeners by combining the inspiration of art and poetry with the information of science—thereby approaching their minds through both sides of their brains.
We had started from a sense of hopelessness, but our first effort at this dual approach convinced us that it might just have value. In any case, we could see that it lay on a path toward hope, where small nudges can unleash cascades of beneficial change. It seemed obvious that millions of people await a movement they can join, and that when it appears they will recognize it and unite.
And what is at stake? No generation that has come before us has ever had such a huge opportunity for greatness, simply because never before have the stakes been so high. But that also means that if you and I fail to act, ours will become the most vilified generation in human history, simply because we couldn’t muster the will to change our ways, even though we understood the dire consequences of inaction. Our descendants will see that clearly.
But if we act, we will be honored as the Greatest Generation. We will redefine the words hero and heroine; and our descendants will boast of us as of kings and queens.
Back when the Whole Earth Catalog first came out I was an instant admirer. I later met its editor, Stewart Brand, when we worked together on A Day for Whales (an event decreed by then-Governor of California, Jerry Brown). What made the Whole Earth Catalog so valuable was that it brought together uniquely valuable information that was otherwise hard to access. When Lisa suggested that there ought to be a booklet for people who came to see our joint production, telling them how to get involved in what we’d talked about, I remembered how valuable Stewart Brand’s first Whole Earth Catalog had been.
Her idea also reminded me of an excellent handbook whose practical suggestions had a wonderfully human dimension. It was called 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth—and it appeared in the 1980s. When Lisa called her book What Can I Do? I realized that it had been twenty years since answers to that question had been brought together in a single accessible place. I could see that by giving Internet references she would, in effect, be handing people the reference material they need to learn enough to act, and that would make her book a kind of 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth for the Internet age.