I recently finished Dude Making a Difference by Rob Greenfield, of RobGreenfield.tv. The book is a diary-style account of the author’s adventure across the US by bike. He did it as a pro-environmental publicity stunt, to show how little one can really live on. The point was to put into perspective how excessive the average American lifestyle is.
Because the book was written like a diary and written largely during the actual trip, it isn’t very well edited. Well, it’s not that it’s badly edited, it just doesn’t read very academically. So everything the author says, even though it may be true, comes off as opinion. There are also some weird, not-relevant events included in the account, such as a break-up, and the death of a relative. I felt a bit uncomfortable reading about them. They definitely weren’t expected. The author also comes across as narcissistic in several places… Also a bit off-putting.
The trip the author embarks on is extreme. He rides across the US on a bicycle; gets all his water from natural bodies of water, leaks and drips, and non-fossil fuel-powered water pumps; eats only local, organic, minimally packaged food and food from dumpster diving; only uses electricity generated from solar panels he brought; carries all his trash with him to the East Coast. The point is to show how much more people could be doing to live sustainably, although they don’t have to go nearly this far.
Despite the fact that the trip is a publicity stunt and is supposed to be attention-grabbingly extreme, it’s so extreme that I’m sure many people are put off. The problem with this approach is that there’s such a large gap between the author’s bike trip and how most people live. It makes it seem like there’s no middle ground and no path towards sustainability. Most people aren’t going to get all their water from natural sources, and get all their food from dumpsters. So what is an acceptable alternative?
Greenfield is very obviously very liberal. He can’t separate his environmental views from his political views in his writing, so he drives away a lot of his potential audience. That is, those who are interested in sustainability, but less liberal than the author.
Of everything in the book, I got the most out of the author’s discussion of and experiences with dumpster diving. It’s something I’ve been interested in for a while, but it seems so daunting. So it was encouraging to hear about Greenfield’s successes. As it turns out, he has a collection of articles on his website about how to dumpster dive, including tips and help if you get into legal trouble. My confidence has been buoyed. This is something I want to get better at!
Overall, the book is entertaining but not particularly insightful (except on the topic of dumpster diving!). It is probably appealing to only a very narrow audience because of how liberal and extreme it is. It follows that Dude Making a Difference is not a good introduction to environmentalism. There’s nothing here for you if you aren’t already on the path to sustainability.