Radical Simplicity, by Jim Merkel

radical simplicity“At the heart of radical simplicity is discovering how you would like to share the Earth.”
- Jim Merkel

Radical Simplicity: Small Footprints on a Finite Earth, by Jim Merkel, asks us to imagine that we’re first in line at a potluck buffet for the world’s resources. How much do we take? How much do we leave for others?

Because the book was published more than 10 years ago, its numbers aren’t up-to-date, but according to Merkel when the book was written, if we divide up the productive acreage of the Earth evenly among its human inhabitants, each would get 4.7 acres.

If all humans use their full 4.7 acres, nothing will remain for other species. The average American consumes the productive capacity of almost 25 acres.

“In modern society, you will be lured away from your sustainability goal a hundred times a day. Keep your focus on porcupines and violets, not on numbers.”
- Jim Merkel

Merkel offers the “Sustainability Sweatshop” worksheet for readers to determine how much of the earth’s productive capacity they would like to use.

That is, you can decide how many productive acres you’d like to consume, which is called your sustainability goal. Once you complete the sustainability workshop, you’re introduced to three tools: ecological footprinting, Your Money or Your Life and learning from nature.

The book goes on to offer ways for us to calculate our ecological footprints. Few of us are likely to measure and weigh everything we own, but reading about the process is interesting. OK, truthfully, skimming it is interesting. Reading it all is terribly dry.

An easier, though probably less accurate, method is to use a website calculator such as Global Footprint Network or Ecological Footprint.

You can skip the section on Your Money or Your Life if you’re already familiar with the book. It talks about how to decide whether the time you spend for money and the resulting stuff (or experiences) is worth it.

The chapter on the third tool, learning from nature, talks about a variety of experiences from walking meditation to eating wild foods.

“It’s comfortable to have a vague idea that a bit of recycling and fewer miles in the car constitute sustainable living. Those who are satisfied with a few small things should not read Jim Merkel’s Radical Simplicity.”
- Doug Pibel, Yes Magazine

Realistically, few of us will do the Sustainability Workshop or other calculations. Nor are most of us going to cut our ecological footprint down to one or two – or even three – acres.

However, the book provides extra incentive to live more simply, even if you’re not into radical simplicity. Also, Merkel acknowledges that living simply is difficult and takes time (even decades) to perfect, so you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed and more likely to make some changes in your life.

Merkel also provides some useful suggestions for reducing our ecological footprints, though some are obvious (drive less) and others are unlikely to be implemented (wash your dishes with wood ash).

If you’re interested in learning more about global sustainability, I’d recommend this book. Otherwise, you’ll probably find your time better spent reading books that offer advice targeted specifically to those looking for less radical solutions.