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by Carol Cooper

Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century
Edited by Alex Steffen
Abrams, 596 pp. $37.50

In the wake of a freshly Democratic wind blowing through American party politics, the inspired optimism of a massive how-to handbook titled Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century should garner a national audience well beyond any stereotypical tree-hugger fringe demographic. In fact, this year's media foregrounding of Al Gore as the "acceptable face" of aggressive ecological reform in this country is an index of just how much the reach (and grasp!) of eco-warriorship has expanded (alongside the Internet) in the past 10 years.

Gathered here are the more tech-savvy recruits to green activism: people already working in governmental, industrial, and philanthropic institutions to create sustainable change. Clean water, reliable electricity, cheap fuel, safe food, universal health care, and constructive designer biology are things most people want -- and the aspiring world-changers in this book think every human should have them. So how do we get "there" from here? MIT's Media Lab has already developed hand-cranked laptop computers powerful and cheap enough to function as portable schoolrooms for impoverished rural children from China to Brazil. Dr. Martin P. Schreibman tests his theory of DIY "basement" aquaculture by growing generations of edible tilapia in laboratory tanks at the Aquatic Research and Environmental Assessment Center of Brooklyn College. And architect Zoka Zola's stylish "Zero Energy House," built on West Adams Street in Chicago, operates exclusively on solar and wind power.

Gore writes in his foreword, "This book is about rising to meet the great challenges of our day." Significantly, most of the thoughtful solutions that follow first arose online at worldchanging.com, a website and think tank formed by networking citizens of the better world these visionaries strive to create.

Published in: , 2006