Make a Difference; Jo Walker Meets Michael Norton, a Man Who Wants to Change the World a Bit at a Time

Article excerpt

A few years ago, volunteering activist Michael Norton was walking with an architect friend along a rundown street near his home in west London.

"I was just saying, 'Isn't this a bleak street? Shouldn't we be planting trees?"' he recalls. "'Why don't we put a leaflet through everyone's doors, hold a meeting, set up a committee, apply to the council for a grant?'

"And he said, 'You're nuts. What we should do is get a pick axe, lift up a stone and plant a tree."'

He may not have known it, but the architect came as close as anyone to the core of Norton's philosophy: why waste time on the sidelines when you can just get in there and do it?

The author of 365 Ways To Change The World is an "everyday activist" - a believer in small acts of charity and volunteerism revolutionising the globe, and the way we live in it. And he wants all of us to be one, too.

"The first thing is feeling that you can make a difference in the world," Norton explains.

"These big problems like Aids, global warming, world poverty, war and peace are problems that we can all participate in by doing something about it. So the first thing is to give up your feelings of apathy and helplessness."

The second? From little things, big things grow, Norton says: "If you start by doing little things, you get really excited about it, you'll then go on to do bigger things and then maybe it'll change your life as well as the world."

But small steps first - and that's exactly what 365 Ways is about. With a page per day, the book lists hundreds of suggestions for small, easy ways to make the earth a better place - from reconnecting with old friends, learning about non-violent direct action to harvesting seeds for farmers in the developing world.

"I didn't want people to feel that it's only the Bob Geldofs of the world who can do things," Norton says. "Just feeling that you can make a difference, being inspired by the simple things you can achieve can make you feel that, well, life isn't that problematic."

We're more clued in than ever to the Earth's problems - the last few years especially have seen an upsurge in our concern for the planet's future. …