Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Book Review: Building the Green Economy

"Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots," by Kevin Danaher and Shannon Biggs

This is a handy little book for anyone interested in starting a community organization dedicated to environmental improvement or developing a small environmentally conscious business.

The three authors of "Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grass Roots," have scoured the country and found people in urban areas, the suburbs, small towns and rural areas who are fighting the good fight. They tell the stories of how people got started on ways that changed their own lives or their communities.

In a relatively short 258 pages, we're introduced to people trying to slow the waste by refusing to buy items they don't need; people who have fought polluting industry; organic food startups; colleges participating in friendly rivalries over which is more eco-friendly; a young roving ambassador who tells the story of global climate change on his home island in Micronesia; the Rosebud Sioux’s determination to use its bountiful supply of wind as energy; Sweden's efforts to become oil-independent, and many more stories.

Most of the stories are inspiring and thus told in a light, rather breezy and accessible style. The underlying message is that it doesn't take superhuman talent to take on a project, just perseverance and determination.

We hear about LaDonna Redmond, who, in the process of trying to understand food labels to cope with her son's severe allergies, turned into a food expert and transformed first her backyard and then those of others into organic gardens, and then a farmers market. Next on tap: an organic food co-operative that would serve her African-American community with better, more affordable foods.

Another, rather odd duo, are Jim Neal, a logger, and Jack Shipley, an environmentalist, got past their perceived differences to unite on ways to protect the Applegate River Watershed in southern Oregon. In the process, they helped put a stop to the ugly wars between the two sides--the loggers vs. lizards debate, as it was known--and helped create eco-savvy work opportunities and protected the land and water resources.

The book details their first, tentative steps taken to winning over their own constituencies and what it took to overcome resistance to new ways of cooperating.
Interspersed among the stories are tips, bits of advice on how to be healthier, smarter, more green, most of which are obvious: use mass transportation, switch to energy-efficient products, grow your own food, shop locally.

Rocky Anderson, the mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson, gives simply examples, how savings gleaned from changing over to fluorescent lights was then spent on wind power, providing further savings and less pollution.

It all seems so logical when Anderson talks about it; somehow we don’t seem to be able to get there yet, though there are plenty of examples of success in the United States and, especially, in other parts of the world.

And so we get a short assessment of how our own competitive, individualistic culture, may be hampering efforts to be smarter and healthier for ourselves and for the rest of the globe.

The book breaks down into four main categories: Toxic Avengers; Food and Water; From Mean Streets to Green Streets; Power to the People; and The Freedom of Everyone to Be Enterprising.

Inevitably, perhaps, we also meet people determined to fight the arrival of big-box retail outfits, with the argument that the tax dollars flow out of the community while encouraging people to spend, spend, spend on items they don’t want or need, usually made thousands of miles away.

Opponents of the Patriot Act and similar groups are represented here, too, as are companies that tried to create a local election recall effort in California.

You may not agree with the politics—though I do, you may see the world differently.

And so I thought it was particularly interesting in the case of Shipley and Neal that it was the latter, the logger, who reached out first to someone who could have been his enemy to start trying to solve problems instead of simply firing words. Or, as the two sides were doing, actually carrying weapons at one point. Rather than painting the logger as the enemy, we see that the right people, working together, can make things work. Gung ho.

There’s something for everyone here, regardless of politics.

Previously published at epinions.com

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