What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

How to Build a Low-Tech Internet – Low-Tech Magazine
Somewhat related to my piece on the internet and proprietary technology. A rundown on how the developing world connects to the internet.

Notes From an Ultra-Radical Perfectionist – Counterpunch
On why some feel that Bernie is not that great of a “lesser evil”.

The Myth of a Free World: Not Just Political – Counterpunch
Colonialism, liberalism, and the myth of the atomised individual.

Pixel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In the Gig Economy – Fast Company
The challenge was easy enough:  spend 6 weeks trying to get by in the “gig economy” and make at least $10/hour doing it. Or… maybe it’s not so easy after all.

The scientist who first warned of climate change says it’s much worse than we thought – Grist
An article about James Hansen on the state of climate science, apathy, and the status-quo 28 years after he spoke on the subject before Congress.

How Societies With Little Coercion Suffer Little Mental Illness – Bruce Levine
The argument is made that institutional coercion via compulsory education systems, consumer capitalism, government, work, and other aspects of modernity, create conditions that foster mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other “diseases” that hardly exist in smaller, simpler societies. Also, that their symptoms are often simply managed with costly prescription medications rather than identifying the underlying cause and attempting to rectify it, either on a small (personal) or large (systemic) scale.

Becoming Real By Becoming a Beast – an excerpt at Dark Mountain Project
In his new book Being a Beast, Charles Foster tries to enter the worlds of a badger (living in a sett in the Black Mountains, trying to turn himself into a more olfactory creature, and eating earthworms), an otter (swimming the rivers of Exmoor and catching fish in his mouth), an urban fox (rummaging through the dustbins of London’s East End), a red deer (being hunted by bloodhounds on Exmoor, and shivering amongst dying deer in the Scottish Highlands) and a swift (obsessively following the migration route from Oxford, across Europe, and down the West Coast of Africa). In this excerpt he looks back at the book, and wonders if he’s been wasting his time.”


Interview: “Of Limits and Growth: The Rise of Global Sustainable Development in the Twentieth Century”

This is a podcast episode from the New Books Network, which is a series of podcasts that interview authors of interesting new books in just about every field imaginable.

The featured book in this episode, Of Limits and Growth: The Rise of Global Sustainable Development in the Twentieth Century, is about something that the vast majority of western environmentalists (yo, zero wasters, you’re very guilty here too) are either willingly or unwittingly ignorant of: the historical relationship between monied western countries and those in the developing world in terms of the 20th century environmentalist push.

Just to sort of set the scene for this history, the modern environmentalist movement, and even the World Wildlife Fund, was founded by a prominent eugenicist and colonialist. 

So if you’re interested in “””sustainability””” or whatever, please for the love of kale, listen to the podcast. Or better, get the book.

Today, sustainability is all the rage.  But when and why did the idea of sustainable development emerge, and how has its meaning changed over time?

Stephen Macekura’s new book, Of Limits and Growth: The Rise of Global Sustainable Development in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2015) explores this question by connecting three of the most important aspects of the twentieth century: decolonization, the rise of environmentalism, and the pursuit of economic development and modernization in the Third World.  Macekura, who is an Assistant Professor of International Studies at Indiana University, demonstrates how environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) attempted to promote environmental protection in the post-colonial world, then, after failing to do so, challenged the economic development approaches of the United States, World Bank, and United Nations.  The book reveals how environmental activists initially conceived of “sustainable development” as a way to link environmental protection with Third World concerns about equality and justice in the global economy, but how, over time, the phrase’s meaning moved far away from this initial conception.

In addition to exploring the idea of “sustainable development,” Macekura also examines the growth and limits of the environmental movement’s power. He pays close attention to how international political disputes have scuttled major global treaties over issues such as climate change; he also documents the evolution of international development politics and policy since 1945. In sum, Of Limits and Growth offers a new history of sustainability by elucidating the global origins of environmental activism, the ways in which environmental activists challenged development approaches worldwide, and how environmental non-state actors reshaped the United States’ and World Bank’s development policies.

The Zero-Waste Case for Littering

You see the title of this post and probably think to yourself: “That’s it, they’ve finally lost their marbles. How could anyone, let alone an anti-trash advocate, endorse littering?? The transporter must’ve glitched!”

I haven’t grown an evil beard– I can assure you that this isn’t the mirror universe.

Being pro-litter is actually highly logical, as I will soon argue; even a Vulcan couldn’t disagree by the end of this post. Why? Well, it comes down to two things: one, the history of litter laws in the West (specifically the US), and two, a concept called direct action.

The History of Litter Laws in the West (Specifically the US)

Littering, like most everything else, wasn’t always criminalized. In fact, for the vast majority of human history, there was no need for it: litter was, up until very recently, almost always biodegradable natural waste, and in the case of tough-to-decompose materials like bones and ash, some of it was even saleable. But the sea change happened at a very important part of US and world history. What else was going on at the time? Well, WW2 had ended, for one thing. Plastics were being mass-produced for the first time, and the concept of disposability was just entering into the social consciousness; the USian public had 20 years of pinched pockets after the stock market crash of ’29, and during WW2, they had strict rationing. It’s little wonder how the allure of cheap and disposable goods captured the imaginations of so many as soon as the opportunity arose.

In 1953, Keep America Beautiful was founded in response to the trash accumulating along the roads of the country’s brand-spankin’-new interstate highway system. In 1955, Britain had its own campaign: Keep Britain Tidy. Australia founded Keep Australia Beautiful in 1968. Other countries have similar initiatives, though not usually on a national scale; for instance, in Canada, it appears most anti-littering organizations operate on the provincial or municipal level, and very few of these smaller movements go back further than the 90’s.

But those campaigns are good, you might be saying. They are, it could be argued, on paper. In reality, Keep America Beautiful, obviously the first and most influential of the anti-littering movements, was founded by a group of key players in the beverage industry, who were beginning to see bad publicity when their products were turning up on roadsides and in ditches all over the country. Some of these names you might recognize: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch, and Phillip Morris. From Bottle Bill Toolkit’s history of Keep America Beautiful:

In the aftermath of magazine ads promoting beverage cans as “throwaways”, Keep America Beautiful (KAB) was founded in 1953 by a group of businessmen from the beverage and packaging industries. Their purported interest was to curb the growing problem of litter. Coincidently, 1953 was the year Vermont passed the nation’s first bottle bill, banning the sale of beer in non-refillable bottles.

Litter was a visible problem nationwide and the bottlers and packagers were concerned that government would make them responsible for solving the litter problem by regulating their industries. That concern was the catalyst for founding KAB. The organization launched its first campaign theme, “Every Litter Bit Hurts” and the most visible environmental organizations joined KAB’s war on litter.

So like any good capitalist, these businessmen sought to hand the responsibility over to the unwitting public, rather than deal with the repercussions of their manufacturing practices, or–god forbid–face government regulation. According to them, “People start pollution, [and] people can stop it.”

Surely Keep America Beautiful has gotten better since then; after all, the goal is admirable, right? Again, it only sounds great on paper. From the previous link:

In 1972 Oregon and Vermont enacted the nation’s first bottle bills requiring a 5-cent deposit on beer and soft drink containers. By 1974, when the California legislature began to debate whether to enact a container deposit law, KAB made a strategic decision to publicly oppose the bottle bill. Roger Powers, President of KAB testified against the California bottle bill before the state legislature in Sacramento. […]

The final blow to environmentalists was dealt during a speech at a July 1976 KAB Board of Directors meeting at the Biltmore Hotel in New York, when American Can Company chairman William F. May labeled bottle bill proponents “Communists” and called for a total KAB mobilization against the four bottle bill referenda on the ballot in November. Present during the speech were KAB’s Advisory Committee members, many of whom were the subject of May’s attack.

The story was picked up by Jack Anderson and aired on his national television show. On August 12, 1976, the EPA resigned from KAB’s board and by October 1976 more than a dozen environmental and citizen groups, including National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, League of Women Voters and Sierra Club disaffiliated from KAB. In November of that year voters approved bottle bills in Michigan and Maine. […]

In the 1990’s, KAB adopted yet another campaign slogan – “Let’s not waste the 1990’s” – which stressed the need to encourage citizens, municipal officials and civic leaders to “re-examine recycling’s capabilities and limitations.” The new campaign presented a 5-pronged solution to solving the problem of solid waste – source reduction, recycling, composting, incineration and sanitary landfilling.

KAB’s 1990’s slogan was new, but the message had changed little since Iron Eyes Cody warned that “People Start Pollution – People Can Stop It.” The promotional materials made no mention of policies such as recycled content requirements, mandatory recycling rates, bottle bills or other measurers that shift the burden of waste management and waste reduction from government to the producers of waste. […]

In an article in Biocycle , Former President of NRC and Manager of Market Development for Weyerhaeuser Recycling, Pete Grogan, wrote, “I find myself questioning the agenda behind the [$400k report funded by KAB which reached the conclusion that recycling and composting aren’t effective waste management methods]. . . The report reminds us that it is ‘cheaper’ to send solid waste to the landfill. Well, I can easily argue that tossing solid waste in the river is even cheaper.”

Keep America Beautiful may have little clout these days (though it is still affiliated with Waste Management, a company that owns and operates many of the country’s landfills), but the bulk of the damage has already been done. KAB is responsible for inventing and disseminating the picture of an all-powerful consumer in whose hands alone rests the health and future of the biosphere, and it’s been working at maintaining this fabrication for more than 60 years with the help of many an anti-environmental corporate sponsor. The image of Iron Eyes Cody shedding a single tear has been widely recognized by marketers and historians alike as one of the most successful ad campaigns ever conceived. We are living in the aftermath of this great lie.

Whether we like it or not, Keep America Beautiful was the beginning of modern conscious consumerism, eco-friendliness, and greenwashing. This is the heritage of the Zero Waste lifestyle movement. It’s founded on a NIMBY moral aesthetic where beautiful = good and ugly = bad. We gotta get away from this childish and reactionary way of thinking; it’s getting us nowhere fast. This brings us to the next part.

Direct Action

Direct action can be loosely defined as a political act that doesn’t rely on any outside system or institution to direct and sponsor it, and whose goal is more than just “raising awareness”. For instance, planting a community garden can be a direct action; so can smashing in the windows of a bank branch.

Martin Luther King Jr. can be quoted as having a definition:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

– Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Wikipedia has a less poetic and broader definition:

Direct action occurs when a group takes an action which is intended to reveal an existing problem, highlight an alternative, or demonstrate a possible solution to a social issue. This can include nonviolent and less often violent activities which target persons, groups, or property deemed offensive to the direct action participants. Examples of non-violent direct action (also known as nonviolent resistance or civil resistance) can include sit-ins, strikes,workplace occupations, blockades, hacktivism, etc., while violent direct action may include political violence, sabotage, property destruction, assaults, etc. By contrast, electoral politics, diplomacy, negotiation, and arbitrationare not usually described as direct action, as they are politically mediated. Non-violent actions are sometimes a form of civil disobedience, and may involve a degree of intentional law-breaking where persons place themselves in arrestable situations in order to make a political statement but other actions (such as strikes) may not violate criminal law.

The aim of direct action is to either obstruct another political agent or political organization from performing some practice to which the activists object; or to solve perceived problems which traditional societal institutions (governments, religious organizations or established trade unions) are not addressing to the satisfaction of the direct action participants.

Non-violent direct action has historically been an assertive regular feature of the tactics employed by social movements, including Mohandas Gandhi’s Indian Independence Movement and the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

In other words, direct action is necessarily confrontational.

The question is this: do we, as zero waste advocates, recognize the injustices of pollution, waste, and consumerism as being enough to warrant confrontation? Personally, I think so.

Littering as Direct Action

I argue that littering is a legitimate form of resistance against misguided litter laws, the influence of the waste and landfill lobby, and industrial-consumer-capitalism itself, which created this whole mess to begin with.

First of all, litter laws have only ever been about one thing: appearances. Maintaining the appearance of a clean and healthy world for those who can afford to live in areas where these laws are enforced, and where waste and recycling services and facilities exist; and maintaining the appearance of pollution being a problem perpetuated entirely by irresponsible consumers rather than the capitalist system that produces and pushes these products. I suggest that littering, by making trash and pollution visible, instead of hiding it in landfills, developing nations, Superfund sites, and the ocean’s gyres, we can ensure that it becomes more and more difficult for the average Westerner to ignore the problem. We can ensure that the elephant in the room is harder to forget.

If cloud computing is really just storing files and accessing them from someone else’s computer, then capitalist waste disposal methods are simply a form of “cloud” trash management: storing them on someone else’s land and polluting someone else’s ecosystem. Don’t make the mistake of believing that there is less polluting going on– it’s just harder to see.

So I say let every discarded coffee cup be like a gravestone: a reminder of all the casualties in this battle we’re waging against the natural world and our own health. Let plastic wrappers and crumpled foil be reminders that these artifacts exist, that it’s only a matter of where they will exist. Inspire a conversation not about where the trash ought to go, but why it was made in the first place; who sold it to us; whether it was truly useful or not; and what might it take to keep this from happening altogether.

Because cleaning up here means just putting the mess someplace else. And that’s not right.

#4Liters Day 3

Not much to report here. Didn’t shower today, didn’t cook today, but I did accidentally leave the skillet out with crud on it so now I’ve got to use extra water to clean it. If only I’d taken my own advice and wiped it down right after eating!

Once again I’m left with an extra 2+ liters of water, though, which will come in handy when I scrub down tomorrow.

Started to wonder today why, exactly, this whole thing felt so easy. It shouldn’t feel easy. It shouldn’t feel relatively stress-free. People in Burkina Faso just barely eke out a living on a gallon of water per person per day and here I am, going about my first world business, wondering why…

…oh right, it’s because I’m in the first world, dur.

I don’t have to set aside a half liter of water to make bread. Or a whole liter to make a pot of rice. Or nervously part with some for my goat so she can give me milk. I have a (relatively) climate-controlled environment that allows me to be in my home without getting hot and losing precious moisture. I have potable–potable! water! wonder of wonders!–coming out of every faucet in the house, clean so that I don’t have to live with diarrhea or something worse that makes dehydration all the easier to achieve. I don’t have to spend hours of my day going to go get the water.

Tomatoes use tons of water; beets too. And by eating them when, say, my father treats me to dinner at a vegan restaurant, I get that moisture. And for every bite I take of juicy fruit or vegetable, that’s one less sip of water I need to drink later. I have simply outsourced my water acquisition, cheating in a way that I could never set straight.

The challenge was always a farce– I knew it was. But now I’m beginning to understand how much of a farce it is. And still, I will continue to play at water poverty. For some reason, I have to keep trying.

#4Liters Day 2

I have a phone again! So here’s a few pictures this time.

Today I woke up and took my pills: one supplement and one Rx. For a couple of years now I’ve been taking Black Cohosh every day to alleviate night sweats. For some reason, the BC didn’t seem to work for me last night and I wound up with sweats anyway, which was probably the reason for me waking up so dehydrated. Which, while taking the challenge (or actually being water-poor), is not a situation you want to be in. It’s like Les Stroud says:

You sweat, you die.

So I wake up with cotton mouth and a headache because I’d wrung myself out like a sponge all night. Like at that episode of Spongebob. You know, this one:

Anyways, not a great start to my day, is what I figured. Fortunately for me, that was not the case! In fact, I managed to make pretty good use of my water for the day even though I’m currently cutting it very close as I get ready for bed here.

First thing I did was water my beets– they’re in full sun, now, and have to be watered more than last month. Next up was a bit of laundry and a bath.

So above is my 5 gallon Home Depot bucket and my set of “nesting plastic tote bin things”. I have no idea what to call them because the plastic is floppy enough to bring the handles together and carry like a tote bag, but it also holds its shape. There are two of the tote-bins there, nested.The top one has holes drilled into the bottom to make washing clothes way super easy.

I fill up the bottom tote-bin with about 2 liters of water from the orange bucket. This is after I “bathed” and am about ready to throw the clothes in. Normally the water would be dirtier-looking than this, but I didn’t wash my hair so no soap was used except for my face.  (I rarely ever use body soap because it dries me out.)

And this is what it looked like after all my clothes had finally gotten saturated. There wasn’t actually enough water in there for the fabric to even soak up; I had to add another half liter or so. At this point, I just started agitating the laundry as best I could without being able to use my breathing hand washer. I sort of kneaded it like dough, punching down to move the water through the fibers. I wrung each one out a bit, scrubbed the undies, and did a little more agitating before wringing out each one, hanging them to dry outside, and reserving the water for later.

After this, I went downstairs for some lunch and realized that I had no almond milk to make a protein shake with. I’d been soaking almonds for a few days in the fridge at that point, so all I had to do was blend them up with… some water. Right. This was important stuff for me, though, so I sacrificed a whole 3 cups of water to make milk with.

I got a ride about then to go grab my bike from my mom’s place, who lives a few miles away, and rode the bike home in ~80F heat, sweating quite a bit by the time I got home. I drank a good bit of water after that.

Some time later in the afternoon, I went on a walk with my mom around the neighborhood near the Huntington Library, and had some more water. At that point I was sure I’d run out before the day was over, but I got lucky again. I’d gotten notified that I had a free Starbucks birthday drink to redeem, and satisfied a good amount of my daily water needs from the coffee I got. Cheating? Yes. Not going to deny it.

When I got home after running some errands, I had just enough water left (plus a little more for sipping) to make some pasta. PASTA. Granted, I used the least amount of water that I’ve ever used for boiling pasta; I had to stir a few times to keep the shells from sticking to anything and to make sure they were cooking evenly in the shallow liquid. But I pulled it off, and wound up tossing them with some random veggies and topping it all off with heaping piles of DIY vegan parmeasan (cashews, almond meal, nutritional yeast flakes, and salt in a blender).

Anyways, I’m off to bed now. Wish me luck with the sweats. :P

Today’s takeaway: Dishes don’t need cleaning quite as extensively as you think they do. Sometimes all they need is a good wipe-down. Oh, and cooking with oil guarantees a need for lots of water-based clean-up. Try to avoid cooking with oil when you don’t have much water. BUT, if you do, be sure to use a cast iron skillet– you’re not supposed to wash those anyways. Just wipe down with a damp cloth, and any remaining residue just becomes part of the “seasoning”. I’m seriously beginning to reconsider my “need” for any kind of skillet OTHER than cast iron.

#4Liters Day 1

Well, today… sucked as far as the challenge goes. I completely forgot it was Super Bowl Sunday (I could’t care less about sports–aka manly soap operas), and was therefore at someone’s house and away from my water jug for most of the afternoon.

In my defense, though, I used nary over a cup’s worth to wash my hands throughout the day, and far under-utilized my day’s allotment without legitimately cheating. However I did forget on several occasions while I was at home to stop mindlessly reaching for the faucet.

The gardener and I finally finished (more or less) the compost bin for this side of the condo complex, so now I can finally start throwing shit in there that my worms can’t handle! And I can probably give away the bokashi bin because it’s a pain in the ass for me! And I don’t eat meat anymore either! (A big selling point for bokashi composting is its ability to break down animal products.)

The upside is that I get 3 liters to put into my reserve bucket tomorrow: I only drank 1 liter of water today + 3 beers at the super bowl party.

Which is good. I have some laundry to do tomorrow.

#4Liters Pre-Game

Gallon jug of water? Check. 48oz nalgene water bottle that tells me exactly how much 1000mL is? check.

That’s it. That’s my pre-game.

Like I said, I wasn’t going to be going out of my way to change anything that I do– I want to try and live as normal of a day-to-day life as possible while only consuming a gallon of water every 24 hours. I want to see how hard, how frustrating, how stressful it is. But I also want to see what kinds of tiny changes I wind up making that makes drastic conservation so much easier than I thought. I expect to be using 4 things extensively throughout the next 7 days:

  • The aforementioned gallon jug
  • The aforementioned bottle
  • My plastic laundry bin/plastic tote thing
  • A 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot

The plan is this: I will allot myself roughly 2 liters of drinking water from the tap, and the other 2 will go directly into the big orange bucket, which will be cleaned, to store for later use. This is where I’ll be getting my water for all utilitarian needs: cleaning, bathing, cooking. The plastic tote bin thing will be for doing laundry in and bathing out of, with the help of a cup. I will probably wash clothes using the water I’d washed my hair with, and after that I’ll probably set it aside for other needs like hand washing or cleaning non-clothes. (Being familiar with the intricacies of grey and black water systems–though “black water” really just refers to waste water/sewage–helps with planning out the logistics of this, aka, when the water will be viable for what task.)

Here’s what I predict my water cleanliness scale might look like:

Potable Water (one-use)

  • Brushing teeth
  • Cooking
  • Drinking

Gray Water (can be reused 1-2 times)

  • Bathing
  • Laundry
  • Watering Plants
  • Dishes: rinsing

Not-Quite-Black Water (can be reused 3-5 times)

  • Cleaning
  • Dishes: washing

I’ll probably be writing up a summary at the end of each day, outlining what I did, what problems needed solving and how I solved them (or didn’t), and what I learned. I have no phone right now, so that means no pictures, unfortunately… I may draw some, though!

Introduction to Environmental Racism


In my last post, I detailed why we, as environmentalists, zero-waste and anti-oil advocates should care about racism– basically, the system survives off the existence of poverty, of misery, and of a disenfranchised working class. And communities of color are, in contrast with those that are white-skinned and Euro-American, disproportionately likely to wind up poor, depressed, working class, etc.

And according to the concept of environmental racism, communities of color are more likely to live and/or work in close proximity to toxic waste and areas with a higher concentrations of pollution.

From GreenAction.org:

Environmental racism refers to the institutional rules, regulations, policies or government and/or corporate decisions that deliberately target certain communities for locally undesirable land uses and lax enforcement of zoning and environmental laws, resulting in communities being disproportionately exposed to toxic and hazardous waste based upon race. Environmental racism is caused by several factors, including intentional neglect, the alleged need for a receptacle for pollutants in urban areas, and a lack of institutional power and low land values of people of color. It is a well-documented fact that communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries (and very specifically, hazardous waste facilities) and lax regulation of these industries.

From Pollution Issues:

Up to the late 1960s, racism was defined as a doctrine, dogma, ideology, or set of beliefs. The central theme of this doctrine was that race determined culture. Some cultures were deemed superior to others; therefore, some races were superior and others inferior. During the 1960s the definition of racism was expanded to include the practices, attitudes, and beliefs that supported the notion of racial superiority and inferiority. Such beliefs and practices produced racial discrimination.

However, researchers argue that to limit the understanding of racism to prejudicial and discriminatory behavior misses important aspects of racism. Racism is also a system of advantages or privileges based on race. In the American context, many of the privileges and advantages available to whites stem directly from racial discrimination directed at people of color. Therefore, racism results not only from personal ideology and behavior, but also from the personal thoughts and actions that are supported by a system of cultural messages and institutional policies and practices. Racism is thus more fully understood if one sees it as the execution of prejudice and discrimination coupled with power, privilege, and institutional support. It is aided and maintained by legal, penal, educational, religious, and business institutions, to name a few.

Environmental racism is an important concept that provided a label for some of the environmental activism occurring in minority and low-income communities. In particular, it links racism with environmental actions, experiences, and outcomes. In the broadest sense, environmental racism and its corollary, environmental discrimination, is the process whereby environmental decisions, actions, and policies result in racial discrimination or the creation of racial advantages. It arises from the interaction of three factors: (1) prejudicial belief and behavior, (2) the personal and institutional power to enact policies and actions that reflect one’s own prejudices, and (3) privilege, unfair advantages over others and the ability to promote one’s group over another. Thus, the term environmental racism, or environmental discrimination, is used to describe racial disparities in a range of actions and processes, including but not limited to the (1) increased likelihood of being exposed to environmental hazards; (2) disproportionate negative impacts of environmental processes; (3) disproportionate negative impacts of environmental policies, for example, the differential rate of cleanup of environmental contaminants in communities composed of different racial groups; (4) deliberate targeting and siting of noxious facilities in particular communities; (5) environmental blackmail that arises when workers are coerced or forced to choose between hazardous jobs and environmental standards; (6) segregation of ethnic minority workers in dangerous and dirty jobs; (7) lack of access to or inadequate maintenance of environmental amenities such as parks and playgrounds; and (8) inequality in environmental services such as garbage removal and transportation.

From the Food Empowerment Project:

When they hear about industrial pollution, people often think about factories with billowing smokestacks. However, the food industry, with its factory farms and slaughterhouses, can also be considered a major contributor of pollution that affects the health of communities of color and low-income communities, because more often than not they locate their facilities in the areas where these people live. “Swine CAFOs [Confined Animal Feeding Operations] are disproportionately located in communities of color and regions of poverty …” say Maria C. Mirabelli, Steve Wing, Stephen W. Marshall, and Timothy C. Wilcosky of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.[1]

Among the corporations that harm the environment and the health of communities of color and low-income communities are those that run industrial pig farms. Research has shown that these pig farms are responsible for both air and water pollution, mostly due to the vast manure lagoons they create to hold the enormous amount of waste from the thousands of pigs being raised for food. Residents who live near these factory farms often complain of irritation to their eyes, noses, and throats, along with a decline in the quality of life and increased incidents of depression, tension, anger, confusion, and fatigue.[2]

This is not an isolated example. The placement of these facilities is not always an intentional process on the part of industry leaders. Instead, because of the distinct connections between ethnicity and class in the United States, poor rural areas tend to house communities of color and the land in these areas is cheaper. According to sociologists Bob Bolin, Sara Grineski, and Timothy Collins of Arizona State University, “Land use, housing segregation, racialized employment patterns, financial practices, and the way that race permeates zoning, development, and bank lending processes” are also fundamental drivers of environmental racism.[4] North Carolina is one example, but similar patterns exist in most major agricultural areas.[3]

Corporations may also locate to these rural areas either believing that the residents do not have the political will and won’t present obstacles, or that these low-income residents need the jobs and will not complain. Environmental Justice activists consider the latter reason to be a form of economic extortion—having to accept the negative health consequences and adverse effects on the environment in order to have a job. This scenario is fortunately not a given with more frequent challenges being made to these injustices.

How does your environmentalism address institutional racism?

The Ruckus Society on Eco-Justice

I like this site. These are some great ideas on how we all can take an active role in doing something about climate change, which is what I feel like most people see as being a herculean task that they’re just not cut out for. Not so! Everything helps, though I’d say the most important thing is to avoid the temptation to de-politicize your actions, especially in explaining what you’re doing and why to others. What we really need to do, though, is organize ourselves into real communities with a real sense of accountability, where we can support each other in making personal changes as well as having a stable foundation for holding our businesses and politicians accountable.

One of the real big messages that I liked from watching/reading No Impact Man, and one that the film spent just a few seconds on, was the idea of accountability, and how the western lifestyle has nearly eradicated the concept of it. Beyond the nuclear family, there is no accountability from one neighbor to the next, one city to the next, one region to the next. We need to remember how our actions affect others, how they exist in a great big web of cause-and-effect, and nobody exists outside of it. Build up your communities an get organized!

This is a Ruckus Society list-in-progress of ideas for actions that we can all take to help turn climate justice and sustainable communities into reality.

Ideas range from individual actions that we can all take in our homes and offices, to ways that our communities can reclaim the commons, to direct actions against corporations and governments.

We believe that ecological and climate justice is only attainable by taking action at all of these levels – from the personal to the global.  We need to implement the kinds of solutions our world needs while demanding the same from global destructive powers.

Thanks to folks from the Ruckus network and Movement Generation for helping generate this list so far!

Please feel free to send us more ideas for this list, and stories and photos of you and your community in action, to be featured on our website!  (Contact: ruckus@ruckus.org).


  • Install Composting Toilets
  • Buy local food – support your local farmers
  • Install Greywater Systems (especially in cities where greywater is not yet legalized), including:
    • roof rainwater catchment systems
    • use a 5 gallon water drum in shower or under sinks to use excess water for flushing toilets, watering the garden, etc.


  • Create Liberated Streets/Liberated Zones (take over intersections and use for community activities – check out these folks from Portland)
  • Rip out Sidewalk and Plant Fruit Trees
  • Organize Seed Drops in public places, with follow-up care
  • Mass Detox (work with mushroom experts) to detox brownfields, 9th ward, etc
  • Distribute Citations for Climate Pollution, Fake Parking Tickets on SUVs
  • Guerrilla Garden, including taking over rooftops, or yards of abandoned buildings, and turning them into garden spaces
  • Set up Community Gardens
  • Occupy bank-possessed foreclosed homes
  • Reclaim the commons:
    • Water harvesting
    • Slow, spread, sink, store water for community use
  • Participate in/organize Critical Mass Bike rides in your town
  • Organize Mass Public-Transit days
  • Distribute/Share Public Food in Public Spaces
  • Organize Local Bulk-Food purchasing for your neighborhood
  • Occupy abandoned land and claim it for the people with a body of activists who hold external line, and a body of gardeners who get the land detoxified and started for growth
  • Reclaim grass for food
  • Build Living-Food Walls
  • Redistribute Solar Panels
  • Perform a Climate Justice Puppet Show
  • Attend the U.S. Social Forum
  • Bison Commons – rip out rancher fences
  • Attend Freedom Summer in Appalachia


  • De-Greenwash stores/corporations that pretend to be eco-friendly while practicing multi-national de-localization schemes (this could include turning their landscaping into garden spaces)
  • Guerrilla Garden/Concrete removal at Corporate HQ/CEO’s homes
  • Guerrilla label GMOs, carbon footprint, etc. on products in stores
  • Pull Crops: Weeding actions against Mono-crops, GMOs and AgroFuels
  • “Get your head out of the Tar Sands” (action with ostrich suits at offices of corporate Tar Sands investors – check out this action)
  • Actions against OFFSETS: Smokestacks to ploughshares
  • Climate safety testing actions- health and safety, climate footprint, impact
  • Climate justice crime scenes
  • Animals for the Ethical Treatment of Humans- actions in front of places with excessive consumption


  • Chair Action- demand “A Seat at the Table” of any place that decisions are being made (groups of individuals can bring their own chairs to decision-making offices)
  • Make a Citizens Arrest of Climate Criminals