Anarchy is a tricky proposition. The little teenage slammers in Che Guevara t-shirts who used to scrawl red A's and circles on their binders in school have led to a misrepresentation of what anarchy is supposed to be about. It is a much more peaceful ideology than those sinister symbols denote. And as people become more fed up with government, it seems to apply itself to a new cause everyday.
So with all the hubbub over going green nowadays, it was only a matter of time before the anarchists had their say. Enter Radical Sustainability, a lecture by anarchist writer and bona fide sustainability expert Scott Kellogg. Kellogg is the co-author of Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-It-Ourselves Guide . Hosted Aug. 14 at Wooden Shoe Books, the anarchist bookstore at 508 S. Fifth St., Radical Sustainability gives voice to a new breed of anarchist: less ideological, more practical, and scared shitless.
"We have to stop thinking of the rugged individual survivalist as some guy in his bunker trying to weather the storm," Kellogg says. "That's a dead end."
Times have changed. A war in Iraq, a violent occupation, an energy crisis and sweeping corruption have left a distinctly emboldened anarchist subculture so frightened by the inefficiency of government that they have contemplated moving their whole operation underground.
But love of the city and lack of funding leave many would-be autonomous individuals scratching their heads. How do you free yourself from the chains of oil dependence, government oversight, agribusiness and other institutions that may one day experience drastic fallout? According to Kellogg, "the belt is beginning to tighten."
Kellogg created the Rhizome Collective, a sustainability laboratory and training center on the east side of Austin, Texas. Rhizome aims to teach well-intentioned city dwellers to create their own energy, their own food and even their own waste management systems. Basically, a secluded backwoods survival system for a concrete backyard world.
Kellogg talks about harnessing the power of the sun for everything from water purification to heating to cooking. He gives tips on how to create a solar-powered oven using magnification lenses and heat-absorbing materials. He shows you how to make an angled shelf that will hold bottles of rainwater up to direct sunlight, using the ultraviolet rays to purify the water. These methods came in handy when Rhizome traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and aided disaster relief efforts through numerous sustainable projects. Clean drinking water became a luxury once thefloodwaters polluted natural water centers. Rhizome used their purification method to bring clean water to displaced residents.
Another practice that Kellogg and his crew have tried to bring to the masses is bioremediation, the process of adding bacteria and plant enzymes to toxic soil to create fertile beds for plant production. After Katrina, toxins and dangerous pollutants had leaked into the groundwater, preventing new food production. But by adding elements to the soil that may increase the production of naturally-occurring, toxin-killing bacteria, you can speed up the soil-rejuvenation process.
Some of the tips are practical for the average person to do. For example, if you are tired of throwing away mounds of garbage, you can create a worm box. Worms are very industrious creatures, feeding off our waste and churning those products down into the soil. You can place your food waste (everything from coffee grounds and filters to apple cores and small paper products) into a worm box and these creatures will dispose of your waste naturally. Doing this will prevent the creation of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gasses, from being released due to modern waste disposal. Instead, you will be diverting this energy back into the soil and using it for growing new crops.
The survival skills Kellogg promotes can also go off the rails at times. He recommends saving human feces, covering them with sawdust and using them in composting. But in a moment of self-awareness, he pulls up the reins, warning the crowd "you may want to hold off on this one until you are sure you know what you are doing. There is really no better way to have the health department up in your business."
Obviously, these methods of living, from the mundane to the extreme, require quite the commitment. But the book also provides many useful tips for people who may want to grow their own herbs, plant fruit trees or even recycle rainwater. These tips, Kellogg says, are not about saving or making money, they are about making something out of nothing.
"This is about building community, about taking pride in the fact that you are contributing to your own survival," Kellogg says, "and knowing that you are contributing to the infrastructure that is going to sustain us into the future as we enter a post-petroleum era."
But these practices go beyond your own backyard. Kellogg may seem to have some pretty fringe ideas about the everyday life of a city resident. Who has time, for example, to raise their own chickens simply to save money on eggs? His work, though, is changing the way cities look at brown fields, toxic plots of land and polluted city dumping centers. Rhizome took a former landfill in Austin that was polluted with toxic chemicals and piles of illegally dumped trash and debris. (See the video.) Through bioremediation, they were able to replant the soil. The wood debris was ground into wood chips for on-site pathways and the metal was sold for scrap.
Cooperation with the community is imperative to the success of urban sustainability. The Grove Brownfield cleanup involved help from local government agencies and were instrumental in coordinating volunteer efforts. The local media also got involved in spreading the word. Because at its core, anarchy is not about hating government, its about trusting community more.
By localizing sustainability efforts and going further than you may think you can, Kellogg and the crew at Rhizome have brought a lot of new ideas to the environmental community here in Philadelphia. This city has brown field land in abundance and urban agriculture centers beginning to take shape. The attendees of Radical Sustainability left with some new ideas. They may not be composting their own feces just yet, but the ideas are planted. They just need some time to grow.
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