… but only one per person, ideally. Otherwise it’s very difficult to find shirts to fit.

I’ve been pondering, but I’m a bit stuck, so I thought I’d put the word out to my network of informed, intelligent, creative blog readers to see if you can help me get going.

Further to our recent conversations about how best to effect movement towards a more sustainable future, the emerging consensus seems to be that community-based initiatives are the way to go. Individual efforts, though important, aren’t going to have a big enough impact on their own. And if we wait for our national governments to take action, we’re going to be waiting a very long time. So somewhere in between – the community – seems optimal.

But how to help this to happen? These are my questions:

– Do most community projects begin with an individual having an idea? Or do they begin with a problem or a challenge, and one or more people step up to take action in response to the situation? Or is there some other kind of trigger?

– When I say “community”, I am thinking of, say, between 500 and 5,000 people. This may be a village, or a neighbourhood within a city. Does this sound about right?

– Does the “community” have to be geographically based? Or could it be a virtual one? If virtual, how do these people find others with a common interest?

– What kinds of projects work best? We’ve heard about a local plastic bag ban, and a real food movement. What other projects have galvanised a community to pull together?

Any other input also welcomed. I don’t know how well this will work – having a kind of blog-a-brainstorm – but we’ll give it a try. If nothing else, it will be an interesting experiment in community-based thinking!

Other Stuff:

Calm conditions today, bringing a chance to dry out and clean up. Treated myself to a new seat pad for my rowing seat, and will have a freshly-laundered pillowcase tonight. Pippa – when you wondered how I have time for laundry, it doesn’t really take very long to give a few items a thorough dunking in a bucket of cold water. It’s not the most sophisticated laundry, and my whites certainly aren’t going to pass any “window test” (even if I had a window to hold them up to), but it’s better than nothing!

Greetings to Pauline Thornham (agreed! ;-), Sam Jones (hope to see you for that beer!), Roger (aww, you’re a gentleman!), Eric (ah, if only I could get the hang of that Alchemist/wind thing!), Stephen (still looking out for the green flash, but no luck yet), Stan (thank you so much for raising that very good point about unsustainable irrigation) and HB (good for you! the letter-writing is as important as the individual action – and it ALL spreads ripples).

Jay – good idea about diffusing light through a bottle of water. Have you seen the “Lightcaps” from Simply Brilliant? They have a solar panel in the lid, and a lightbulb, and they screw onto a Nalgene bottle. Exactly the same idea as yours, but solar-powered. ( (Also obtainable through Roz’s Ebay)

And a very, very happy birthday to Joan Sherwood!


WWF (which now stands for World Wide Fund for Nature) is hosting an event in London, called “Blue Mile”. I got to hear about this because I am one of the sporting ambassadors for The BLUE Project, which stages these Blue Mile events to raise funds to protect rivers and oceans.

WWF is hosting a Blue Mile event at an outdoor reservoir in London on Sunday 4th September where participants can complete a challenging open-air one-mile swim. Other Blue Mile challenges include kayaking and stand up paddle boarding (SUP) and if you have the stamina, how about taking on all three events in the ‘Triple Challenge’?

Or you can organise your own Blue Mile events in or next to water throughout the summer. The money you raise will go directly towards WWF’s work with water – without which there would be no life on Earth.
Register to take part in The Blue Mile, download fundraising tips and find out more at WWF website

Quote for today: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” (Henry David Thoreau)

Photo: A community effort: pupils at Southbourne Junior School hold a bake sale to sponsor ship’s passage across the Atlantic for Monty the school teddy bear in 2005′ (More about Monty and the Atlantic crossing in “Blogs from the Blue” on Roz’s Ebay.)

Sponsored Miles: Latest miles rowed have no sponsors.


  • Greetings from Glasgow. I’ll be in one place with internet access so I’ll be following you regularly again.

    I agree with the concept of community based change. Your numbers for a community seem about right too, though I would opt for something at the lower end. I lived in communities of this size for the first half of my life and see great opportunity for change in some of them. From the food standpoint many are a lot closer to where we need to be than anything in cities – even if they don’t have “farmers markets.” There is a natural system of sharing food types among “families” in communities. 
    I see these as being physically connected systems primarily because it is easier to share things like food energy and social contact. If one wind turbine supplies enough power to serve a community of 500 families it makes sense for that many people to share in its construction and operation. Likewise one moderate sized dairy could supply that part of the communities diet and two or three families could share in the labor it takes to run the enterprise. And, we must not fail to see the importance of interpersonal contact in human sanity. While you spend several months at a time alone at sea, I’m sure the knowledge that knowing that an end will come and you will be back among friends is a strong motivating force. Likewise, though I know you, through your blogs, books and talks, almost as well as I know any of my other friends, I eagerly await the day when I see you face to face.

    There may be some hermit types for whom a virtual community may  suffice but most of us need others to be physically close. After all humans grew up in small groups working to-gather for the common good.

    Roz Rows with conscience.   

  • I wanted to share something that encouraged me.

    As a truck driver, I frequent Love’s Travel Stops.  When I make a small purchase I would always refuse a plastic bag and I know I am one of many that do that.  I always tell them I want to ‘Save the Dolphins’ and when they look puzzeled I tell them I see too many of these bags floating along the highways.

    Yesterday I stopped at the Love’s in Ripon, Californis and they said they quit using plastic bags and offered a paper bag.  I didn’t need that either, but I told them I was happy about the switch.  In my excitement, I didn’t ask if it was a chain-wide decision or just that outlet, but I will find out.

    It is encouraging to me that this may be catching on and we may see the extermination of ‘highway jellyfish’.

  • I wanted to share something that encouraged me.

    As a truck driver, I frequent Love’s Travel Stops.  When I make a small purchase I would always refuse a plastic bag and I know I am one of many that do that.  I always tell them I want to ‘Save the Dolphins’ and when they look puzzeled I tell them I see too many of these bags floating along the highways.

    Yesterday I stopped at the Love’s in Ripon, Californis and they said they quit using plastic bags and offered a paper bag.  I didn’t need that either, but I told them I was happy about the switch.  In my excitement, I didn’t ask if it was a chain-wide decision or just that outlet, but I will find out.

    It is encouraging to me that this may be catching on and we may see the extermination of ‘highway jellyfish’.

  • how about banning ghe use of the word ‘exploit’ as in resouces, people animals etc richard

  • You should see how many blow out of landfills, looks like snow.
    Tell me if you think this is wrong. When I forget to bring the reusable bags into a store I let them put the food in plastic. We reuse the bag for garbage and cleaning the litter box. We don’t throw away empty bags.
    We have to use some kind of bag for garbage, is there a better way to do this?

    • I torture over this too. Here in Los Angeles, plastic bags are slowly being banned and going away, but I think it is reasonable to use them if you’re going to re-use them.  I too, use the bags for cleaning the kitty box….and I believe that dog owners are required to carry plastic bags when walking their dogs, to insure they pick up after them.

      But nobody seems to talk much about paper bags. How much of an impact do those have on the environment? I mean, we have to cut down a lot of trees to make those. And even though they may be made from sustainable tree farms that regrow quickly….there is still the big carbon footprint of harvesting/processing/shipping them.

      Argh! Sometimes trying to do the right thing for the environment makes my head explode!

        • I do have a set of reusable bags, but sometimes I forget to grab them when I run out the door. Some stores here actually give you cash back and other incentives if you bring your own bags, so I try try try to always bring them.

          But really, part of my point on the comment above, is that nobody talks about the paper bags…which all the stores here are switching to.

          Like I said, sometimes all this makes me feel like my head is gonna explode!

  • That’s how I would do my laundry if I could. Family members already question how little detergent and softener I use. At least they don’t stink.
    As you can see I have a rare bit of free time and am annoyingly verbose, so I will stop here.

    • Here’s an excuse to use even less fabric softener:

      I’ve heard that the reason it makes your clothes/towels softer is that it is actually slowly breaking down the fibers your clothes are made from. So you might get softer feeling clothes, but they will wear out a lot faster. Eeek! So I would do without the softener all together. Plus, that would be one less plastic bottle in use.


  • Good morning Roz,
          It is 17:23 PM in London and somewhere between 22:00 today and 02:00 tomorrow where you are, 09:24 AM where I live beside the Columbia River, Washington, United States.  It is cloudy and rains a lot here so water is on my mind today.   Odd that I say this because it is a beautiful sunny day.  It seems the fundamentals of life are sun and water.  Probably does not hurt to have a bit of soil too.  Not sure where I heard that Chinese people say if you want to learn about the nature of the universe study wind and water.  Feng Shui. 
         Many good things are happening here in the Northwest.  Willamette Riverkeeper http://www.willamette-riverkeeper.org/WRK/index.html raises awareness of the Willamette River in Oregon which flows to the Columbia River and out to the Pacific Ocean. They even have a picture of a Chocolate Lilly (local wildflower) on their website! A man swam from the headwaters of the Columbia to the Pacific Ocean to raise awareness of the river.  Habitat for Humanity is building houses for families and a local ministry called Friends of the Carpenter is helping homeless people get back on their feet.  There is a middle school science teacher here in town who got the students involved in restoring the creek that flows through the school yard and they learn about science while they are doing it.  The Trojan nuclear power plant was decomissioned and demolished a couple of years ago as it was no longer economically viable.
       According to the news volunteerism is up in the US.  Many people are raising food for the food banks.  Growing groceries.  It is helping because of our slow economy and unemployment.
       I am glad to have found your community on line, it is great to know that people are thinking about how to take better care of the earth and themselves.  My family taught me to leave a place better than I found it.  Eating healthy is fundamental to a good life.    
    All the best to all of you,  row with gusto Roz,     Stephen

  • Yes Roz, the “community” method is what works best.
    Governments are not appropriate for what is needed. They consist of individuals who have priorities which, while initially reflecting the apparent wishes of their electors, soon change to what appears to be possible. They rarely include appropriate expertise and rely on others whom they believe to be experts but who have their own priorities and beliefs. Also, a national government is responsible for governing in the best interest of its citizens (or subjects, depending on the system).
    A committed dictatorship would work, but history indicates that it would have over-riding disadvantages.
    A mass-movement might work, but is in constant danger of becoming diverted into inappropriate behaviour. The French Revolution serves as a particularly instructive example. By contrast the American Revolution began not by killing a lot of people but by making a polite request.
    A recent successful example is the “Tea-Party” in the USA. It began spontaneously in response to a single event – an outburst by one man that was broadcast widely over the internet. What is important about it is the following:
    ·         The Initiator made no attempt to create the movement or to be its leader.
    ·         Its objective is simple and easily expressed.
    ·         The suggested name is derived from a well-known and appropriate historic event.
    ·         It provides a common label for people with similar points of view, much as a conventional political party.
    ·         Because it attracts people from a wide social and economic range, there is little danger of it producing destructive mob-type behavior.
    ·         Most important, its objective is precise and clearly defined so cannot easily be co-opted or corrupted.
    I believe that we need the following, chosen carefully so as to be acceptable internationally:
    ·         A facilitator (rather than a leader), who provides a common link and serves as a representative of the movement. *
    ·         A clearly defined, simple, and widely accepted objective that cannot easily be co-opted or corrupted.
    ·         A name that is appropriate to the primary objective.
    History is replete with examples of social movements and formal institutions that have started well and with good intentions but have either died out of boredom or been co-opted and distorted out of recognition. It is essential that ours is structured so as to avoid those fates.
    *Roz, if willing, you could serve if determined to address such luminaries as government officials and elected representatives on equal terms rather than as a supplicant.

    • The Tea Party may have had financial objectives when it started but
      because they have no leader it appears to have been taken over by those
      with the most to lose from the shift away from white male hegemony. Therefore the initial premise does
      seem to have been co-opted and corrupted already.

  • Hi Roz,

    Your mind works so clearly, i could almost(!) be convinced to do a bit of pole-sitting or ocean floating myself, just to see if it would help quiet my internal maelstrom. i omitted rowing in that ocean ’cause i ain’t that tough.

    i will admit to having spent many, many hours pondering the issue of changing the direction of a runaway consumerism train. 

    Reading “Affluenza” by Clive Hamilton helped coalesce the impression of a behemoth marketing world, and spelt out in detail just how embedded the hegemonic influences are. Years ago i stopped watching television, listening to the radio or reading mainstream papers. That helped reveal some of the strings-from-the-sky that manipulate our day to day actions but left me with an impression of impossibility for anything outside of token change from a movement based on those mediums. The cash imperatives of a catchy headline simply reduce concentration times and ability to spend time on any one issue. 

    Political change is a toughie. As John Kay has mentioned, the Tea Party is a good example of a grass-roots movement (albeit a very well-funded one. someone mentioned previously the insight that can be gained by following the money trail). John’s list of important characteristics is brilliant. However, single-mindedness of purpose is applaudable but does not necessarily lead to change. It sometimes leads to marginalisation. As an example, the Tea Party is currently responsible for bringing our financial world to the brink of catastrophe. That is when such movements lose credibility. There is a need to make change but there is also a need to retain stability, so a responsible leadership is incredibly vital if such a movement is to have longetivity. That is where John’s idea of a Facilitator has strength. Such people are few and far between but if the bulk of the other ideas were implemented, perhaps a person would rise to the occasion?

    For all my cynicism for political outcomes, it is arguable that global politics is grinding away at economics (too short a space for the many examples of this currently in action) as a key driver for change, so now is potentially a great time to be embarking down such a pathway.

    Ooops. Too verbose already. Tip o’ the ‘at to Marks_the_Spot for lessons on  that one! OK. Years of thought distilled into a brief objective? 

    Establish a workable, genuinely sustainable “village” in a large city. Make it economically viable and socially cohesive/responsible and then promote the model globally. 

    As an aspiring armchair anarchist, i sometimes despair at the inability of sustainable lifestyles to exist at anything more than the rural/family/tiny village level as this failure simply vindicates the benefits of large groupings, specialisation, accumulation of capital and society stratification parading as democratic government. Our global village needs accumulation of capital or the gadgets that globalise our thought would not be available to any but the wealthy or well-connected, so such things should not be seen as evil. If this environment co-existed with widespread pockets of sustainable lifestyle “model villages” then we have a model that could be replicated and grow amoeba-like into something worthwhile.      

    And that would be something that could be legitimately promoted to developing world countries, which are the ones who will most likely overtake the USofA and EU as the main resource users of the world in our lifetimes.

    Apologies for my inabilities with brevity. i can only offer ignorance and arrogance as my excuse.

    • I’m sorry, Michael, but I can’t let that pass: ” the Tea Party is currently responsible for bringing our financial world to the brink of catastrophe”. It is only a collection of people who believe that the US government has become too big and intrusive. It has no power to affect the financial world or anything else for that matter. The current financial situation in the US is what caused the Tea Party to arise, not the other way around. Yes it has finance, but so what? Some of its supporters have enough money to spare for it, but then the Democrats and republicans have even more financial support.

      • I agree with and accept all that you are saying John – other than having no power to affect the financial world. Even here in isolated Perth, we watch every manoeuvre and manipulation of the US debt debate reverberate through our currency, bond and sharemarkets. I work within that field every day and can assure you that folk sticking to their guns – no matter what – are having a very large impact. Not saying this side or that is right or wrong, or that this or that argument is better or worse… just that the impacts are real and causing massive instability, even if at the long tail of the bell curve.

        But that in no way negates any of the other points that you have made, and the Tea Party success does show what can be achieved if those other issues are used to focus energy, angst and what i believe is the average persons’ genuine intention to do what is good. 

        ps. my apologies to all if i have sidetracked the discussion.

  • Community. NOW you are getting back to our ancient roots!  Indigenous wisdom traditions are currently teaching the rest of us to get back to a sense of community. When I use the word ‘community’, it should not be confused with the OED definition of ‘community’.  It’s a totally different experience, almost a living thing unto itself.  Contemporary practitioners of ‘community’ like The Heart of the Healer Foundation http://www.heartofthehealerfoundation.org are attempting to re-seed the living being of ‘community’ from the indigenous perspective in the world, which also involves a re-connection with the Earth as a living being. You may not read much about this on the website, but it’s part and parcel of the indigenous wisdom we are trying to preserve and protect.  Indeed, you cannot restore the Earth from the worldview of indigenous living, without also creating community. Attempting to guess the size of a ‘community’ is putting the cart before the horse. Creating community is an organic process, and the community will create it’s Self and it’s size as it goes along. Dr. Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel Prize in Economics recently (despite being a political scientist) for her work on common pool resource management, ie resources of the community managed by the community for the community. What she found (without calling it indigenous wisdom) is that the best managers of resources are the local community. Not governments. Not corporations. Not nonprofits or mulitnational non-governmental organizations. The local people who see the resources everyday, use the resources everyday, could not exist without the resources they manage so successfully.  The examples she found have managed their common resources for hundreds of years without governments, corporations, or NGOs, adapting as need be.  The oldest is about 1000 years old. 

  • I’m wondering if you are aware of the Transition Movement, a rapidly growing grassroots, community-led movement that builds resilient communities across the world, using a positive, solutions based approach that is holistic, inclusive, diverse and non-political. Started in the UK back in 2006, (www.transitionnetwork.org) the Transition Movement has spread all over the world. Here in the States we have several hundred Transition Communities, and several thousand in the process of forming. Check out the national hub website here: http://www.transitionus.org The work that Transition Communities are doing around the world is incredibly inspiring. It is possibly the greatest social experiment of our times.

  • Roz, I am probably a bit late to get into Aimee’s daily email to you today. Meant to respond earlier but have been “cloistered” in a meeting of folks from across the U.S. sharing ideas along similar lines as your blog the past few days. At various levels, I agree with Stan, John, Michael, Peacefuljeff and Raven. My observation is that communities come in a wide range of numbers and geographic range.  I am in communities of a handful with very close friends (say 3, 4 or 5) or people who happen to “find” each other; a few dozen friends, acquaintances, or fellow residents who heretofore did not know each other within a town; a couple hundred across the nation and across borders who find each other through an established or growing organization; thousands who may or may not know each other who congregate on-line and collaborate on-line as well as in periodic local or national face-to-face meet ups.  The group I am meeting with this weekend are “district managers” in an international group of the latter category.

    One example of the lowest level, in my town there were people with a common concern about litter and graffiti. They were taking action as individuals until the mayor formed Keep Hayward Clean and Green Task Force with regular monthly meetings and clean-ups. Formally, we are a little over a dozen members, but several dozen come out on Saturdays to work. A hybrid of a common issue and individual action.  Another similar group is the Community Action Network which is broader in scope, had a similar beginning but is not an official city organization and has remained a loose-knit network of individuals who stay connected by email and periodic meetups as issues arise.

    Two much larger communities I am involved with are people who came together as a result of the efforts of a single person who saw a need to address a single issue on a broad basis. One started a small group in his town and through recruiting efforts among friends in other cities, grew it to a few dozen groups across the U.S. and Canada, each having a few members to perhaps a dozen or two who convene regularly in somebody’s home on a monthly basis.  We all get together on a conference call the first Saturday of each month which gives us a real sense of community although we are spread to the four winds.

    Another community of likeminded thousands was again started by an individual who saw a need to create a presence around an issue, whereby we could all address a common concern that each of us had already been actively engaged fully, partially, or were in need of structure to become effective.  The community gave us the ability to seek and find others with advice, facts and mutual support in our local efforts, working in our towns with a connection to a very broad and diverse collection of experts contributing to a common issue.

    Sorry, but this is a bit vague and broad-brush. When I get more time, I can send you specifics.  For now, it’s all over the board, but seems to take an individual or small group of individuals who have a common concern and take the initiative to start something. The “community” seems to begin with two or three people who have a personal affinity and purpose. 

    Hope all is well and that you are coming down the home stretch.

  • Hi Roz:
    Q1: Any and all, it depends.
    Q2: From 20 upwards sounds good to me. For global communities, eg Avaaz, several thousand seems appropriate.
    Q3: Check out https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html if you can.
    Q4: With Q3 in mind, I would be very wary about limiting my thinking to try to pidgeon-hole/categorise “types”. That sort of thinking is where the hierarchically controlled mindset of the post-industrial “revolution” took us to where we are now.

  • Great minds are rowing, writing and contributing .Each of you making the planet better each day, in your own way. I am grateful for what you do. I will share some common folks ideas and success , they live each day forward.There might be an idea or two to share with family and friends?
    A short article to consider – to become only common?

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