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Book Review: Environmentalism Unbound: Exploring New Pathwaysfor Change

  • Subject: [cg] Book Review: Environmentalism Unbound: Exploring New Pathwaysfor Change
  • From: Alliums <garlicgrower@snip.net>
  • Date: Fri, 27 Jul 2001 11:51:45 -0400

Hi, Folks!

Here is my latest book review.  Once again, I retain copyright (fame, but no
fortune in my life -- someday, I've got to get out of agriculture! ;-D), so
reprint as you like, but send me a copy wherever it goes. . .


Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden

A mission of 
St. John's United Church of Christ, 315 Gay Street, Phoenixville, PA  19460

Environmentalism Unbound: Exploring New Pathways for Change by Robert
Gottlieb, MIT Press, 2001.  ISBN:  0-262-07210-6, $29.95.

This is a book for anyone who cares about the world we live in and wonders
how the heck things turned out the way they did - and just how those same
things might be changed in the future.

Before setting our sights on the future, Gottlieb wisely takes one third of
the book to examine the history of environmentalism in North America, which
contains so many competing ideologies and tangents that you immediately
understand why no one has seriously bothered to summarize this history
before.  As anyone who's stared at the blackboard in horror during the first
classes of Environmental Science 101 realizes, ecology is the least linear
of all the sciences.  Everything affects and is affected by everything else
- and even when the "simplest" system is reduced to swirls of double headed
arrows, there's always some other component(s!) the instructor (or current
knowledge) has left out that can subtly alter the system over time until it
becomes unrecognizable.  The history of environmentalism, which combines
newly discovered principles of ecology and the range of human response
(especially when factoring in the business perspective) to them is no different.

This history, with its necessary diversions into 20th century labor
conditions, corporate business theory, and the rise of the automobile, as
well as expected discussions of folks such as Robert Marshall, co-founder of
the Wilderness Society, provides the backdrop for Gottlieb's central
argument, which is that "environmentalism can help lay the groundwork for
fundamental social and environmental change, to make industries more
socially responsive and greener, and to make communities more livable" only
when, like the tangled arrows on the blackboard of an Environmental Science
classroom, we realize Nature is affected and affecting not just "out there,"
but where we live and work.  As Gottlieb says, "One of the critical, if not
crippling, divides impacting environmentalism has been the separation of
industry and community and the parallel division between work and environment."

So, for the past five years, Gottlieb and his graduate students through
Occidental College and the Urban Environmental Policy Institute attempted to
bridge that divide and apply this paradigm for environmental and social
change to their research and consulting work.  Three of those projects are
detailed in the rest of the book:  First, dry cleaning as an example of a
small industry and that industry's debate over pollution prevention
approaches; Second, janitorial cleaning supplies as an example of products
that may be hazardous to workers and that industry's resistance to change;
and Third, community/regional approaches to food supply versus a globalized
food system.

Admittedly, Gottlieb's prose is on the dry side.  However, reading the book
is worth the slight effort because you'll thoroughly understand each
chapter's topic afterwards.  You could learn something about the "Justice
for Janitors" movement by viewing the current art film, "Bread and Roses"
which skims the daily lives of immigrant janitors in LA, or by reading a
recent Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine article which puts a human face
on a janitorial union organizer in the Philadelphia suburbs, but only by
reading Gottlieb's chapter "Janitors and Justice:  Industry Restructuring,
Chemical Exposures and Redefining Work" will you really understand the
complex intersection of environmental contamination, business interests,
labeling law, immigration policies, and the
not-as-philosophical-as-it-appears question of "How clean is clean?" that
surround this issue- and be able to converse about it intelligently
afterwards. Be sure to flip back to the endnotes each time you find a number
in the text; as the notations are often as long (and complete) as the
paragraphs you're reading in the text.  Quotations are scrupulously
documented so that further reading is as easy as your InterLibrary Loan form.

One can't help reading this book without hoping that Gottlieb's integrated,
holistic, environmentally based paradigm ultimately prevails as both society
and traditionally held, "out there" Nature appear to benefit from it.
Certainly, Gottlieb has me convinced that "wet-cleaning" is a better
alternative to "dry cleaning" not only because it avoids toxic chemicals
outgassing into my neighborhood's air, but it also provides my neighbors
with skilled jobs at a higher wage in more pleasant working conditions and
gives us all cleaner, more long-lasting garments.   Whether justice will
come to the janitors among us or local food systems prevail over the
"Supermarket to the World" depends on how many of us read Gottlieb's book
and put his paradigm into practice.

Reviewed by Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden
Phoenixville, PA

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