Local and Michigan Headlines: Community Supported Agriculture in Michigan; The GRPS Teacher Contract Dispute

Here’s some interesting articles pertaining to Grand Rapids and Michigan from elsewhere on the Internet:

  • Michigan Will Lead the Green Industrial Revolution – Governor Jennifer Granholm takes to the Huffington Post to talk up Michigan’s work addressing climate change. Specifically, she is championing efforts to make cars made in Detroit more fuel-efficient. I’m really as excited about it as she is, but at least she’s out there making the effort to improve Michigan’s reputation.
  • Details of new UAW deal with General Motors – Not surprisingly, the UAW leadership made many concessions to GM on the union health plan, raises, and medical benefits for retirees.
  • EPA pledges ‘expeditious action’ on Dow dioxin clean-up, but Superfund status not in the works – While promising to hold Dow Chemical accountable for dioxin pollution, the organization failed to place the contaminated Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River watershed on the Superfund list. Nevertheless, environmental groups are cautiously optimistic that the EPA will finally hold Dow accountable.
  • Employee Stock Ownership, But Not Control – While not about Michigan per se, this article looks at union stock ownership in the auto industry and what that has meant for unions. This is particularly interesting as it relates to the Chrysler bankruptcy and the likely GM bankruptcy. The article was published in Labor Notes, so it is more focused on the perspective of workers and unions than what we typically see in the corporate press.
  • Cox: Top priority as governor would be tax cut – Attorney General Mike Cox has announced that he is running for governor of Michigan in 2010. His main goal would be to enact a $2 billion tax cut which include a 50% reduction is business taxes. Less revenue? That sounds just like what a struggling state government needs.
  • Arab Americans discuss profiling with security chief – Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently met with members of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) and the Michigan chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to discuss their concerns about profiling of Arab Americans at Michigan’s border crossings. The groups want the Department of Homeland Security to collect statistics on the race, national origin, and gender of those stopped at border crossings.
  • Kentwood police identify Michael Sulewski as pedestrian struck on 28th Street – Another pedestrian was hit by a car recently. Drivers really need to look out for cyclists and pedestrians–this is getting ridiculous.
  • What gives in Grand Rapids Public Schools? Either union or district must budge in contract dispute – Here’s the Grand Rapids Press’ look at the ongoing dispute in the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) over contracts for its teachers. It’s a decent summary of some of the issues in the nearly two-year old labor dispute.
  • Policy change works to provide permanent housing for the homeless, rent payments to those on brink of evictionThe Grand Rapids Press reports that a new state policy shift will allow Emergency Shelter Partnership funds to go towards rent subsidies to keep people in their homes rather than shelters. The Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness applauded the move.
  • Community farms sprouting up across areaThe Muskegon Chronicle has a nice story on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and its popularity as more people look at the health and cost-saving benefits of locally grown produce.

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

Green Jobs in Michigan Grew By 7.7% from 2005-2008

Michigan Green Jobs

The number of “green jobs” in Michigan are growing, even as traditionally strong sectors of Michigan’s economy continue to take a beating. A new report by the State of Michigan finds that green-related firms added more than 2,500 jobs to Michigan’s economy from 2005-2008–a 7.7% expansion rate–while the Michigan average was a decline in the number of jobs by 5.4%.

The report defines “green jobs” as “jobs directly involved in generating or supporting a firm’s green related products or services.” This includes jobs in five sectors: agriculture and natural resource conservation, clean transportation and fuels, increased energy efficiency, pollution prevention or environmental cleanup, and renewable energy production.

The key findings from the report:

  • Michigan boasts 109,067 private sector green jobs: 96,767 direct green jobs (people directly involved in generating a firm’s green-related products or services) and 12,300 green support jobs (anyone from a janitor to an accountant whose job is created to serve direct green work).
  • Clean transportation and fuels is the largest green economy area in Michigan, comprising just over 40% of green jobs and reflecting Michigan’s automotive heritage. If Michigan succeeds in developing alternative fuel, hybrid and electric vehicles, this sector may grow significantly.
  • There is huge potential for growth throughout the green economy. Today, green jobs represent just 3% of Michigan’s overall private sector employment of 3.2 million.
  • Indeed, from 2005 to 2008, a sample of 358 green related firms added more than 2,500 jobs to Michigan’s economy, an employment expansion rate of 7.7% — compared to the total Michigan average of negative 5.4%.
  • Among the renewable energy production firms in that sample, the growth rate hit 30%. Renewable energy production, which today is the smallest green sector, may be the fastest growing.
  • The green economy appears to be a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity. Among our sample of 358 green-related firms, over 70 appeared to be newly created since 2005, accounting for nearly 600 jobs already.
  • Green jobs tend to pay well. Thirteen of the top 15 sectors of green employment have weekly wages above the overall private sector weekly average.
  • Green jobs encompass a wide range of occupations. Engineering and construction jobs are prominent, but many other jobs of all skill levels are required by the green economy.
  • Education and training are key for green employers. In multiple focus groups, employers emphasized the need for basics in math and reading with additional skills to be acquired on-the-job or in school depending on the precise green job in question.

Moreover, the report argues that local, state, and federal policy can drive increased growth in the green economy. It cites Michigan Renewable Energy Standard, the requirement that utilities spend a portion of their revenues on energy efficiency measures for their customers, and incentives for battery production as examples.

“Green Jobs” Aren’t Always “Good Jobs”

While it’s good that there has been progress made on expanding the number of green jobs in Michigan, it’s always good to remember that just because a job is “green” doesn’t mean that it is “good.” A report released back in February the Change to Win Coalition, Good Jobs First, and the Sierra Club argued that the shift to a “green economy” offers an important opportunity to address structural problems with the U.S. economy. That report, titled “High Road or Low Road: Job Quality in the New Green Economy?,” documented that low wages are common place and that manufacturing jobs in the “green economy” typically pay less than traditional manufacturing jobs. Unions are also less prevalent.

The report singled problems with green jobs in Michigan at two United Solar Ovonic facilities where wages are lower than expected and outsourcing is commonplace. Just yesterday, the United Solar Ovonic facility in Greenville are facing a one-month temporary closing to cut costs.

However, the Michigan Green Jobs report showed higher wages in green jobs in many sectors, although possibilities for improvement remained. It said nothing about unionization rats.

Governor Granholm should be praised for moving the economy in a “green” direction, but as always, we should be asking what that means and demanding more.

How Many Earths Does Your Lifestyle Require?

For those of living in the global north–especially the United States–it’s no secret that we consume way more than we need. Moreover, much of this comes at the expense of others around the world.

A good way of exploring this idea is to take an “Ecological Footprint” quiz which will tell you roughly how many Earths would be needed if everyone in the world lived your lifestyle. For example, I live a pretty Spartan lifestyle–I don’t consume animal products, I try to grow as much of my own food as I can, I try to seriously limit my energy usage–yet if everyone in the world lived how I did, 1.86 worlds would be needed:


While that looks good by comparison with the averages for folks living in the United States, it’s still nowhere near being within the biological capacity of the Earth. Moreover, it’s another reminder that while I can take a lot of individual actions such as riding a bike or turning down my hot water heater–those actions can only go so far when we have an economic system that is based on the destruction of the Earth.

50 Difficult Things You Can Do To “Save The Earth”


Like every Earth Day, this year we’re once again treated to the usual deluge of “green” news and companies running to claim that they are environmentally friendly.

For example, NBC’s nightly news ran a green version of their logo in the corner of their screen, giving the illusion that they are a “green” company (what does that even mean these days?). Of course, they do not mention that their parent company–General Electric–is a major weapons contractor and is heavily invested in the nuclear power industry. As I wrote yesterday, there were also three former Michigan governors who took the occasion to advocate for “clean” nuclear power. And we can turn on the television and see any number of corporations using “greenwashing“–unjustifiably adopting the claim that they are “environmentally friendly”–to cash in on the “green” trend.

Along with these things, we also see the omnipresent “50 simple things you can do to save the Earth” lists, as if saving the Earth from the myriad environmental crises will be “simple.” Unfortunately, the natural world has been degraded to the point where we are well beyond “simple” solutions. While recycling, using energy efficient light bulbs, and unplugging appliances are all good ideas, it is going to take major changes in the world’s government and economic systems to truly “save the Earth.”

This all reminds me of a debate in the mid-1990s over the release of one of the early “50 simple things” lists. In response to its release, author J. Robert Hunter published Simple Things Won’t Save the Earth that critiqued the idea (author Derrick Jensen recently published: As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Stay in Denial by saying that true environmental change will take immense sacrifice. Author Gar Smith published another critique titled “50 Difficult Things You Can Do To Save The Earth” that offered sacrifices that people could take. I think it’s worth reprinting the list below–even if it is a little out of date–because it offers an important anecdote to what you see on the television:

1. Bury your car.

2. Become a total vegetarian.

3. Grow your own vegetables.

4. Have your power lines disconnected.

5. Don’t have children.

6. Restrict the population of motor vehicles.

7. Don’t build cars.

8. Stop building roads.

9. Replace roads with homes, parks, and gardens.

10. Halt weapons production and exports.

11. Stop the sale, distribution, and export of cigarettes.

12. Send an amount of money to Brazil to provide urban jobs for impoverished workers now forced into the rain forests.

13. Blockade a lumber truck carrying old-growth trees.

14. Spend a month tree sitting.

15. Try to live, if you can, to within the world average income ($1,250 a year) for 1 month.

16. Cut up your credit cards.

17. Unplug your television.

18. Undertake a Conservation Sabbath: one day a week without consuming electricity or fuel.

19. Fast a day each week, send the money saved on food to help feed the hungry.

20. Adopt a homeless person.

21. Raise the minimum wage to a survival income.

22. Enact a maximum wage law.

23. Tie politicians’ salaries to the average working wage.

24. Replace majority rule with proportional representation.

25. Replace the Electoral College with direct democratic elections.

26. Abolish the CIA and the National Security Act of 1949.

27. Pass a nature amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

28. Oust presidential adviser John Sununu.

29. Plant one new tree every day.

30. Go to jail for something you believe in.

31. Don’t own pets.

32. Allow all beef-producing domestic cattle to become extinct.

33. Redirect the military budget to restoration work; convert weapons factories to peaceful research; retrain soldiers for ecological restoration.

34. Remove US Forest Service from under the Agriculture Department; place US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish & Wildlife Service under the EPA.

35. Consume only products produced within your bioregion.

36. Don’t eat anything that comes in a package.

37. Don’t buy anything that comes in a box.

38. Require operators & owners of nuclear plants to live within a mile of the site.

39. Mandate federal recycling and institute a refuse tax on solid waste.

40. Pipe polluted water back into the water supplies of the companies that do the polluting.

41. Don’t own anything that runs on batteries.

42. Hand over excess packaging to store manager on visits to the grocery.

43. Travel by bus, never by air.

44. Stop using toilet paper and Kleenex; use washable cloth.

45. Extend the life of your wardrobe by learning to make and mend your own clothes.

46. Give money to every single panhandler you meet.

47. Democratize your workplace; start a union or a collective.

48. Learn to farm.

49. Liberate a zoo.

50. Ask your boss if you can take a day off to work on healing the planet… with pay!

The Scavengers’ Manifesto

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson know that the United States is an incredibly wasteful society. They write, “The freedom to generate waste and not worry about what happens to it is what powers the economy.” As long as companies keep producing, waste will continue–waste that the adventurous can reclaim for their own needs.

In The Scavengers’ Manifesto Rufus and Lawson invite readers to explore the fringe world of scavenging. The authors share numerous examples of things they have found: furniture, home decorations, food, and even a working iPhone. They’ve been scavenging for years and argue that it can be a liberating experience. Aside from saving a lot of money, they write that scavenging has changed how they experience things–it’s made them more patient, made them more observant, and given their lives a sense of surprise and uncertainty that is often missing from the predictable routine of consumer capitalism.

To be sure, there is truth to what Rufus and Lawson write. Aside from their numerous examples, over the years I’ve subsided for long periods of time on food gleaned from dumpsters, groceries purchased with the bottle deposits from found bottles, and wild plants picked in parks. At various times, this very website has been updated from computer hardware that was scavenged in the trash. That said, there are plenty of options out there at a variety of different comfort zones.

The authors are right that many may be put off by dumpster diving and to those folks they offer a number of helpful tips: attend and organize clothing swaps, purchase your clothes second hand, attend lectures with receptions afterwards for free food (you might even learn something), yard sales, and other ideas. It mentions resources like FreeCycle (a community devoted to exchanging goods for free) and CraigsList. It makes a point to define scavenging in a broad sense, ostensibly to hook people on the idea. So, while I’m not sure that someone that cuts coupons and vows never to pay full price is really a “scavenger,” I do understand the logic of classifying them as such. They also include a twelve-point set of “commandments” for scavengers that helps to remove the association of scavenging with lawlessness. Rufus and Lawson argue that once you give it a chance, you will likely be hooked.

Unfortunately, the book is a little vague on the political reasons for scavenging. While it talks about the abundance of waste in the United States, in never really develops this into a full-blown critique of environmental destruction. Similarly, it never talks about how much food is wasted and the number of people that go hungry each day. For me, the political reasons have always motivated scavenging, as they have for many others that scavenge. The authors write a bit about the freegan movement (http://www.freegan.info)–an anti-consumerist philosophy that advocates scavenging and minimal corporate work–but they largely leave out the politics.

Overall, The Scavengers’ Manifesto is an intriguing book. Aside from practical tips, it offers a few chapters on how scavengers have been portrayed historically, a look at the spiritual aspects of scavenging, and even a somewhat tedious chapter on biology and scavenging.

For many, it will be eye-opening look into an incredibly wasteful society and what can be gleaned from this waste.

Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson, The Scavengers’ Manifesto, (Tarcher/Penguin, 2009).

Report: “Green Jobs” Aren’t Necessarily “Good Jobs”

Just Because A Job Is 'Green' Doesn't Mean It Is 'Good'

As the economy continues to fall into shambles–and even before the recent crisis–“green jobs” are often touted as a cure-all panacea for the challenges that the country faced. Last night in her State of the State address, Governor Jennifer Granholm outlined plans to create “green jobs”, while they have become the rallying cry of political campaigns and cash-strapped states across the United States.

However, this discussion often focuses on the number of jobs created–not the quality of the jobs.

A new report released earlier this week by the Change to Win Coalition, Good Jobs First, and the Sierra Club states:

“Green jobs are not just a short-term fix for the recession. Increasingly, these jobs are understood as central to the future of our nation and our planet. The shift to a green economy creates an unparalleled opportunity to address not only unemployment and the climate crisis but also deeply rooted social problems such as poverty and inequality.”

“Green Job” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean “Good Job”

The report–titled “High Road or Low Road? Job Quality in the New Green Economy“–argues that while many employers aspire to make “green jobs” “good jobs,” the connection is not automatic:

  • Low pay is not uncommon in the workplaces we profile: the lowest wage we found was $8.25 an hour at a recycling processing plant, but we also discovered jobs in manufacturing facilities serving the renewable energy sector paying as little as $11 an hour.
  • Wage rates at many wind and solar manufacturing facilities are below the national average for workers employed in the manufacture of durable goods. In some locations, average pay rates fall short of income levels needed to support a single adult with one child.
  • Some U.S. wind and solar manufacturers have already begun to offshore production of components destined for U.S. markets to low-wage havens such as China and Mexico. Examples of offshoring include the manufacture of blades for wind turbines, defying the common assumption that such blades are too large to ship overseas.
  • Very few workers at wind and solar manufacturing workplaces identified in the course of our research are covered by collective bargaining agreements. In at least two instances, this appears to be a direct result of aggressive anti-union campaigns run by employers with the help of union-busting consultants. On the construction side, we found that a leading contractor engaged in energy efficiency work has a similarly hostile approach to unions.
  • We could not find specific wages for nonunion construction workers employed in green building, but publicly available data on overall construction wages suggest that they are far lower than those of the union members profiled in the report. Analysis provided by the Economic Policy Institute indicates that among nonunion laborers, carpenters, painters, and roofers, a majority make less than $12.50 an hour and a third make less than the federal poverty wage for a family of four ($10.19 an hour).

Michigan “Green Jobs” Cited as Examples of Challenges

The report cited two examples in Michigan of problems that can be associated with the “green jobs” sector.

In one example, the report cited the United Solar Ovonic facility located north of Grand Rapids in Greenville, Michigan to show that “green jobs” are not protected from outsourcing. A common argument among “green jobs” proponents is that “green jobs” cannot be moved offshore by companies looking to save money on labor cost. However, the report explains that the United Solar Ovonic facility in Greenville uses photovoltaic cells that are assembled in Mexico.

At another United Solar Ovonic facility in Battle Creek, the report explains that United Solar Ovonic the company received a tax break from the local government. That tax break should have ensured that the company meet the local “prevailing wage” requirement of $16 per hour. However, the company–after receiving tax subsidies estimated at $277,000 per job it created–threatened to move its investment elsewhere unless it was exempted from the rule. The city relented and allowed United Solar Ovonic to pay $14 per hour rather than lose the jobs.

Conclusions: “Green Jobs” Promising, but Keep in Mind Social Justice

Overall, the report argued that while “green jobs” do offer the promise of transforming the nation’s economy and the environment, it is essential that people and policymakers keep in mind that just because a job is “green” doesn’t mean that it is a good job. Instead, the report argues that society needs to work together to ensure that while developing this sector that policies are adopted to address inequality, poverty, and labor rights.

To that end, the report offers a number of policy recommendations, including incorporating labor standards into LEED certification, adding wage requirements to government contracts, requiring domestic sourcing, and passing the Employee Free Choice Act to increase access to unions.

Environmental Summit at GVSU Energizes Youth Activists


This weekend college students from across Michigan converged on the campus of Grand Valley State University to participate in a three-day summit organized by the Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition (MSSC). The gathering was called the Regeneration Summit which featured student activists, information tables, a “Green Jobs Fair,” and keynote speakers from national organizations.

On the opening night of the summit, several students involved in the coalition welcomed those in attendance and talked about what the MSSC has accomplished over the past two years. Some of the highlights mentioned were lobbying work, education and petition campaigns, with an emphasis on challenging the auto industry to be more “green,” and to get Michigan legislators to adopt a more sustainable energy policy.

The State of the Movement

The first speaker at the summit was Jessy Tolkan who works for the Energy Action Coalition. She began by stating that she believes that it is the first time in her lifetime that “we have a President that really cares about what we think.”

One of the major challenges that those involved in this new environmental movement faced, according to the speaker, was the current economic crisis facing the US, particularly how that crisis impacts Michigan. She shared with the audience that her father works in the auto industry and how they would argue over climate change and energy issues. However, she wanted to make it clear to everyone that she was not against cars, rather she was advocating for the auto industry to create green, sustainable automobiles. However, the speaker never articulated what a green/sustainable car would look like or whether or not that is even possible to have cars that fit into a model of sustainability.

The Role of Voting

Next, she spoke to the importance of the numbers of young people who participated in electoral process. She equated this participation as a form of political power that not only raised issues like climate change during the election, it “helped to get Barack Obama and a new Congress elected.”

Tolkan then spoke to the mission of the coalition, which is to fight for a clean and just energy future. One way that the coalition works towards this mission is by having a movement that is different than previous environmental movements. One of the main differences is that this movement is racially more diverse, with students from Black, Latino and Indigenous communities. She also spoke about the need for this movement to be more radical than previous environmental movements and then said that helping to elect Barack Obama was evidence of this radical change.

The speaker then encouraged young people to come to the national youth summit in Washington, DC in February. The speaker wants to fill the halls of Congress to let them know that, “We will vote their asses in or out of office if they don’t do what we want them to do.” The speaker continued by saying, “We need to demand that Congress move to create green jobs.”

Unfortunately, there was never any description of what green jobs would look like nor what tactics would be used beyond just expressing their desires to members of Congress.

The Time for Debate is Over, It’s Time for Change

She ended her comments by talking about a meeting she had with “CEOs of national environmental groups.” At the meeting, there was a discussion about the need for a serious effort towards a reduction in carbon emissions. She said that the environmental groups were arguing amongst themselves about how little to push carbon reduction and renewable energy or whether or not now is the time to push this issue because of the economic crisis.

Tolkan felt that her generation cannot expect the mainstream environmental groups to make the change that was necessary and that those in attendance need to be the catalyst for real change.

Green Economy Plan would Benefit Michigan, Nation

A new reported released by a coalition of environmental and labor groups suggests that a comprehensive $100 billion green economic recovery plan would stimulate the United States’ economy and fight global warming.

A new report titled “Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy” prepared by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and released by a coalition of environmental and labor groups is arguing that a $100 billion “green economic recovery package” would stimulate and grow the United States’–and Michigan’s–economy. The $100 billion–a mix of investment and tax credits–would provide an immediate boost to the economy and help fight global warming according to the report’s authors. The plan specifically focuses on retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency, expanding mass transit and freight rail, constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems, wind power, solar power, and next-generation biofuels.

The report’s authors say the plan would:

* Create nearly four times more jobs than spending the same amount of money within the oil industry and 300,000 more jobs than a similar amount of spending directed toward household consumption.

* Create roughly triple the number of good jobs — paying at least $16 dollars an hour — as spending the same amount of money within the oil industry.

* Reduce the unemployment rate to 4.4 percent from 5.7 percent (calculated within the framework of U.S. labor market conditions in July 2008).

* Bolster employment especially in construction and manufacturing. Construction employment has fallen from 8 million to 7.2 million over the past two years due to the housing bubble collapse. The Green Recovery program can, at the least, bring back these lost 800,000 construction jobs.

According to the report, Michigan would benefit from such a plan in the following ways:

* Michigan’s share of national green economic recovery program: $3.1 billion, based on combining state’s population and gross domestic product.

* Michigan’s net job creation through green economic recovery program: 61,394 jobs, based on Michigan unemployment figures in June 2008.

* Impact on Michigan’s labor market: a net increase of 61,394 jobs would reduce Michigan’s unemployment rate to 7.5 percent in two years from 8.7 percent in June 2008.

Grand Rapids Press Promotes Green Construction

On Sunday, The Grand Rapids Press featured an 8-page insert on a conference promoting so-called “green construction.” However, the Press failed to explore the idea of “green construction” in any detail and never stopped to evaluate “green construction” as a means of addressing–or not addressing–global warming.

On Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press featured a story in its business section on a conference in Grand Rapids this weekend. The conference–which is called Great Lakes Green 2008 and promotes “Green Construction”–will be held at the DeVos Convention Center.

The Grand Rapids Press included an 8-page insert to help promote the conference and its sponsors. The insert is a mix of articles on everything from “green building” to green cleaning products and green lawn care. The articles are written by two Press reporters who are with the advertising division of the Press, which seemed quite appropriate since many of the articles featured favorable portrayals of local companies. One article highlighted Flowerland for its green lawn and garden products, but most of the stories featured buildings such as the Redstone Group and Tamarack Lodge in Traverse City and their new “green condos.”

Most of the ads that accompanied the stories were from the same companies named in the stories, except that the ads were two to three times bigger than the articles themselves. This insert is another example of how the Grand Rapids Press and the corporate media in general have jumped on the bandwagon of green consumerism. If a company slaps a green label on the product is has to be good, right? There is no investigation or questioning of the basic premise of such a conference, nor its sponsors. Among the companies sponsoring the conference are DTE Energy, Meijer, Whirlpool Corp., West Michigan Realtors, and the Grand Rapids Press.

Is the public to believe that these companies actually practice a truly sustainable model? Nowhere in the Press insert or on the conference site is there information about where the building products come from and how they are transported. The ads and the articles for “green homes” are all for condos. What percentage of the population can even afford such places to live? Is the Press suggesting that a sustainable home can only be for the wealthier sectors of society?

Also, are we even sure that “green building” is going to help stop the destruction of our Earth? While arguably an important intermediary step in addressing the realities of global warming, The Press never stops to question if this is really enough. Instead, it buys into the assumption that “green” products–from buildings to cleaning supplies–are enough to stop global warming. However, a wide variety of scientists and advocacy groups argue that bolder action is needed. For example, the Step It Up campaign states that we need to reduce carbon emissions by 80% of current levels by 2050. British journalist George Monbiot, author of Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, suggests that we need to reduce current carbon emissions levels 90% by 2030. If either of these estimates are correct, then how will the Press endorsed “green construction” conference address this reality? Unfortunately, such fundamental questions are not part of the Grand Rapids Press reporting on the issue.

Toolbox for Sustainable City Living

In Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, members of the Rhizome Collective share important skills for living via a practice and philosophy of “radical sustainability.”

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

In 2004, the Rhizome Collective based in Austin, Texas received a grant to rehab an old warehouse building. Today that building offers workshops on radical urban sustainability and houses an Indy Media Center, an infoshop, a community radio station, Bikes Across Borders, Food Not Bombs, and Art and Revolution. Through years of work and organizing, two members of this collective have put together a fabulous book for anyone seeking real sustainability.

The book focuses mostly on practical ways we can all become more sustainable in the area of food, water, waste and energy. However, the book starts off with a brief commentary about the importance of practicing what the authors call “radical sustainability.” In an age when phrases like “sustainable development” and “green consumerism” are tossed about, the members of the Rhizome Collective think it is important for us to seriously critique practices that essentially do nothing “to challenge the patterns of over-consumption and excess that have created the environmental crisis.”

Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A do-it-Ourselves Guide advocates radical sustainability that “recognizes the inseparability of ecological and social issues and the necessity of ensuring the solution to one problem does not create or worsen another.” So for instance, the authors argue that instead of just putting up solar panels, which uses materials that are not sustainable, people could find used lumber and construct a windmill.

Another aspect that is central to radical sustainability is the idea of autonomous development. This kind of development provides everyone with the skills to do the necessary work and it gives control over basic resources to those using them. What this means is that there is no reliance on experts and specialists to make your home or community more sustainable.

The book is full of beautiful wood print art and photos of projects the collective has worked on. There are instructions and ideas on everything from raising chickens, catching rain water, using waste water, growing mushrooms, constructing a composting toilet, or producing your own bio-fuels. All of these practical applications have global impact since much of what we consume is not local and therefore is not sustainable. What the Rhizome Collective is really advocating are the creation of autonomous communities – communities that promote egalitarianism and justice. Toolbox for Sustainable City Living is an important contribution in the debate about sustainable living and an excellent resource for those who want to practice living that way.

Scott Kellogg and Stacey Pettigrew, Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A do-it-Ourselves Guide, (South End Press, 2008)