Frances Moore Lappé became a leading environmental figure in 1971 with the publication of her bestselling book Diet for a Small Planet. Four decades and seventeen books later, the message of her newest release, EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want, is still relevant.
Between travel and prepping for EcoMind’s promotional events (including the discussion she will be a part of at Cabrillo College’s Crocker Theater on Nov. 11), Lappé took a moment to tell the Santa Cruz Weekly that while a lot of the issues environmentalists debate today weren’t even on the radar when she first began (such as climate change) the root of our problems is exactly the same.
“Everything is still framed in terms of creating self-defeating schemas,” she says. She thinks we actually have “so much evidence for the solutions that are right at hand.” In EcoMind, Lappé challenges seven of the “thought traps” environmentalists commonly pitch as what prevents us from resolving Earths’ woes. One such idea is that “we’ve hit the limits of a finite earth,” meaning that we’ve been living beyond our means and must now “power down.” Lappé says this framing implies that it’s necessary to lead less fulfilling lives if we care about the future of the planet; she then explains why this notion is wrong. She writes, “Because most people know they weren’t invited to the Too Good party, the message falls flat. An effective and ecologically attuned goal is not about more or less. Moving from fixation on quantities, our focus shifts to what brings health, ease, joy, creativity—more life.”
“The first step is getting people to realize that the current metaphors aren’t working,” Lappé says. “I’m not saying that I have the final answer, but I do know that we have to think about these issues differently.” She continues, “There’s nothing inexorable” about the environmental problems at hand. “It’s a matter of how we perceive them, and that’s why the book is so full of solutions.”
Lappé was initially worried about challenging the common environmentalist mindset for fear of offending advocates who are some of her biggest heroes. “I was nervous about publishing it because I knew it was heretical in some ways.” But, she says, referring to her nervousness, “Fear has potential to produce really good things.” Her hesitation led her to send an email out to The Small Planet Institute (her organization) subscribers, saying that she would send the manuscript to and solicit advice from the first six people to respond. “I got an overwhelmingly positive response,” she says. She calls EcoMind a “crowd-sourced book”; after posting a draft book on the website, she received “80 single-spaced pages of comments from people all over the world.”
Local author John Robbins, Transition Santa Cruz founder Michael Levy and scientist/ author Dr. Wallace J. Nichols will join Lappé for the discussion.
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly: