Reviewed in National Review Network
by Brita Adkinson — New Year 2005
How can you find environmentally responsible business and investment opportunities? Read the monthly business newsletter at www.sustainablebusiness.com. How can you join the thousands of volunteers working to better the quality of life and foster cross-cultural understanding in South America, India, Russia, Thailand, and Africa? Get all the information you need at www.crossculturalsolutions.org. Learn about the 9-year-old girl who started the environmental organization Kids for a Clean Environment (www.kidsface.org): Her organization has planted more than one million trees, and she spoke at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.
Broadway actress Lisa Harrow created this extraordinary A-to-Z handbook that lists hundreds of websites with information for people who want to make a difference in the world. What a great resource to motivate people to assist in creating a healthy environment for humanity and all the Earth! At 4.25-by-7.5 inches, the book fits easily in a back pocket or purse. You can make a difference in this world by carrying this gem, which features a compelling cover image of hands holding the Earth.
By By Susan Piperato
December 4, 2004
With the election results finally in after months of wondering what the future held, and four more years of conservative political agendas (read: poor environmental policy) on the horizon, many Americans are asking how they can help safeguard the environment and promote sustainable values. One answer is to turn to the new resource guide What Can I Do? An Alphabet for Living (Chelsea Green, 2004), by Lisa Harrow, a native New Zealander and actress living in "the other Woodstock," in Vermont. As Harrow states in her first alphabetical entry, Action: "Everything in this book is aimed at encouraging us to look at the way we live and how we might change it to embrace a more environmentally friendly lifestyle." The book's vast array of contents—including Web sites from A to Z and occasional stories of "People Who Did"—not only belies its diminutive suitable-for-pocketing size but casts a bright, twinkling eye at what many progressives perceived immediately post-election to be a foggy gloom.
"I am amazed at your country," Harrow told me over the phone in mid-November. "The whole world looks up to America so much. How could people be so backward? It's completely astonishing to me." Although Harrow found New Zealand to be a fairly conservative country while she was growing up there, she says she realizes in retrospect that her community was actually quite progressive. "My mum always saved wrapping paper and used it again. We recycled and kept a compost bin like mad."
Today, says Harrow, "every environmentalist is in despair," including her husband, Roger Payne, one of the world's leading experts on hump-backed whales. "People are asking, 'Isn't there something we can do together?'"
Yes, there is, says Harrow, despite the fact that "mostly our lives aren't connected."
What Can I Do? is actually the outgrowth of a environmentalist performance piece co-written and still being developed by Harrow and Payne called "Lessons in Copernicus," in which, Harrow explains, "he speaks to environmental issues in terms of science and I speak to it in terms of poetry." When Harrow debuted the piece at Cornell University, she and Payne were surprised at how many students approached her afterwards. "These were very aware kids, studying science, and they came up and asked me afterwards, 'What can I do to help?' It was amazing. So we began to do talk-back afterwards, to allow the audience to connect with the performers, as it should be."
Harrow was so taken aback by audiences' reactions to "Copernicus" that she couldn't stop thinking about it, not even in the midst of subsequently playing a 1,000-year-old fairy in a production of "Sleeping Beauty" in La Jolla, California. "I kept seeing in my mind a little book that could fit right into people's pockets, that would answer their questions," she says. "It's the responsibility, really, of the performer, the speaker, anybody who gets up and says what we say, which is 'The world is in a terrible state, we are the ones who are responsible for it, and we've got to get it together or else we're fucked,' to talk to the audience, to give them something to do. You can't just say, thank you, and goodbye. I wanted to point out to people that bacteria will survive, some life might survive, but we won't, unless we act. Human beings have spent less time on this planet than any other living species, but we've made the most impact. And you can't say that without giving people something. Otherwise people will go away saying, 'Oh god, it's too complicated, it's too depressing, I can't do anything about it,' and they'll drop the ball. And the last thing we need right now is for anyone to drop the ball."
What Can I Do? first appeared as a hand-stapled pamphlet list of resources for sustainable living, "simple steps you could take toward energy efficiency and green living," says Harrow. "It's designed to be dipped into, so that you can use it to pursue your own interests in a sustainable way. For instance, you could use it to look into green building materials, or read how to use less electricity to do laundry, or to find out which fish are safe to eat. We began giving it away as a tool after performances of 'Copernicus,' something people could walk away holding in their hands. And people kept asking for more copies, everywhere I went, people would say, 'Oh, have you got a few more copies of that book so I can give it away to some people?'"
Being "a practical New Zealand girl," Harrow says it was only natural for her to visit Chelsea Green Publishing in the next town to turn her pamphlet into a "practical New Zealand-style tool," which she expanded before it went to print last summer. What's next for What Can I Do? The book, which Roger Payne calls "the 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth for the Internet Age," has been such a hit with readers that Harrow is now preparing New Zealand and Australian versions for publication, as well as building an interactive Web site, www.whatcanidousa.org , to feature ongoing updates of facts and resources for sustainable living and blogs, which will be launched in time for the new year.
Los Angeles Times
October 24, 2004
DISCOVERIES By Susan Salter Reynolds
Here's a practical gift for the holidays. Remember "50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth"? "What Can I Do?" tops it, offering hundreds of websites that tell you how to make your home, your life, your entire world more beautiful, simple, sustainable and "in accordance with the laws of nature."
"Current science provides enough understanding to act," writes Roger Payne in his introduction. "It is our collective will that needs work." Cleaning products, compost, jobs, investments, hybrid cars - it's all here in one sweet volume. Lisa Harrow includes a few tales of "People Who Did", such as Russell Long, a fisherman who started www.bluewater.org to stop pollution from two-stroke engines, and Russell Wattenberg of www.bookthing.org, which collects books that Wattenberg gives to schools and other organizations (10,000 plus per weekend), and Seth Riney, owner of a hybrid-car delivery service. Harrow's preface and Paynes' introduction are about how the two met, married and inspired each other -- Harrow with her actress' talent for going straight to the heart, and Payne with his scientist's vision of how to live in harmony with nature.