BOOK REVIEW : SMALL STORIES BIG CHANGES By Lyle Estill
Updated: Feb 2, 2021
I was drawn to this book on the shelf in my local library as the cover depicts that familiar and easily identifiable analogy, acorns and oak trees and those ever important words “agents of change”. But, I knew nothing about the author or the book. Lyle Estill is big into biofuels and is the founding member of Piedmont Biofuels, a small renewable energy company producing biodiesel in Central North Carolina. In this uplifting book, he brings together fourteen “change agents”, who in a few pages describe their own, honest and often very personal experiences of being on the front line of social and environmental change.
The foreword is written by Professor David W. Orr, a distinguished professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, at Oberlin College Emeritus, who speaks fondly of Estill and his entrepreneurial spirit, but also of what these fourteen, ordinary people have achieved concluding his foreword with:
“ if you have to gamble (or better, invest), bet on these folks and the millions more like them now shaping a sunshine powered and decent world, not on dinosaurs, the merchants of carbon, the extractors, the exploiters, and the takers. You won’t lose, and your descendants will win big”.
Each chapter starts with a bio about the contributor written by Estill, followed by their own story. Because the book is a collection of different people’s accounts, naturally the writing style varies from person to person. But, I quiet like this as its further supports the books openness and honesty (it definitely wasn’t an easy ride for any of the contributors, who came up against prejudice and very real challenge from large fossil fuel and construction companies).
While the experiences are varied and often inspiring, biodiesel and other alternative fuels are the main stays of the case studies and did feel a little one-dimensional at times. But that aside, each contributor told their individual story and so each chapter was specific and nuanced, even if the overall theme repeated.
This is a short, easy and inspirational read, that celebrates the successes of this diverse group of people but also the harsh reality and challenges they faced, especially around lobbying and the impact of large-scale organisations on local and national government policy (often at the detriment to society and to the sustainability cause). I connected with some contributors and their stories more than others but overall, was left feeling impressed and inspired.