My Critiques of My Book- Dude Making a Difference

Robin Greenfield holding his book, with
Off the Grid Across the USAPersonal

This December I published my first book, Dude Making a Difference. It’s the story of my first major activism campaign in, which I cycled across the USA on a bamboo bicycle bringing attention to environmental issues.

The book is an accumulation of my blogs and journals that I wrote and shared throughout the adventure. The bike ride was in the summer of 2013 and Dude Making a Difference was published December 2015. For the most part, I did not alter the feelings I expressed that summer or change my thoughts to reflect new perspectives that I developed in the two years since. Because of that, I’d like to follow up on a few things here as well as provide some critiques of the book as well as of myself.

As I read through the draft of the book, there were things that I wanted to change but I didn’t, as I wanted the book to be a more present account of the adventure. I don’t know if that was the right move or not. I feel the book is extremely factually accurate, but I feel there is something that I really left out.

I’m a huge proponent of eating a plant-based diet. Switching from animal products to plants is the single greatest thing that just about any of us can do to decrease our environmental impact. As I read through my book, however, I realized just how much meat and dairy that I was eating. Before the trip, I ate a mostly plant-based diet but the deal for the bike ride was that I had set a rule of only eating local, organic, unpackaged food for the entire summer. I started the trip off in the spring and there was very little plant food growing that met all three of those guidelines. This resulted in me eating a lot of animal products. The wild hunted deer and elk, the grass-fed beef, the small farm eggs, and the milk, cheese, and yoghurt I ate were a success in regards to eating local, organic, unpackaged food. But even with this being the case the environmental impact by eating some of this food was far greater than if I had found a non-local or packaged plant-based food instead.

As an example, I gave up using showers for the entire summer to save water, but the amount of water I saved doing this (about 2,000 gallons) is equivalent to the production of just a few hamburgers. With that being said I don’t think that veganism is the only solution to our environmental crisis (read Read An Argument Against Veganism) but in many cases it would have been much better for me to find a plant-based food than to eat even local, organic, unpackaged animal products.

I did mention in the book that switching to a plant-based diet is the single greatest change that most US Americans can make to live a more environmentally friendly life, but I didn’t go into the details. The truth is that animal agriculture is the most destructive system currently in place. It accounts for 51% of all green house gas emissions, which is more than everything else combined. The fact that my book is largely about decreasing our negative impact on the earth but I barely covered the biggest thing we can do is a failure on my end, I believe. I did bring up the issue, but nowhere near to the extent that I should have. At the time of my adventure, I didn’t realize the extent of the environmental destruction from the animal agriculture industry and so I didn’t add it in later since the book was an account of what I knew then.

For those that want to learn more about this, I highly recommend watching Cowspiracy and Earthlings. Both links can be found at 23 Films that Changed My Life.

I learned after the trip, when I wrote Lessons Learned from a Year Without Showering, that I was doing harm to the environment by using soap when I was bathing in natural bodies of water. I assumed that since I was using Dr. Bronner’s organic and biodegradable soap that it was fine to use soap in lakes and rivers. However, I learned that soap will not biodegrade in water as it needs the microbes in soil to do that. Learn more about that here.

There’s also the slight confusion by some about me being off the grid. The original name of the adventure was Off the Grid Across the USA, and the idea was to cycle across the United States completely off the grid. The reality is that it would have been better titled Low Impact Living Across the USA as it really came down to having as little of an impact as possible. When staying in people’s homes, I wasn’t technically off the grid; the idea wasn’t to ostracize myself from others, but rather to not consume any resources from the grid. If others were using resources such as electricity, and my presence would not add to their consumption, then it was ok. I did use the comforts of homes and the shelter of buildings, but as you read in the book I never consumed electricity or water from within them.

The following are some of my personal flaws that I’ve worked on greatly since 2013:

As I read the draft, I noticed how much time I spent on the computer. I didn’t have a good balance of time spent off the computer during the trip. I even noticed that I would be quite disappointed on days that my cellphone could not be charged by the sun. This was because of my addiction to the Internet and social media. I’ve worked greatly to reduce my dependency on constant connection to the Internet. Getting rid of my cellphone played a huge role in that. I was also at an unbalanced time in my life because of a girl and that summer I recall always wanting my phone on in case she called.

I had an ego during that adventure, a pretty big one at that. I think it came out in the book quite a bit. I’ll be honest, when I first started on my adventures and activism a lot of it was very ego based. With each month, though, I have dropped my ego down while using my remaining ego largely as a tool for good.

Sometimes I came off as a bit preachy in the book. This is something I consciously avoid. I have no desire to preach but I do have a great desire to lead by example and to teach those who want to learn. If I write another book in the future, I think you can rest assured there will be little to no preaching or ego.

I wasn’t always nice to Brent. The fact is that we didn’t get along a lot of the time. It’s very hard to spend all day together for 3 months and get along. It was a huge test of my patience and I failed at times. I wanted to have more of an explanation in the book but most of that got cut by the editors. The fact is I could have been a lot nicer to Brent. The good news is that we both still respect each other and keep in touch. We haven’t seen each other since, but we do keep in touch.

Lastly there’s all the typos in the book. My publishers really let me down there. They did a poor job of proofreading and made some huge miscommunications with my book. I even caught most of the typos myself when I proofread the draft for print and, due to a mistake on their end, they didn’t get added to draft before it was sent to print. It’s a shame that there are so many typos and it doesn’t reflect well on myself or the publishers. I don’t mind too much, though, because in my mind it’s the adventure and the content of the story that matters. What matters is that people walked away inspired to make positive changes in their life, not that I looked like an excellent writer.

Overall, I would highly recommend the book to anyone who is on the path to live more a conscious and environmentally friendly life. Don’t expect a masterpiece or even close to my best work. Still, I think you’ll be inspired and learn some things!

Here’s the trailer for any of you who haven’t seen it yet:

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