William Powers, Environmentalist and Author

Image: William Powers

If, like me, you've dreamt about living off the grid, we can soon pick up a book and live vicariously. This May, a new memoir will release called Twelve by Twelve: A One Room Cabin Off the Grid & Beyond the American Dream by William Powers.

Like the book's intriguing title, the author is equally fascinating and holds a long list of impressive eco-career stints. Previous to spending a season in a 12x12 foot cabin in North Carolina, detailing his struggle for a meaningful life with a smaller carbon footprint, William has led development aid and conservation initiatives in Latin America, Africa, Washington, D.C. and Native North America. One of his most recognized achievements was his socio-economic management of a project in the Bolivian Amazon that won a 2003 prize for environmental innovation from Harvard's JFK School of Government.

When not environmental writing (his growing collection of books, essays, and articles can be found at www.williampowersbook.com) and crusading to save our remaining rainforests, William prefers his leisure time still up close to Mother Earth--tending to his tiny NYC garden.

How did you get into this line of work?

My parents inspired me to work for social change. They took my sister and I from our comfortable suburban Long Island home to work with Latin American migrant farm workers in the Deep South for a season when I was eight years old. It radically changed my perspective.

What was your "a-ha" moment?

Living for a season in 2007 in a twelve-foot by twelve-foot, off grid house on a creek in North Carolina. There I realized that less is more.

Who is your green hero?

Dr. Jackie Benton (a pseudonym to respect her privacy), a slight, sixty-year-old physician. People call her a "wisdomkeeper," a Native American term for women elders who draw out what's already inside of us. She introduced me to the world of "wildcrafter" neighbors - organic farmers, biofuel brewers, eco-developers, Libertarian homeschoolers. I write about her, her neighbors, and an emerging "soft world" in my new book Twelve by Twelve: A One Room Cabin Off the Grid & Beyond the American Dream.

What is your ultimate green goal?

Saving the world's final rainforests through valuing their service in sequestering the carbon dioxide that causes climate change.

What is your motivation?

My spiritual path, which probably boils down to something like the Dalai Lama's idea of "loving kindness."

What is most important to you, ecologically speaking?

Human economic and political systems coming into harmony with the biosphere's limits. Not an easy task!

What is the most challenging part of your job?

As an environmentalist, getting the incentives right through pressure and policy.

As an author and writer: patience with the creative process. There's a saying that writing a book is easy; you just open a vein and write with the blood. It's not too far from the truth!

What is the most rewarding?

Seeing Bolivia's remarkable Noel Kempff National Park saved from destruction because of the inspiring work of Bolivian and international environmentalists and progressive policy makers and companies. Twenty waterfalls crashing into Amazon rainforests, and a homeland for indigenous people. I write about my first hand experience on the project in Whispering in the Giant's Ear: A Frontline Chronicle from Bolivia's War on Globalization.

Of the people you have worked with, who impresses you most?

Bill McKibben. Also John de Graff, whose Take Back Your Time movement works toward a "leisure ethic" where life is about being more and not just having more. That's what brings human society more in sync with the rest of the biosphere.

What green thing do you do everyday?

Garden in my tiny backyard in New York City.

What do you wish you could do?

Convince every college grad to take a year off and enjoy working for the planet in a kind of Earth Corps.

What is your biggest eco-sin?

I fly quite a bit. It's part of my work, which I hope offsets, in some way, the carbon. But it's always something I struggle with.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

That each of us finds a way to increase courage and decrease fear in our lives. A lot of humanity and the planet's problems come from unnecessary fear, anxiety, and stress.

What is your best green advice?

Explore the elusive contours of enough.