What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

Breathe less… or ban cars: cities have radically different responses to pollution – The Guardian
Coming as a surprise to no one, when faced with a choice between continuing to permit the use of cars or allowing residents to breathe freely, many cities would prefer to tell people not to breathe.

The Office Needs a Typewriter Revolution – Low-Tech Magazine
A very thoughtful, thoroughly researched piece on the history of the modern office and office equipment. It makes suggestions on ways in which it might be possible to return to a more analog and mechanical office experience, or at least greatly reduce energy consumption in the information-based workplace.

Smartphone users trust strangers less: New research – Journalist’s Resource
Smartphone use is officially linked with distrust of strangers, neighbors, and people of different backgrounds. Causation is not specifically established, but based on my own anecdotal evidence, it’s likely.

The Embarrassments of Chronocentrism – The Archdruid Report
In this post from a few weeks ago, Greer explains how the myth of liberal progress – that human life is destined to always get better, fairer, and more complex – is a complete fabrication by parties interested in reducing history to a series of caricatures that serves to prop up their vision of an unlikely future. (Read the latest blog post if you want a real kick in the teeth.)

And a sobering quote for the difficult times ahead:

Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied.

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What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

Making Our Own Mead – Sarenth Odinsson’s Blog
A fellow polytheist writes about making mead the old-fashioned way: using little more than honey, water, and wild yeast. (Due to recent successes with a wild sourdough culture, I’m excited to try this.)

Ethical consumers are perceived as odd, boring, unattractive, and not stylish – Treehugger
“An amusing new study delves into the social consequences of one person witnessing another person doing the ‘ethical thing’ — and why it makes them uncomfortable.” Quite probably related to my Shooting the Messenger post!

The Emergence of Historical Mega Breaches – Troy Hunt
On the increasing frequency of website security breaches and login information that is being leaked or outright sold on the black market. Some people think that more technology (and more internet infrastructure) will solve this problem. Personally? I’m not holding my breath.

Facebook bias isn’t the problem. This is ⬇️ – Medium
“To suspect that Facebook or Google would seek to censor or prioritize certain lines of thinking misunderstands their core philosophy. In reality, they don’t have a stake in either side. Their philosophy does not aim to improve, change, or manipulate human thinking.

Their philosophy aims to replace human thinking — and charge you for it.”

It’s Time to Change Water Policy, Past Dam-Agency Leader Says – KUER
An ex-BR head endorses tearing down the Glen Canyon Dam. I’ve spent some time on Lake Powell, and have a lot of fond memories of being there with a side of the family I rarely get to see, and many of whom no longer talk to each other, so I’ve got a lot of emotions invested in that landscape. However, I would still love to see the dam torn down. It’s kind of weird to hear someone so prominent even talking about it; it kinda hit me like a ton of lead. (Idk, I get very emotional thinking about dams getting dismantled.) And who knows, I might get to see that part of the Colorado river flow free again in my lifetime.

Must-Watch Documentaries

It’s no small secret that I like documentaries. I keep tabs on sites like Top Documentary Films and Vimeo for new (free) releases, and almost my entire Netflix list consists of docs. So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve got a personal list of required watching for anyone interested in Zero Waste or learning about what the hell is going on with environmentalism these days and the geo-political forces it often goes toe-to-toe with. Here’s that list.

Blind Spot

There’s a lot of environmental films out there that while not painting a rosy picture still want us to feel a sense of hey things will still be ok, not so with Blind Spot. Director Adolfo Doring has, along with many of the scientists, economists and other experts, wisely decided that the time for coddling us is past, perhaps even too long past.

This is my number one. It’s incredibly sobering – perhaps especially for those of us drunk on mantras of “saving the world” – packed with facts, good cinematography, a whole rogues gallery of highly educated people with the ability to see the bigger picture. It touches on every other subject in this documentary list at least once, and it has no time to cater to assuaging eco-guilt. As one of the interviewees says at both the beginning and end of the film: “The world’s saying: look, you’ve got a choice. Either you can fix it, or I can fix it. And if I fix it, you’re not going to like it, because I’m going to throw everything away.”

Free to watch online.

No Impact Man

A newly self-proclaimed environmentalist who could no longer avoid pointing the finger at himself, Colin leaves behind his liberal complacency for a vow to make as little environmental impact as possible for one year.

The book is much better, but if you’re going to try and convey to someone what the ZW thing is in a short amount of time, this is it. It’s humanizing, inspiring, and even a little enlightening sometimes. Most importantly, though, the Beavans eventually learn that living like self-flagellating eco-monks doesn’t actually accomplish all that much, and wind up picking and choosing aspects of the lifestyle that are sustainable for them in the long run.

Preview only.

A Farm for the Future

With her father close to retirement, Rebecca returns to her family’s wildlife-friendly farm in Devon, to become the next generation to farm the land. But last year’s high fuel prices were a wake-up call for Rebecca. Realizing that all food production in the UK is completely dependent on abundant cheap fossil fuel, particularly oil, she sets out to discover just how secure this oil supply is.

Alarmed by the answers, she explores ways of farming without using fossil fuel. With the help of pioneering farmers and growers, Rebecca learns that it is actually nature that holds the key to farming in a low-energy future.

Free to watch online.

Flow: For the Love of Water

Salina builds a case against the growing privatization of the world’s dwindling fresh water supply with an unflinching focus on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water cartel.

Interviews with scientists and activists intelligently reveal the rapidly building crisis, at both the global and human scale, and the film introduces many of the governmental and corporate culprits behind the water grab, while begging the question “CAN ANYONE REALLY OWN WATER?”

Free to watch online.

Sea the Truth

This is the planet we still know so little. We call it Earth but less than 1/3 is land, over 2/3 is water and we use that water as a dumping site for our waste and as if it’s an inexhaustible “horn of plenty” for humans. Our most important ecosystem is on the verge of collapse unless we act now. At this very moment the main problem with the oceans is that they’re getting emptier and emptier. If we don’t do anything then we face one of the biggest disasters in history of mankind.

If you look at the predators only about 90% of all predatory fish is gone. Then from all the other commercial fish species almost 80% is gone. The best thing to do to solve the problem is to quit eating fish.

Free to watch online.

DamNation

This powerful film odyssey across America explores the sea change in our national attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life and health of our rivers. Dam removal has moved beyond the fictional Monkey Wrench Gang to go mainstream. Where obsolete dams come down, rivers bound back to life, giving salmon and other wild fish the right of return to primeval spawning grounds, after decades without access. DamNation’s majestic cinematography and unexpected discoveries move through rivers and landscapes altered by dams, but also through a metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature.

Preview only.

Maxed Out

Per its title, James D. Scurlock’s virulently angry muckraking documentaryMaxed Out examines the many problems associated with escalating U.S. consumer debt. Scurlock places his weightiest emphasis on the ends of the spectrum rooted in extreme evil (read: abuse) – such as the capital lenders who wheedle poor farm families into assuming unmanageable loans and college students into placing massive amounts on credit cards.

Free to watch online.

The Ascent of Money

Professor Niall Ferguson examines the origins of the pillars of the world’s financial system, and how behind every great historical phenomenon – empires and republics, wars and revolutions – there lies a financial secret.

This is a longdocumentary (though not the longest on here), told in six parts and coming in at around 5 hours long. Its different segments cover the history of credit, the rise of the bond market since the Italian Renaissance, the whys and wherefores of boom and bust cycles, the origins of insurance, an inside and historical look at the US housing crisis, and the current financial relationship between China and the US, respectively.

Free to watch online.

Collapse

Meet Michael Ruppert, a different kind of American. A former Lost Angeles police officer turned independent reporter, he predicted the current financial crisis in his self-published newsletter. From the Wilderness, at a time when most Wall Street and Washington analysts were still in denial. Director Chris Smith has shown an affinity for outsiders in films like American Movie and The Yes Men. In Collapse, he departs stylistically from his past documentaries by interviewing Ruppert in a format that recalls the work of Errol Morris and Spalding Gray.

Full disclosure: I liked Michael Ruppert. He did important work in the peak oil scene, and the world lost a good voice when he took his own life a few years ago. It’s very easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of his thoughts and predictions, and come away from this piece a little depressed and a little disoriented, but pay attention to the things he says at the end, because community and friendship will be the things that get us through whatever is it that will come our way, whenever it comes.

Free to watch online.

Counter-Intelligence: Shedding a Light on Black Operations

If you can argue that this is one long documentary rather than a series, then it’s definitely the longest I’ve ever sat down to watch. All together, it’s just short of 7 hours, and in my opinion, it’s required viewing. The general thrust is that it lays out the history of the CIA since it grew out of the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, during WW2. Geo-political relationships are an absolutely vital key to understanding why it seems nations the world over pay little more than mere lip service to the collapse of our biosphere, and understanding the CIA is key to understanding those relationships. From covert projects in oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, to the deliberate manufacture of state enemies (Does anyone reading this remember or know about the green scare? I sure hope so!) and black flag operations used to discredit enemies and provide reason for invading, the CIA has played no small part in ushering in the age of oil, consumer capitalism, perpetual war, and ecosystem destruction.

Free to watch online.

The Zuckerberg Donation and a Legacy of Control

When I was very young, my parents used to tell me why having “lots of toys” wasn’t a good idea. “The more you have, the more you want,” they would say. I didn’t have many toys — we were poor — so the idea of possessions feeding greed didn’t make much sense to me then.

But I’ve learned the truth of that statement from observation over the years and lately I’ve been observing Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg is a 31-year-old computer programmer who did two things that made him famous: he founded Facebook, the social networking super service, and, as a result, he amassed a fortune worth about $46 billion. His bank account is as large as the capitalization of many countries.

The Zuckerberg Family

The Zuckerberg Family

How he got to these lofty heights of wealth and cultural impact is a matter of often fierce debate — he’s been sued by former “partners” several times. But what’s more important than how he got control of Facebook is what he’s constructed with it: a ubiquitous presence in the lives of a billion people with the potential to frame and manipulate their communications, their relationships and, to a frighteningly large extent, their lives.

So last month, when Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced in a letter to their new baby — a rather novel way to package a press release — that, over the course of their lives, they will give almost all their Facebook shares to a project called the Chan Zuckerberg Iniative, the world took note.

The Initiative, they explained, would “advance human potential and promote equality” in health, education, scientific research, and energy. In short, change the world: on its face, a worthy cause. But, like many of Zuckerberg’s plans and projects, this one has another side that is darker, more cynical and, even if only partially successful, a potential nightmare for the human race.

A good, short, piece that explains why philanthropy and charity will never, ever fundamentally change the lots of the world’s poor and destitute. That the only way to do what Zuckerberg claims he wants to accomplish is to somehow build a world in which the rich don’t – can’t – exist. Consider this a companion to People Will Not Buy Zero Waste Until They Can Afford It.

Read more at This Can’t Be Happening!

People Will Not Buy Zero Waste Until They Can Afford It

For those of you who’ve gone on the record and said that going zero waste “isn’t expensive”, I want you to answer two questions:

How much money does your household make in a year, and where do you live?

The answers you give can mean the difference between bamboo and plastic toothbrushes; shrink-wrapped non-organic produce and farmer’s markets; municipal recycling programs or none at all. The answers you give can mean the difference between access to a grocery store period… or being awash in a gray sea of convenience stores.

accessinfographic595 I make well-below the poverty line in annual wages (despite being a college graduate who is overqualified to work in most basic positions), and if I didn’t have family willing to take me in, or a spouse to support me (which he can do in a very limited capacity until I am a legal resident of Canada), I would be homeless. If this makes you uncomfortable, good. I say this to remind you that there are millions of people in my shoes, and worse – we are not merely statistics for you to prattle off at university lectures or on message boards. We are real people, and surprisingly enough, many of us are very concerned about the environment, but our lack of stable work or housing means that most conventional – by US standards – activism is beyond our reach. (And for me as an anarchist, I’m not interested in most reformist activism anyway. I want to see entire institutions burned to the ground, and buying $30 water bottles won’t accomplish that.)

The thing is this: when we talk about zero waste being cheap, who is it cheap for? And where? When we talk about it “saving” the environment (even though personal lifestyles have never won a single victory in the history of eco-justice movements), who’s environment will it be saving?

Part of the reason – actually, the main reason – that I’m pro-littering when it comes to areas dominated by middle- and upper-class people, no matter what region or country, is because this undermines the NIMBYism inherent to much of the mainstream conception of what it means to be environmentally-friendly and “sustainable”. It undermines the stock we put in the very notion of lifestyles at all – for some reason, we have it in our heads that making the right purchases and taking pretty pictures for our blogs is all we’ll ever need to do to reverse climate change. When we blow this particular category of action out of proportion, then of of course caving in and buying a bag of potato chips or cuppa joe in a paper cup feels like you’ve let down the entire world.

In my piece on littering, I recall the history of just how the world’s actual polluters got us to start blaming ourselves for their messes:

…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. […]

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.”

Zero wasters who want to see an end to the convenience store and what it represents have their hearts in the right place… for the most part. But they fail to perceive and understand the world beyond their own backyard, from the comfort of their chic, urban apartments or mortgaged single-family homes. When I first read Zero Waste Home, there was no mention of who the book was for – though the cover could have told me – and yet, its content assumed that I had access to a Whole Foods, and access to the disposable income to shop there. Among other things.

The ironic part is that I do – and that’s precisely because I don’t make enough to pay rent. If I did, I’d have no money to buy any food with!

To be quite blunt, attempting to do some zero waste shopping here in Vancouver the other day is what spurred this post. I wanted to buy some oil, so I looked at the prices at the two stores I know sell bulk EVOO, and they were phenomenal. $12-15 per 100ml is a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a staple that gets used on a near-daily basis. Or how about peanut butter: I could pay $6 for a little over a cup of peanut butter from the grinding machine at WF, or I could buy four times that much for $8 from a local co-op even though it comes in a plastic jar.

It’s a no brainer.

East Vancouver is not a food desert by any means, and for that I’m grateful. But Glendora, the California city where I’ll be living with my mother for a little while, is. There is no walking in Glendora, no curbside pick-up for recyclables, the transit options are pitiful, there is no infrastructure to support bicycling, and the nearest farmer’s market is in the next town over. I will need to get into a car to buy groceries, or I don’t buy groceries at all.

Out of sheer necessity, my zero waste efforts will be curtailed tremendously. I will be throwing recyclable materials in the garbage. But most importantly, I will buy food where it is feasible for me to do so. If that means Stater Bros., then unfortunately, Stater Bros. it is. At least I’m not stuck trying to feed a family from the local 7-Eleven.

What would happen if, every time we were tempted to denigrate ourselves over a single soda can or candy wrapper, we instead decided to remember that millions of people in the US (and Canada) have no choice in the matter? That, instead, we started talking about ways to put an end to food deserts and poverty-stricken communities’ reliance on convenience stores? Or talked about how ridiculous it is that we’re willing to pay $7-8/lb for salad bar cherry tomatoes or hummus because the plastic clamshell or tub would weigh too heavily on our conscience? (To say nothing of how a clamshell of tomatoes gets a more visceral reaction than, for instance, US foreign policy.)

I’m sure some of you are wondering why it is I continue to blog under the term “zero waste”.

Honestly, this is because I still believe in it – nature has no concept of waste, and neither should we. It is the only mark of a truly holistic community of organisms and resources. Just because I believe that most other lifestylers are misguided in their understanding and intentions, I’m not going to give it up.

To me, zero waste is about habits. It’s about fighting capitalist culture through the language of garbage, by-product, and so-called “innovation”. It’s a way to foster healthy boundaries in my work and relationships. It’s a way for me to understand myself as a steward, not an owner, of things. It’s a way to reject the encroachment of consumerism and voyeur culture on my life. It’s a way for me to reject the notion of disposability in every facet of life and society: no person is disposable, no thought or feeling is (or ought to be) disposable, no action is disposable. There is no throwing anything “away”, whether opinions or onion skins, and we need systems – cultural habits – in place to ease their decomposition and re-use.

If zero waste means little more than a hoard of $15 canning jars and an Apartment Therapy house tour, I’m going to go on record to say that you’ve got your priorities all mixed up.

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.

Intro to Post-Civilizationism?

It’s called Take What You Need and Compost the Rest: an anarchist introduction to post-civilization theory

The author envisions a future where Nintendo consoles are solar-powered communal property, where pavement is torn up and replaced with gardens and bike paths, where garbage mining is a way of life alongside advanced electrical engineering using scavenged toy parts. She makes a very compelling argument against the concept of civilization, the definition of which she defines as being a centralizing, globalizing, waste-making machine that seeks to eradicate all other methods of human organization and co-operation, obliterating older, more sustainable social structures.

The very first paragraphs pack quite a punch:

Well, that civilization thing was interesting, now wasn’t it? I mean, it certainly seemed worth a shot. We got a lot out of it: telescopes, wheelchairs, wikipedia. But we also just about took out the natural world. Science, agriculture, and specialization have done a lot for expanding cultural ideas and communication, but they’ve done even more for genocide and ecocide.

So it’s time we give up the noble, failed experiment altogether and moved onto something new.

The book has several sections: the introduction, “Cooperative Scavenging”, “So You’ve Decided to Reject Civilization”, “How to Survive the Collapse of Civilization”, “The City That’s Not a City”, and “For Science to Live, Civilization Must Die”. It’s a short read, only about 30 pages, but fun, self-aware, and honest.

Highly recommended! Share it around, print it out, and share it even more.