This month we review two books on the environment - one explaining why we create so much waste and the other on how to make good use of it plus an introduction to the violent and confusing political scene in the Philippines.
Editor: Anuradha Vittachi
Work from Waste: Recycling Wastes to Create Employment
by Jon Vogler
UK: Intermediate Technology Publications Ltd & Oxfam (pbk) £6.50
Ecology for Beginners
by Stephen Croall and William Rankin
UK: Writers & Readers Publishing Co-op (Pbk) £1.95 (hbk £4.95)
Industrialised countries not only consume vastly more than Third World countries, they also discard much more. In 1974, Oxfam decided to turn some of the rich world's waste into money to help the poor world, by setting up a city 'Waste-saver' project.
The project was initiated by Jon Vogler who subsequently spent eighteen months seeing what the Third World, often with great ingenuity, does with its waste. The result is Work from Waste, a manual specifically designed to create jobs by helping people in the Third World et up and run recycling businesses. Vogler recognizes that such people often cannot read and intends the book to be used first by people like extension workers or community leaders who could initiate recycling schemes which would then become self-supporting.
The first half of the book describes small-scale technologies for recycling paper, metals, plastics, glass, rubber, textiles, chemicals, oils, human and household waste. Suggestions range form the familiar (making a lamp from a tin can) to the exotic (tying tyres to rocks to form artificial 'coral reefs' to encourage fish).
The second half is an excellent description of how to run a waste business, illustrated by two convincing case studies. One involves the sale of household vegetable waste to pig farmers. The other is a more ambitious scheme for processing plastic waste. There is good advice about market research, safety, how to avoid cash flow difficulties or being taken for a thief - but there are some patronising lapses, as when advising people to wear Western-style suit and tie when bargaining with buyers (and what are the women whom we so often see in the illustrations supposed to wear'?).
What we need now is a companion volume for the industrialised world. Many projects are struggling into existence - turning civic amenity sites into supervised Recycling Centres, using newspapers as insulating material, bottle recovery schemes with the emphasis on refilling rather than smashing bottles in a bottle bank. These, and others like them, would benefit from the sort of direction and encouragement that Work from Waste gives the Third World.
Work from Waste is deliberately non-political, avoiding any discussion of the causes of increasing waste off the exploitative system behind the scavengers who eke out a marginal existence on an affluent minority's droppings.
Ecology for Beginners is exactly the opposite, an exuberant, all-embracing guide to the interdependence of the ecosystem 'Planet Earth', emphasising how, over the centuries, people's political decisions have shaped the environment in which we now live. There is a disturbing tale of a modern nuclear family in contemporary society somewhere in the West, whose alienated and over-consuming lifestyle is directly related to environmental destruction and the struggle for survival in the Third World. Anyone still infatuated with the 'green revolution' and the transfer of high technology' as the answer to Third World problems should begin their re-education by grasping the basic facts outlined in this book.
If the political mould is really going to be broken before we degrade the environment irretrievably and imperil our existence in the greedy pursuit of economic growth, then it will be done through an awareness of the message contained in this book, where 'capitalism is anti-ecology, but socialism is not necessarily pro-ecology'. The 'Radical Eco-Solutions' at the end, with examples of people from all parts of the world demanding control over their lives and trying to build a caring, sustainable society, is among the best sections of this entertaining and amply illustrated book. I assume it is printed on recycled paper.
(Roger Elliot is Resources Campaigner for Friends of the Earth.)
Filipinos flight back
Philippines: Repression & Resistance
by Permanent Peoples' Tribunal Session
KSP (pbk) £2.95. Available from Marram Books, 101 Kilburn Square, London NW6 6P5, UK.
For the past ten years, President Ferdinand Marcos has been challenged by not one but two major revolutionary movements. The New Peoples' Army, fighting wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is now active in more than half the country's provinces. The Bangsa Moro Army, military arm of the Muslim secessionist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), is confined to the south but has overwhelming support among the Muslim communities there.
Both the Communist Party and the Muslim MNLF were founded in the turbulent late I960s. Both erupted into open warfare against the Marcos government in the early 1970s. Both identify that government and its ally, the United States, as the common enemy.
But, at least until recently, the differences between the two revolutionary movements have been greater than their shared aims. The MNLF, drawing its inspiration from the Koran and from an acute sense of the separate culture and history of the Moro people of the south, has in the past emphatically denied that it shares the Maoist ideology of the CPP. Many have a traditional suspicion of atheistic communism. In 1981 I spoke to the provincial leaders of the MNLF in Lanao del Sur, one of its main bases of support, and they were careful to stress the irreducible contradictions between their movement and the CPP.
The differences can be exaggerated - Nur Misuari, chairman and leading intellectual of the MNLF, was strongly influenced by Marxist revolutionary thought in his student days - but the differences are real.
But now there are signs that this gulf is narrowing. Publication of both pro-Muslim and pro-communist submissions to the 'Permanent Peoples Tribunal Session on the Philippines' marks an important effort from both sides to find common ground.
The Tribunal was established in 1979, following the example of the earlier Bertrand Russell War Crimes hearings on Vietnam. Its sessions on the Philippines were held in Antwerp late in 1980. Significantly, the pro-communist submission recognises the right of the MNLF to speak for the 'Moro people', while making its claim to put the case for the 'Filipino people' of the central and northern Philippines.
The question remains whether the pro-communist groups are willing to accept the MNLF demand for a completely independent Islamic Republic in the south. MNLF leaders now concede that although they are too strong to be crushed, 'unless there is unity between the MNLF and other anti-Marcos forces there is actually no hope of winning'. Aijaz Ahmad, a well-known Muslim spokesman, said 'the MNLF realised that victory will come either in the whole of the Philippines or nowhere'.
Can the two movements work out an effective alliance? This book is an essential introduction to that question, both for its documentation of the shared aims of the two movements and the implicit differences which continue to divide them.