Zoom In Zoom Out: Everyday Activism for Musicians

Earth Day 2019

Volume 119, No. 4April, 2019

Marc Schmied

Marc Schmied, a member of Local 802 since 1996, is a bassist, wannabe comedian and environmental activist with

A colleague of mine recently told me about a concept from Philip Toshio Sudo’s book “Zen Guitar” called Zoom In/Zoom Out that really spoke to me. The idea is to be able to go between focusing in on the everyday details of our practice and then pull back the focus to see the bigger picture.

For us musicians, zooming in helps us stay on top of our essential daily routines: practicing, preparing for gigs, getting to gigs, maintaining our instruments, and staying on top of work e-mails and texts. When we switch to zooming out, we can pause and consider long-term weightier questions such as: “Am I satisfied with my career direction? Am I happy? Is there something major that I’m neglecting such as financial planning, relationships, un-pursued or abandoned projects, or self-improvement?” Zooming out helps clarify our destination, while zooming in keeps us moving in that direction. To have a satisfying career we need to be toggling between our short and long term goals.

As we approach Earth Day, I have been thinking about how to incorporate this idea into my life as a volunteer environmental activist. When I decide to take public transportation instead of driving to work, I’m zooming in; by deciding on a green burial instead of conventional funeral arrangements, I’m zooming out (way out). When I zoom out and think about the enormity of the threat of climate change, I know that somebody needs to do something (actually, lots of people need to do lots of things). But what can an individual do to change the way governments and corporations around the world do business? If I stay zoomed out, I can go to a place of being discouraged and depressed. But when I zoom in, the questions become “What can I do today to make the situation a little better? Where is my power to effect change?”

There is an abundance of helpful research on what we as individuals can do in response to climate change, and many of the suggestions can help us create a better world, be healthier, and even save us money. While no individual can solve the climate crisis, each of us wields an inherent source of power: our spending. Nearly every purchasing choice has implications for our planet. Our choices lead to actions which can lead to change.

I don’t expect you to attempt all of the following suggestions; some of them may not be relevant, possible or practical. My wish is that you find something that resonates with you. The categories of transportation, home energy use, and food involve daily choices we all make that have huge ramifications for the planet. Let’s start by zooming in:



  • Consider getting rid of your car and using more public transportation, car-sharing services and carpooling. If you need a car, find ways to use it less often.
  • If you own a car, keep your tires inflated properly. Don’t idle or speed.
  • Bike and walk more (and save money on gym membership!).
  • Fly less (or buy carbon offsets when you have to fly). In terms of CO2 emissions, trains are the greenest option, followed by buses, cars, and finally planes.


  • Insulate, seal and weatherproof windows and doors (as a bonus, your home will have less sound seeping in and out).
  • Use a programmable thermostat to cut down on wasteful consumption (and unnecessarily high energy bills).
  • Use power strips for appliances and turn them off when not in use.
  • Upgrade to a newer, more energy efficient refrigerator and air conditioner to lower heating and electricity costs. Use moderate settings for your heating and cooling systems.
  • Switch to LED light bulbs.
  • Wash clothes in cold water.
  • Buy less stuff. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Marie Kondo has made this idea cool through her “Tidying Up” show on Netflix.
  • Properly recycle and dispose of electronic waste.


  • Eat less meat, especially beef. Cows produce lots of methane which as a greenhouse gas is 30 times worse than CO2.
  • Eat more seasonal local fruits and veggies. Shop at farmers’ markets or join a CSA.
  • Cut down on food waste. Compost your scraps. Decaying food in landfills is near the top of greenhouse gas sources due to the methane emissions.
  • Cut down on plastics, especially the single-use kind. Just say no to straws. I carry a reusable water bottle, reusable shopping bags and bamboo utensils. They are not heavy. Our grandparents got along fine without the convenience of plastic.
  • Drink local water, not water from Fiji or France.


Use passive electronics for electric guitars and basses, to avoid using extra electricity. Eliminate synthesizers. Just kidding…sort of.

You may be thinking, “Why bother? Why should I inconvenience myself or give up things that I enjoy? What difference can one person make?” Sometimes it can seem hopeless.

This is the time to zoom out:


Educate ourselves, then teach others.

Our strength is in our numbers. The collective threat to our planet requires a collective response. No one is going to fix the climate for us. It is our job.


  • Demand that our federal, state and local leaders support green and sustainable policies. Did you know that in NYC,  buildings account for 70 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions? Large buildings of over 25,000 square feet – often luxury office and residential buildings such as Trump Tower – are the source of most of this pollution. The NYC Council is working on a “Dirty Buildings” bill (Intro. 1253) this spring that requires buildings to adopt greater energy efficiency. Through my work with the environmental group, I am in touch with city politicians and community leaders to try to get this bill passed.
  • Activism is better than “click-tivism.” Social media has its place, but I have found that being an activist in the real world is more effective than just sharing and liking posts. Doing outreach and talking to my neighbors builds community and is much more productive than skirmishing on Facebook. Like organized labor, environmental groups need active members to thrive.

Green burial

Both standard burial and cremation have negative consequences for the environment. Green burial is done without toxic chemicals and preserves forests. Your body can nourish the planet even after you’re gone!

Socially responsible investing

For those who have investment portfolios, there are funds that avoid fossil fuel companies and other undesired investments.

Have smaller families

I know this is a delicate subject, but a smaller population will fare better on our future planet than a larger one.

I hope the concept of Zoom In/ Zoom Out is as useful to you as it is for me. I find it to be an excellent tool in determining where to direct my attention and energy (and minimize frustration). Whether it’s the ridiculously low revenue from streaming music services or the existential threat of climate change, there’s plenty to feel bad about these days. How we respond is everything.