Cam “The Life Hacker” Connects Through Books

By Cam Mather

Writing a book is a weird thing. It sets in motion a whole bunch of unique human interactions.

My first realization was that writing a book is way more work than you’d think it was. It sounds easy – come up with an idea, jot it down, have someone edit it and you’re off to the races. That hasn’t been my experience. Michelle will suggest that my problem is that my brain works much faster than my fingers, or at least that the two are not necessarily well wired. Taking a run-on stream of consciousness and making it coherent is my biggest challenge. I certainly understand when Michelle is doing the first edit and shows me sections where she says, “What the heck are you trying to say here?” (I have cleaned this up for public consumption) I’m usually indignant at first, then flummoxed when I can’t figure it out either.

Michelle is the first line of defense before the book even gets to our exceptional editor Joan McKibbin. I provide her last name here since on the only page in “The All You Can Eat Gardening Handbook” that I didn’t ask her to edit was the acknowledgements page. I of course, managed to spell her name wrong there, and yet she’s still talking to me. She is a truly great woman.

What I have most enjoyed about writing books has been the connections I’ve made with people. I am mostly speaking about my book “Thriving During Challenging Times” which has been out longer, and I’ve met some really cool people because of it. It’s just very gratifying when what you’ve written speaks to someone. Michelle has pointed out some reviews on for my book and it’s a neat feeling to know that others are reading and appreciating what I”ve written.

I’ve always enjoyed reading and I read a lot, and my brain is sort of constantly processing the world through information I’ve learned and assimilated through written words. I like pictures too – don’t get me wrong, I love movies and TV. So often though I find that movie adaptations aren’t as good as the book, because I find that my vision of the events in a book doesn’t usually match up with the film’s version. The only example where this isn’t true is “The English Patient” which was a confusing book. I found it insanely confusing because I could never tell where I was and the sequence of time. I like challenges, but I was just lost. When I saw the movie it finally made sense. The stuff shot in Africa was all browns and golds and yellows, and the stuff shot in Italy was all blues and grey. I could finally follow it. It was like the Dummies Guide to The English Patient. Michael Ondaatje lived just south of where I live when he wrote that. It has nothing to do with this blog, I’m just showing off.

But I digress, which my editors will readily agree is common in my writing. I recently met (virtually speaking, through email) a blogger by the name of Kevin Bush who wrote a blog about my book “Thriving During Challenging Times” ( Kevin called me a “life hacker”. Kevin’s definition of a life hacker is someone who “has vision to see beyond arbitrary constraints imposed by institutions, social norms, and the media.  Someone who’s a visionary and is prompted to action based on that vision.”  Sounds pretty cool to me!

That’s a pretty complimentary description of how Michelle and I have lived our lives. We haven’t eaten meat for 20 years, grow much of our own food, home schooled our kids, and were self-employed, then moved to the middle of nowhere off-the-electricity grid. We never earned much money but were obsessive about debt, paying off our mortgage in 6 years, while making less than the median family income. We did it by “not buying stuff”. We only make about 4 cans of garbage a year and have been doing this for about 20 years, even when our daughters were small. This comes back to the not buying stuff mantra.

So much of what I’ve read over the last decade suggests a vision of the future that requires people to become critical of the large power structures and institutions in society, because I think they are about to start failing. They are too big. They are too complex. They are too tightly interconnected and do not have the resilience to survive the shocks that are coming to the system as a result of peak oil, climate change and an economic model we’ve let get out of hand. One only has to look at what a huge economic challenge the world is facing caused by something as normal and natural on the planet as an Icelandic volcano erupting. Listening to the news you’d think it was the deathblow for airlines. Are they living that close to the fiscal abyss? Can being grounded for a few days bankrupt an airline? Don’t they have savings? Don’t they have Plan B?

I don’t think they do. I think our whole system is without a Plan B. If there was a plan, it was used it up in 2008 when the government blew their brains out on fiscal stimulus packages. They can’t do that again, so if the glimmers of hope that we are allegedly seeing in the economy turn out to be false signals, then “Houston we have a problem”. And if governments and large institutions have a problem, you probably have a problem. That is unless you’ve lived responsibly and developed your own “Plan B”. It’s really easy. It doesn’t have to cost much. You just have to take some time to start questioning the reality of the existing paradigm being able to last much longer. Once you realize that “the times they are a changin’”, you’ll be motivated to come up with your own strategy for independence.

As a writer, I apologize if I’ve used too many clichés like “Houston we have a problem” and Bob Dylan song lyrics. You can tell I watch TV because Apollo 13’s 40th anniversary was all over the news last week. But again, I digress.

One Response to “Cam “The Life Hacker” Connects Through Books”

  • Richard Bell:

    One of the world’s great environmental thinkers has, in fact, authored a very good “Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization,” and it’s available for free download! I refer to Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and now head of the Earth Policy Institute. He came up with the first Plan B book several years ago, and as the title above indicates, he has been constantly updating and refining the work.

    His recommendations are largely consistent with those that anyone who has been reading this blog will be familiar with. Here is a very quick overview from the EPI website (

    “Plan B is the alternative to business as usual. Its goal is to move the world from the current decline and collapse path onto a new path where food security can be restored and civilization can be sustained. Just as the trends that are behind the current deterioration in the food situation—including the loss of cropland to development and soil erosion, falling water tables, the conversion of food into fuel, and rising carbon emissions—go far beyond agriculture itself, so too must the response. In times past it was the Ministry of Agriculture that held the key to expanding agricultural research, expanding credit to farmers, and all the other obvious things that fall within its province, but securing future food supplies now depends on the mobilization of our entire society.”

    “For these reasons Plan B is far more ambitious than anything the world has ever undertaken, an initiative that has no precedent in scale or urgency. It has four interdependent components: cutting net carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2020, stabilizing population at 8 billion or lower, eradicating poverty, and restoring the earth’s natural systems, including soils, aquifers, forests, grasslands, and fisheries. The ambitiousness of this plan is not driven by perceived political feasibility but by scientific reality.”

    You can download the ENTIRE BOOK as a PDF for FREE from the Earth Policy Institute website. Or you can buy the printed edition from W.W. Norton.

    Disclaimer: I worked for Brown at the Worldwatch Institute for several years in the late 1990s. I have no financial connections with the Earth Policy Institute.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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