[join 50 Dutchess folks signed on for zero-waste-- carbon-cutting, clean-air, cost-saving, green jobs now; don't forget to come out for Paul Connett Thurs. 8 pm Earth Day!...(Vassar Taylor Hall Rm 203)...
see: http://dutchessdemocracy.blogspot.com/2010/04/paul-connett-vassar-for-earth-day-dont.html ; time is NOW-- this week-- Earth Week-- to send letters to all 25 of us: email@example.com!]
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Two great letters to editor in today's Times...(see http://www.no-burn.org ; http://www.ILSR.org !)...
[...and again-- check out entire http://www.StopTrashingtheClimate.org report today if you haven't yet...]
From http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/18/opinion/l18trash.html?ref=opinion ...
To the Editor:
It is alarming to see The New York Times buying into the garbage industry greenwashing of incinerators as "clean energy."
Around the world, there is a growing citizen backlash against incinerators that burn garbage and trees. The resulting electricity is dirtier than burning coal on a per megawatt basis. Garbage-burning emissions can cause cancer, heart disease, asthma and more.
In Massachusetts, there will be a statewide referendum in November to remove these incinerators from the state's renewable portfolio standard, which requires a certain percentage of energy from renewable sources.
Taxpayers and ratepayers are outraged about paying billions in subsidies for this so-called green energy. The laws subsidizing these toxic incinerators must be changed.
Margaret E. Sheehan
Chairwoman, Stop Spewing
Cambridge, Mass., April 13, 2010
[see http://www.StopSpewingCarbon.com ;
To the Editor:
There are significant differences between European and United States waste combustion markets and regulations that merit deeper examination.
European countries, including Denmark and Germany, have stronger regulations governing combustion plants, higher landfill taxes, carbon-based energy costs, higher levels of recycling and composting, national container deposit laws and laws that require product manufacturers to pay for municipal waste disposal.
All of these policies play a role in defining their waste management systems, and the lack of all of these policies in the United States plays a role in whether waste combustion should be considered here.
Moreover, in the United States, waste combustors are disproportionately sited in minority and poor communities, which justifiably leads to local opposition to combustion plants.
The energy benefits of waste combustion plants compared with landfills are not in dispute.
The more relevant comparison is between combustion plants and recycling. Recycling is the more energy-productive choice for the vast majority of materials found in the municipal waste stream, and the broader ecological winner as well.
Therefore shouldn't increasing the recycling rate, not combustion, be the primary focus of our waste management policies?
Director, Solid Waste Project
Natural Resources Defense Council
New York, April 13, 2010
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And if you haven't yet-- check out the City of Austin's new cost-saving zero-waste plan here, much more:
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From http://www.no-burn.org/gaia-raises-serious-concern-on-new-york-times-article-on-incineration ...
GAIA Raises Serious Concern on New York Times Article on Incineration
To the Editor, NY Times
Re: NY Times article: "Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but U.S. Lags", 4/12/2010
I would like to raise some serious concerns about yesterday's article by Elisabeth Rosenthal: "Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but the U.S. Lags". This piece fails to reference any credible information sources regarding waste incineration and the risk posed by incineration technologies.
Introducing Danish incinerators as "Far cleaner than conventional incinerators..", the article cites the website of Ramboll - a Danish incinerator vendor, whose public relations department must be delighted by such careless reporting. In covering controversial issues where public interest and industry practices are widely known to be in conflict, I would expect the NY Times to conduct more thorough research to ensure balanced journalism.
The following points address a range of public concern, which Ms. Rosenthal has failed to examine.
For decades the tobacco industry told us that cigarettes were safe. Now the waste incineration industry wants us to believe they are coming clean?
Despite the latest industry spin, there is nothing better about burning garbage today, whether in the U.S. or in Denmark (1). Attempts to peddle "waste to energy" haven't gained wide acceptance around the world because people are growing increasingly aware that:
1. Incineration poses a serious threat to public health. Burning garbage is a primary source of cancer-causing dioxins and other pollutants that enter the food supply and concentrate up through the food chain. Installing of scrubbers and filters to reduce the smokestack emissions only serves to increase the amount of residual fly ash that needs to be disposed in landfills, contaminating groundwater and generating similar risk.
2. Incineration produces more carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of electricity generated than coal power plants (2). Current atmospheric carbon loads cannot safely bear additional emissions from incinerators and landfills. Howevere, zero waste practices such as recycling and composting has the potential of mitigating up to 42 % of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Incineration represents a massive waste of energy. Due to its low calorific value, burning garbage to produce energy is highly inefficient (3). Conversely, recycling recovers three to five times more energy than incineration produces.
4. Incineration creates an economic burden for communities. Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent subsidizing the construction and operations of incinerators. For a fraction of this cost, investments in recycle, reuse and remanufacture, create significantly more business and employment opportunity.
5. Incineration represents the destruction of valuable resources and jobs. Zero waste practices create over 10 times the number of jobs than burning or burying the same waste. Over ninety per cent of municipal solid waste in the U.S. can be recycled, re-used or composted, to create thousands of long-term, family-supporting jobs and community resilience.
As part of their marketing efforts, incinerator industry lobby groups have even recruited the same "expert" witnesses that once testified for the tobacco industry. Fortunately, citizen groups today are not easily deceived by such masquerades and are familiar with the real solutions.
The next time the NY Times looks at gleaning information from industry websites, I would encourage your colleagues to diligently question the source.
For more information on waste incineration and the latest reports on the economic, public health and environmental risk associated with incinerator technologies, please check our website or contact me directly.
Ananda Lee Tan
North American Program Coordinator
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives
1958 University Avenue, Berkeley, Ca 94703
Phone: +1 510 883 9490 Ext 102
1. According to Eurostat in 2007, Denmark produces the highest waste per capita (over 1762 lbs. per person each year) in the EU - clearly an unsustainable level of waste generation. Additionally, over 80 % of what is burned in Danish incinerators is recyclable/compostable.
3. State of the art incineration plants in Denmark achieve only 25% energy efficiency with heat and power
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From http://www.wasterecyclingnews.com/opinion2.html?id=1244470542&allowcomm=true ...
Last gasp for garbage incineration
By Neil Seldman
If the incineration industry does not tie up 20-year contracts for large supplies of municipal garbage soon, they will fade away as a threat to the economic and environmental sustainability of U.S. cities and counties.
The cost of incineration is escalating as the cost of recycling, composting and reuse decline. With the penetration of recycling and composting infrastructure throughout the U.S., the window of opportunity for incineration irreversibly closes. It costs the same to pick up recyclables and organics as it does to pick up garbage. But in one case you have a resource; in the other you have garbage to dispose of.
The cost of incineration is far beyond the means of communities. The cost increases from initial proposals to final submissions are startling. In Frederick County, Md., the price tag for a 1,500-ton-per-day mass burn facility jumped from $235 million to $525 million in one year. When a community issues bonds for $500 million, the true cost is $1 billion over 20 years.
There is also the added financial risk of operational failures such as in Detroit and Harrisburg, Pa. New regulations will require costly air and ash emission controls.
The industry tries to sell itself as a "renewable energy" source. Yet, the U.S. can realize far more energy savings through increased recycling and composting than through spending billions to incinerate garbage. The U.S. currently recycles 33% of its municipal discards. This modest recycling rate conserves the equivalent of about 11.9 billion gallons of gasoline. This level of recycling also reduces greenhouse gases equivalent to taking 40 million cars off the road annually.
The cost of recycling and compost is falling due to innovation at the local level through citizen, government and private sector actions. There are lower costs for solid waste management as source-separated materials are diverted into cost-effective, sustainable, industrial and agricultural use. Innovations include new incentives, publicly supported industrial parks, commercial and household food collection, and SAFE Centers for drop-off of household hazardous materials.
Recycling and composting add more jobs and more value to materials for the local economy. Hence, the incineration industry is gasping for more waste in the economy.
Cities and counties and their constituents can follow easy steps to a sustainable resource stream for local economic development:
ò Take an inventory of current programs and infrastructure.
ò Compare the results to leading cities and counties that have adopted zero waste goals and programs.
ò Fill out a voids analysis to identify the current service needs in your community.
ò Cost out the adaptation of best practices to your hometown, including the value of new jobs and businesses.
ò Compare with current costs of disposal in landfills or incinerators.
ò Develop an implementation plan to allow your community to liberate valuable materials for the local economy. Focus on organics, construction and demolition, electronic scrap and building deconstruction. These materials comprise over half the waste stream. The technology for processing these materials and the markets for the recovered parts and materials are all local.
None of this material needs to be sent to China. Rather, it can be reserved for our own local economy.
For further reading, the following reports are fully documented and footnoted.
ò "Incinerators in Disguise," Greenaction for Health and the Environment, San Francisco, 2007
ò "Stop Trashing the Climate," Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, D.C., 2008
ò "An Industry Blowing Smoke," Global Anti-Incineration Alliance, Berkeley, Calif., 2009
Neil Seldman is president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Washington.
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From http://www.ilsr.org/recycling/articles/which-incineration-technologies.html ...
Which Incineration Technologies Make Sense: None of the Above
Commentary by Neil Seldman
Technical distinctions among incineration technologies are not important. All these technology cost hundreds of millions of dollars (billions when amortized over 20 years). A 1500 tpd mass burn system costs $600 million. The other technologies (gasification, pyrolysis, plasma arc) cost more. (RDF has unique characteristics and requires a separate discussion.) In addition to capital drain, these facilities destroy billions of dollars of raw materials. These materials have already been mined, processed and transported and can be made available for quick re-use in agriculture and industry, at a much lower cost than using virgin materials.
There is a basic design flaw in all mixed waste systems: they automatically lead to over-centralized facilities that are costly to operate and increase transportation costs.
The most cost effective economy of scale for recycling and composting is local and regional. The markets for 50%-60% of the municipal waste stream (counting C and D debris) are also local and regional. These are the most economically and environmentally valuable portions of the 'waste' stream (organics, e scrap, wood, construction aggregate). The future of resource management (currently called solid waste management) is LOCAL not in ASIA.
Massive systems that literally need more wasting to be economical are a dangerous relic of the past. (See, Ecocycle's History of Garbage Exhibits) They are a financial albatross around the neck of local tax payers, and come with enormous lost opportunity costs for the local economy and overall environment.
These opportunity costs are proper infrastructure, lower costs, more jobs and small businesses, expanded tax base for the indefinite future, reduced energy use and environmental damage.
The raw materials in our discard stream are a public resource. To destroy them through incineration/gasification/pyrolysis/plasma arc, dropping MSW into an active Hawaii Island volcano is a gross waste at a time when we need to reduce the economy's burden on nature.
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From http://www.emagazine.com/view/?4601 ...
COMMENTARY: Recycling First
Directing Federal Stimulus Money to Real Green Projects
By Neil Seldman, PhD
"Shovel-ready" is the key to the Obama Administration's plan for a rapid flow of money to city public works projects in its effort to stimulate green jobs, green infrastructure and local spending. But is this plan practical? Do cities have "shovel-ready" green projects?
Most projects are older ones that cities have not been able to afford for the past several years and are not environmentally friendly. For instance, in Winston Salem, NC, $4 million of the stimulus package will be allotted for the building of a new construction and demolition debris (C&D) landfill. This landfill will create only ten jobs. There is no plan for C&D recycling, despite that a recycling facility would create twice that number of jobs and return valuable materials back to the economy.
President Obama has warned cities that he will be tracking wasted expenditures. The group Stimulus Watch will aid in this endeavor. Other groups such as Green for All, the Blue-Green Alliance, and the Apollo Alliance can also monitor how green the new federal investments in infrastructure will be.
Major obstructions to some green projects that are ready to be implemented are the antiquated codes that new projects will have to work under. Porous cement, for example, which reduces water and toxic street runoff to thereby save energy and operating costs at sewer treatment facilities, does not comply with existing codes. Also restricted are sewer pipes, even though they are made from new and reformulated materials, making them a cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative over the energy intensive traditional ones. Both of these products are disallowed by powerfully vested interests, which continue to benefit from the non-green status quo.
Many cities are not requiring the recycling of construction and demolition (C&D) materials, which has become state of the art across the United States. Sensible city governments require between 50% and 75% of these materials to be recycled by permit. Despite readily available local markets for processed C&D materials, cities are using federal neighborhood stabilization dollars to fill up landfills instead.
A full throttle effort to fund "shovel-ready" projects could forecast a green disaster and a misuse of scarce stimulus dollars. Naturally, there are some sectors that can have "shovel-ready" projects for cities to use stimulus money responsibly. Energy and water conservation are two examples that cities could immediately fund for energy efficient buildings with modern lighting, passive and photovoltaic solar energy, cistern systems and low flow faucets.
But the most obvious sector to focus on is the solid waste sector, more aptly described as "resource management." Every city and county is responsible for its resource management; and every jurisdiction is ready to galvanize its transition to increased recycling and composting. Some cities have already reached levels of 50% to 70% recycling and composting rates, but the national average remains at a low 34% since many other cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia and San Juan are at the abysmal levels of 10% or less.
Even at this modest national recycling rate, the sector employs 1.1 million workers with a $37 million payroll. These are more jobs than in the automobile industry. (Unionized recycling workers can make $20 per hour plus full benefits in companies that are highly profitable. Without unions, these jobs are at the minimum wage levels and provide no benefits.)
The infrastructure for recycling and composting can be improved to easily double the recycling rate within a few years. At 75% recycling, some 1.5 million new jobs will be created. Indirect jobs stemming from these direct jobs could add another million workers. The total of 2.5 million jobs created represents three-quarters of the 4 million jobs the Obama Administration seeks to produce. This level of recycling would reduce air and ash pollution as well as industrial energy demand equivalent to 21% of the country's current coal fired electricity capacity. The transportation and extraction of virgin materials from forests and mines would also be dramatically reduced.
A Timely Investment
An estimated $10 to $20 billion is the investment required to reach these resource management goals. Over several years, these funds can pay for equipment, training (including college certificate and degree programs for facility managers), public awareness, peer-to-peer technical assistance from city managers who have mastered recycling and composting in their community, and real estate acquisition for industrial parks to process materials and manufacture products locally to strengthen the U.S. economy (as opposed to shipping materials overseas). The money can flow to cities through Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) channels or the myriad of other energy, resource, alternative fuel, and workforce and community economic development programs available.
The stimulus investment to transform solid waste management into resource management should be "sunset." This money is transitory. Cities, counties and their constituent businesses already pay from $40 to $70 billion annually to dispose of resources as waste. It costs far less to relocate recycled materials to industrial and agricultural markets. The stimulus investment would essentially be the bridge for the transition of waste to resource. After the initial investment, traditional budgets can resume at much lower levels, allowing for city services to be more cost effective and the U.S. economy more efficient and competitive. On the other end of the bridge, the waste stream will be a resource stream supporting employment, manufacturing, tax base expansion and pollution reduction.
Sixty percent to 70% of the country's total municipal solid waste and C&D waste (totaling under 500 million tons annually) is readily reusable and recyclable as rich compost, building material and aggregate. Markets are high and steady for quality material and most importantly, local. Shipping to China will no longer be required.
The blueprint for spending on resource management should follow other federal formulae for healthcare, highways and education. Local government must commit to action to be eligible for federal grants. Thus jurisdiction programs like California's Recycling Market Development Zones and the industrial parks being developed by Hawaii County, HA and Alachua County, FL would have their investments matched by federal dollars. Jurisdictions that commit bond and budget money towards transition goals and objectives ought to qualify for federal grants. No subsidies should go towards landfilling and incineration.
This transition could be accomplished within the next three to seven years. After that, the remaining materials that were unable to be composted or recycled could be subjected to research and development programs for restoration. Bans and redesign of products and packages are part of the stage of the transition to achieve the social, economic and environmental benefits of a near-zero waste economy. Industry responsibility programs have already been implemented for batteries, oil, paints and tires.
If the Obama Administration wants fast, green and dramatic results for its stimulus package, the best place to start is at the garbage can. Every citizen, every day, touches some thing that is pitched as garbage, be it in the workplace, at play, or in the home. By using our fiscal resources to ensure sound management of our natural resources, everybody is a winner.
CONTACT: Institute of Local Self-Reliance
NEIL SELDMAN PhD is the President for the Institute of Local Self-Reliance.
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From http://www.ilsr.org/recycling/articles/annie-leonard-engels.html ...
Annie Leonard and Karl Marx... Or Is It Frederick Engels?
Commentary by Neil Seldman
Recently on Fox News, Annie Leonard, creator of The Story of Stuff, was likened to Karl Marx with a ponytail. I do not know how Annie is wearing her hair these days, but she reminds me far more of the young Frederick Engels than of Karl Marx.
Let me explain.
Annie's widely circulated animated video makes the connections between overproduction and ecological damage as well as between sustainability and job creation. In all of this, she is following in the footsteps of Frederick Engels, not Marx.
Although Karl Marx is a household name, Engels may have played a more important historical role. Firstly, he all but invented Marx, supporting him financially, emotionally and politically, and introducing him to the dismal subject of political economy that would dominate his life. Engels was Marx's source of the historical examples that allowed Marx to create his world changing theories. Further, Engels made Marx' writing accessible.
Engels interrupted the life of Marx, an itinerant philosopher who jumped from one intellectual activity to another, and set him at his life's work. Finally, Engels was the public face of Marxism from 1873 on, as Marx battled diseases that claimed his life in 1883. Engels died in 1895, the leader of powerful national political parties and unions.
Engels was charming, good-looking, athletic, popular, and fluent in English. Marx was none of the above. Generations of students learned about Marxism from Engels' shorter, more popular works, which were more immediately understandable: they provided working people with intellectual tools to understand their historic era and the role they might play in its future developments. Always ready with a military simile, Engels likened his concise booklets to grenades thrown into the enemy camp. "Why can't you be like me?" he would exhort Marx, who struggled to write.
Of course, Marx, the brilliant intellectual and trained philosopher, added to Engels' insights his pioneering ideas: the economic interpretation of history, materialist philosophy that integrates ideas and actions, the fetishism of commodities that hides human virtue, and class struggle. Perhaps, most relevant were Marx' concepts of ideology, alienation and false consciousness, which speak to us daily in our modern predicament. Marx' vision of un-alienated labor in a modern industrial society, inspires hundreds of millions of people to this day.
It was the self-educated Engels, however, who was the first Marxist. Engels' youthful insights into burgeoning capitalism were accurate, and, he thought, could be scientifically proven as the basis for optimism for change in the near future. Engels focused on real people. As a textile mill manager and owner in Germany and England, he saw, up close and personal, the raw radical nature of industrial capitalism and the new political economy that it spawned.
He arrived in Manchester at the age of 23,after a short career as a military leader against the Prussian monarchy, censorship and hatred of democracy, to oversee his father's interests in Manchester. This city in the 1840's was perhaps the only place in the world at the time that could reveal the true promise and perils of industrial capitalism. England was at the heart of industrial capitalism. The textile industry was its heart, and Manchester was the heart of the textile industry. If one could transform Manchester, one could transform the world. And Manchester was the critical center of the Chartists, who had a valid democratic, non-violent strategy for change that would transcend the dualism posed by the creative destruction of capitalism. Engels loved the English workers, for he thought they were capable of changing the world, transforming competitive industrialization with cooperative industrialization.
As a child Engels wandered through his hometown of Bremen, dominated by his family's textile mills, built up by three previous generations. Despite the liberal views with which the family ran its mills, Engels was confronted daily by the Wuppertal River polluted by the mills' bleacheries. Nor could he ignore the workers' living conditions; warrens where human misery, crime, drugs and sexual depravity, were the only visible outlets for its inhabitants. Where the family could not be sustained. When he got to Manchester and saw even worse conditions, he feared for the future of his homeland, and for the rest of the world should this industrial system spread.
Engels introduced Marx to Manchester--to its new class of industrial workers, and to the Manchester Library, the working people's library, recently founded by Charles Dickens. Here, Engels laid in front of Marx the classical works of political economy and ordered him to study them. This ignited the decisive historical force of Marxism. Marx' and Engels' relationship developed into the most unique partnership in intellectual and political history.
All the core principles of Marxism were present in the young Engels before he ever met Marx. He marveled at the power of large-scale capitalism: how it multiplied human labor a thousand fold with its new energy forms and technology; how it created the greatest wealth in history; and how, simultaneously, it created the greatest poverty and anguish in history. How the owning class captured the state to promote its own interest and neglect all others. How the owners loved the law because it protected them. And, how the poor feared the law because it suppressed them.
Engels was the world's first industrial economist and first industrial ecologist: the first sustainability activist. He also was the most prominent student of the English Chartists, the first civil rights movement in the world that continues to inspire today's Chinese dissidents to totalitarianism.
Classical economists, reflecting the worldview of the owning class, Engels succinctly wrote, put selfish interest above those of "trees and children," or nature and people. Their ideas hid their practice of treating nature as a free warehouse for goods and a free sink for disposal of noxious byproducts. Children and families were also dispensable. Engels called out the owning class as both immoral and inefficient: immoral because trees and children are essential for human growth and happiness; and inefficient because trees and children are the most productive of resources if their inherent value is respected and accounted for in political economy.
Engels worked as a mill manager, but spent his free time with the workers, rather than the owners, who were his father's friends and partners. He recognized and provided statistical documentation of the new class of workers emerging; their conditions, fears, aspirations, democratic organizations, and how they cared for their own with the meager resources they had. He studied closely and categorized their struggles through crime, strikes and riots. Unlike other contemporary observers, he realized the potential power of democratically organized and self-aware workers, and saw it as a positive force for change. He incorrectly assessed that radical change was imminent.
Engels was a very accomplished autodidact; he had conquered Hegel and other philosophers in his teenage years. Having graduated from philosophy, he proceeded to look at the facts on the ground. Even the work Engels did while he was Marx's graduate research assistant still impacts our thought. His book on the rifle in 1864 won the prize as the best book of its kind in 1964. His military analysis of the US Civil War, written in Europe, is still studied today, as are his manuals for the defense of Paris during the 1871 Commune: Lenin and Trotsky used them in the urban warfare in Russia of 1905, the dry run for the successful revolution of 1917. Engels' inquiry into the evolutionary theories of Darwin (competitive naturalism) versus Kropotkin (cooperative naturalism) continues to inform modern scholars. The most prominent evolutionary biologist and science writer of our time, Stephen Jay Gould, considered Engels' The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man the most important work in rejecting the "idealistic" and "Western" prejudice regarding the primacy of the brain in human evolution. Engels' analytical writings on women and the family are also the subjects of conferences and colloquia to this day. His Origin of the Family presented evolutionary anthropology that tied family history to economic history in a linear, causal relationship. The 1884 book serves as a primer for his and Marx' theory of the family.
In some matters of deep philosophy, Engels struggled without Marx to guide him. Some historians trace the origins of Soviet Totalitarianism to Engels' concept of dialectical materialism, a term he never uttered or wrote. In fact, Engels is to Soviet Totalitarianism as Christ is to the Spanish Inquisition.
Engels understood the facts of capitalism; he even saw the basic structure of society that it created -- the state captured by the owning class. He felt unable, however, to put his ideas into a historic or scientific framework. Engels was a true heir to the Enlightenment. He needed to use science to conquer religion and bogus philosophy. Engels and Marx grew up in Westphalia in the Rhineland, the outer reaches of Napoleon's empire, as part of a generation deeply influenced by freeing intellectual influences of the Great French Revolution. Heir as he was to the Enlightenment, Engels rebelled at the overemphasis on individualism, and held community and social commitment as inalienable aspects of human happiness.
Engels needed Marx to scientifically confirm his moral insights. Marx needed Engels to be his remarkably gifted researcher. Engels would learn ancient languages so that he could detect and explain land ownership and social relations to Marx. When Marx would marvel at his ability to learn languages quickly, in the evenings after a full day's work at the mills, Engels would quip, "it is not hard work, I enjoy it." Marx also needed Engels' friendship and generosity to survive.
Few people actually read Marx: many found him too confusing. Marx's prose was often a patchwork of passages written by his current philosophical enemies. One had to be familiar with the work of these enemies in order to comprehend Marx's attacks. Marx's economic writings in Das Kapital (completed by Engels after Marx' death), were undecipherable; Das Kapital remains important today because of its brilliant and invaluable depiction and analysis of history, literature, art and psychology.
Engels' writing was clear and popular in style, where Marx's was verbose and full of vitriol. Engels wrote the first draft of The Holy Family. It was 12 pages. Marx returned to him a 300-page manuscript that bordered on diatribe. There were always contradictions to interpret within Marx's work. Scholars shied away from discussions with this mean-spirited curmudgeon; he eviscerated any who disagreed with him, including former allies and teachers.
Engels wanted an ounce of action rather than a ton of theory. In 1848, when the democratic nationalist revolutions erupted throughout Europe, Marx went to the printing press. Engels went to the front, where he fought bravely and led military actions. Engels transformed dense prose into simpler messages. His use of biological similes (such as the withering away of the state, and violence as the midwife of revolution) captivated the working public's imagination and admiration. This popularity, coupled with his cunning political skill, allowed Engels to win the 20-year struggle against Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor of Germany. In 1870, Bismarck outlawed the openly Marxist German Social Democratic Party, which had some 500,000 members. By 1890, after Bismarck's fall, the party's membership had grown to four million. With his prestige and power to persuade workers of all nations, Engels could have stopped the world war he predicted in 1888. He died in 1895, however, leaving his German Social Democratic Party and all the others (except the Danish) in the wilderness. These organizations eventually fell victim to World War I in 1914. This event caused by the combined forces of industrial capitalism and the remnants of feudal monarchies, killed a generation of Europe's working people; never before seen in history. The war unleashed technological savagery whose devastating consequences remain to this day, as we still await the end of what Engels called the prehistory of the human race and the dawning of true human history: a history in which humans are allowed, as part of nature, to achieve their full potential. The failure of leadership in the Social Democratic movement was the greatest moral failure of the left in history.
Engels' ideas are important today because the ravages of capitalism that Engels saw in 1840s Manchester are still with us. The support system of industrial capitalism is based on human and environmental exploitation around the world. This machinery now threatens to contaminate with industrial waste the very air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat beyond human capacity to survive. The system sustains itself on the joyless labor of hundreds of millions of workers living on subsistence wages.
Engels' proposed solutions, as well as his observations, are still pertinent today. Engels pointed out that productivity increases when natural resources and open space are respected, and when workers are given decent food, water, education, housing and medical care. If these conditions are not met, needless hardship will weaken the workforce physically and psychologically. Engels was a zero waste thinker. He taught that the byproduct of one factory should serve as the feedstock of another, and that organic matter must be returned to the land to preserve fertility. Small farms, he explained to Marx, are the best way to accomplish this. He advised that industry should be decentralized and integrated throughout the world, with each region capable of its own production, distribution and consumption, to the greatest extent possible.
Under capitalism, Engels believed that "women were the proletariat's proletariat," and that a society that does not protect women and the family is unworthy of survival. Women, according to Engels, hold up more than half the world. In his view, a man who did not recognize the importance of independent women could never reach his full capacity.
In an essay he sent to Marx in 1843, Engels concluded that capitalism is inefficient because it does not invest in the two most productive things on earth: trees (nature) and children (the next generation). For these reasons, he stated, capitalism is morally bankrupt. He identified unions, worker cooperatives (production and consumption), civic associations and credit unions as the institutions forming the bedrock of a cooperative industrial society.
Without the transformation of industry that he assumed was inevitable, Engels believed industrial capitalism would destroy the world, its nature and its people. He hoped working people and people with common sense could drive a stake into the heart of this monster and reform industrial production and relations for good. If not, Engels foresaw, giant corporations as the only citizens of the world.
Annie Leonard stands for, and works for, exactly these principles. She is an international organizer on environment and labor issues -- the very issues that catapulted Engels to world fame. When we put her characteristics and Engels side by side we can see that they were both self-sacrificing, both combine theory and practice and listen to and speak to regular people. Both are strategic. Both are optimistic. Both interconnect ecological and labor issues.
The Story of Stuff is radical in that it deals with the very same causes that emerged 300 years ago when unregulated capitalism first burst upon the world. Annie Leonard has identified problems of rampant consumption, and its impact on nature and people. The Story of Stuff opens the door to inquiry among people young and old. The story leads directly to the solutions that the grassroots recycling movement has found and continues to implement. These successes are being replicated throughout the US, from Hawaii to Puerto Rico, and California to Maine. Zero Waste (90% diversion from incineration and landfill disposal) is an achievable and necessary goal for the US economy and for the entire planet. Recycling and composting are the foundation of a safe and ample future for all.
Annie Leonard's goal is to change people's consciousness and promote economic investment patterns that are good for people and nature, not billionaires and concentrated corporations. Her work points out that the mundane world of garbage is a clue to, and a powerful tool for, sustainability throughout our political economy. She reflects the values of our widespread and deeply rooted US recycling movement.
Conclusion: There is no latter-day version of Karl Marx that springs immediately to mind -- but Annie Leonard could well be a latter-day Frederick Engels.
Annie Leonard is on the right course, and bringing along many others using her talent for communicating with the public, especially young people. Her message is straightforward and transparent: By using resources efficiently, we can create a new industrial economy that does not threaten the earth or its people. This is an economic argument as well as a moral argument: it is the same one presented by Engels 150 years ago, as modern capitalism first started to flex its growing muscles and implement its powers of mass persuasion.
Thanks again, Annie.
Neil Seldman is co-founder and president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Since 1974, ILSR has developed and implemented scores of policies, programs and enterprises that promote sustainable local use of raw materials. Recycling and economic development have become standard planning tools as a result of Seldman's 35 years of work in the field. He was the first to recognize the fiscal danger of waste incineration, and he pioneered the organization of citizens, elected officials and small businesses owners to prevent their implementation, thus opening the door for more cost-effective and environmentally sound alternatives. Seldman's business experience comes from factory management and industrial training. He is also a trained political theorist who has taught university-level history and political science. He is a postdoctoral student of the history of ideas.
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