Book Review: “Building a Better World in Your Backyard” by Paul Wheaton & Shawn Klassen-Koop

Reader Contribution by Rosemary Hansen
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Time Sensitive Note to Readers: Paul and Shawn are runninga Kickstarter campaign to get their book published and they need your help to do so! If you donate $1 to their campaign in the first 48 hours , you will receive a literal boatload ofover 30 high quality e-books and videos about permacultureand related topics! Make sure not to miss out on this fantastic deal! This offer starts officially Tuesday, April 9th 2019 at 2pm Mountain Time and ends Friday, April 12th 2019 at 2pm Mountain Time.

What Is This Book About?

It’s purpose is to help the average person transform the world, one truly ecological act at a time. That means that instead of writing angry letters to politicians and protesting, you can do things in your everyday life to help the Earth. Paul Wheaton and Shawn Klassen-Koop offer easy-to-implement, simple solutions for anyone looking to reduce your energy/petroleum usage and clear toxins from your life. They briefly cover how to save money and make passive income so that you don’t have to participate in the rat race and commute to work (thereby polluting the environment). The theme of luxurious living is in the forefront of the book throughout reading it. So it is not a book about sacrifice in the name of environmentalism. The main goal of the book is to direct your current anger at how messed up we’ve made the world and put it towards doing simple practical things to lessen your carbon footprint and give yourself a better more fulfilled life.  

Paul & Shawn’s Eco-Poser Test

Do you spend less than $83/month on energy (electricity & heat)? They say that even if you have five kids, you still have to spend less than that to be a real environmentalist. Not a poser.

It’s a very interesting, thought-provoking argument. Heating and electricity account for a large amount of fossil fuels that we use. However, transportation takes the cake for the highest fossil fuel use : 33% in 2017. Electricity & heating use was 28% of total fossil fuel consumption. So, together, all three total over 60% of overall fossil fuel use in the United States. Next time you book a flight to Mexico or order something Next Day from Amazon, give that a thought!

Back to the book. I love the anecdote about the protester driving to protest fracking and he’s driving his car 1500 miles to do so, thereby using lots of petroleum! Most people don’t think about their iPad use (plus the mining to make the iPad), driving in their car, and taking yearly vacations on cruises or airplanes. The majority of us use either coal, natural gas, or hydroelectric power (still not always environmentally friendly) for our daily addiction to electricity. These are big problems but Wheaton has some good answers  that we can all do in our daily lives. In the subsequent chapters, he makes some great points for how to do this without giving up a lot of “luxury”.

Paul points out that using a energy-efficient dryer in your home is not being an environmentalist! You need to go further, and use a clothesline. If you hand-wash, extra points for you! What my family and I have discovered is that drying clothes in winter on a rack can be done easily indoors. And if you have too much moisture building up, using a dehumidifier is far less energy consuming than using a dryer (which also spits heat outside in winter…whhaaat?). I hand wash my clothes on our homestead with a “breathing” plunger. Now I just need a clothes wringer since my hands get pretty sore after wringing them out by hand.

Reducing Petroleum Usage

In Chapter 5 we move on to petroleum usage on a per person scale, and different ways of reducing it in small ways or BIG ways! This information is great to know. My conclusions out of this chapter: live communally (or rent out part of your home), work from home to reduce or eliminate commutes, and do as big a garden as you can manage while hopefully producing food for people outside of your home as well. This is great advice and I think more people need to explore being happy and at peace at home rather than always eating out, doing gym workouts, and traveling lots. This involves really looking at your life and assessing how you can cut down on your driving around. He says aim for driving once per month, which is a really genius way of combating the whole debate about using electric cars vs. hydrogen vs. ethanol vs. bio-diesel, etc. etc. Just use your current vehicle very very minimally. My family and I practice this in real life and find that you can be really creative with fun stuff to do at home. Play boardgames! Read books together, recite poetry, make things! Have a dance party or a tea party!

Radically Deviant Financial Strategies

One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 10: Radically Deviant Financial Strategies. In this chapter, Wheaton covers some very smart strategies for saving up money to get your own land, or own your own tiny house/shack that you build onto. These practices are critical for anyone who is drowning in debt and wanting to escape the rat race. Wheaton has a great list of passive income stream ideas, which will likely get the creative juices flowing for most readers.

What if many of us could find a way to live free from debt and the “slavery” of working in a big city with long commutes? I know there are many people out there hoping to figure out this puzzle. For a lot of Millenials, it can be easy to save money while living at home with Mom and Dad, with the goal of renting or buying land. It will require a person to give up eating out as well as exercising at home instead of driving to the gym and paying monthly fees.

Wheaton and Koop mention Early Retirement Extreme, a blog and book that helps people save over 75% of their income in order to retire young. From this point on in this day and age of low interest rates, anyone trying to save money for land and a simpler life, will have an uphill battle financially. I believe the best way to do this is investing in living systems (food plants and trees) that are guaranteed to give returns (in food) no matter what the financial interest rates are. Another important part of the Early Retirement Extreme program is about developing “Renaissance Skills” as a way of investing in yourself. This means gaining skills that can be used in your daily life to save you money, such as learning to fix plumbing problems or building furniture. These skills can never be taken away from you, whereas money can.

Living Communally – Smart Idea With Some Challenges

Given that Paul has a lot of experience living in a community on his land, I was hoping for a much more in-depth chapter on how to effectively tone down the drama while living communally. I know for myself, this is THE main reason why I don’t want to live with others. It makes a lot of sense financially to live with a large group of people, and if we can create some good boundaries and rules with that, perhaps it is a good solution for lots of people. I would be very interested in a detailed discussion (or future book?) of these points.

Permaculture to Grow Your Own Food

The most important part of the book is about permaculture. Paul Wheaton has been lovingly dubbed “The Duke of Permaculture” by Geoff Lawton, (arguably the most “famous” permaculture teacher in the world, trained by the founder, Bill Mollison) for his contributions in spreading the ideas of permaculture. So it makes sense that Wheaton would give this as a solution to a lot of the world’s problems. Like he points out, petroleum is used to prepare the ground for growing food, to grow food (fertilizer), to transport food to the store, and the customer uses petroleum to go buy it. Growing your own food is a very critical part of environmentalism. Wheaton gives a good overview of some basic permaculture concepts, and tantilizes the reader to learn more outside of the book. Permaculture is a symbiotic way to live with Nature, and it also includes surrounding yourself with perennial plants and trees with lots of diversity throughout.

This year we are planting a long list of perennials in hopes that I and my grandchildren can benefit from the bountiful harvests in the future. We will be planting hazelnuts, nitrogen-fixing trees (called Princess Trees), paw paws, persimmons, walnuts, buartnuts, oak trees, grape vines, and lots more herbs and perennial greens. I hope that Paul’s chapter on permaculture, berms, tree-planting, and lazy gardening will inspire readers to dive into growing their own food.

I overheard a conversation at a home improvement store involving a man who came to get some poison to kill a tree stump because he wanted to have a flat yard of grass. The employee offered an herbicide poison and the man went on his way.  Just think about this for a minute: This tree stump that could turn into rich, black composted dirt in 5-10 years and fertilize the plants all around it, feed the mushroom mycelium, which in turn would exchange plant sugars with all surrounding plants, thereby feeding them valuable “plant poop”, is the enemy. I think it’s time to bring back the trees, people. Cover that stump with a berm or make it into a Hugelkultur, chop and drop lots of green stuff (leaves, spoiled hay, branches, etc) on top, and let nature do it’s magic. We just need to get out of the way! Paul discusses this in different parts of his book as well.

Paul and Shawn’s book has a lot of chapters and the reader will need to take time to go down a few rabbit-holes of juicy information before finishing the book! They have provided lots of links to Paul’s online forum as there are in-depth discussions about all the topics in the book. So, while reading you can join in discussions about related topics.

Overall, this book is simply a brilliant way of looking at the problems that our world faces in 2019. Although some may not want to try the more extreme ideas out, it can get readers thinking about ways they can dig deeper to help combat climate change and widespread pollution. It goes far beyond simply recycling, and places the responsibility on our everyday actions and choices.

About the Authors of Building a Better World

Paul Wheaton: As a certified master gardener and a certified permaculture designer, Paul Wheaton gardens, farms and lives what he preaches. He founded, and a few other gems (ahem, Paul’s podcasts and videocasts take in-depth looks at everything from organic gardening to lesser-known methods of permaculture.

Shawn Klassen-Koop’s passion for building a better world grew from many years of working at a summer camp. This time inspired awe and wonder for the natural world through many hours camping in the woods, paddling on a lake, or sleeping under the stars. Seeking to solve world problems with clever thinking, Shawn decided to pursue computer engineering as a career, where he learned the importance of good design and strong critical thinking. In time he felt like modern technology was causing more problems than it was solving and started looking for a better way. It was then that he stumbled upon and fell in love with permaculture as a way to use his design skills to work with nature rather than against nature.

Don’t forget to donate at least $1 (or more!) to Paul’s Kickstarter in the first 48 hours to get all of those amazing Ebooks and videos!

Rosemary does not get any commissions or gifts for doing this review. She has been provided with a free copy of the book, but with absolutely no request to make this review positive. This is Rosemary’s unbiased view of Paul and Shawn’s book. She does not receive any commissions for money donated to their kickstarter campaign either.

Rosemary Hansen is an author, homesteading Mama, and a chef. She has spent the last 10 years “homesteading” in the city. She and her family have just started their off-grid homestead in rural British Columbia, Canada. Her books,Grow a Salad In Your City Apartmentand Rosemary’s Natural Cosmetic Guide are a great way to ease into a healthy, pure lifestyle. You can connect with Rosemary at her website: www.RosemaryPureLiving.comor on her YouTube channel. Read all of Rosemary’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


Fossil fuel energy primary consumption in the U.S. from 1990 to 2018, by sector (in trillion British thermal units)

US Greenhouse Gas Emissions Flow Chart: World Resources Institute. 2003 Data.

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