Monday, February 24, 2014

The Earth Charter's Worldchanger Scholarships

e-GLO is a 16-week interdisciplinary digital program, recognized by UNESCO for promoting cultural diversity in education for sustainable development.

Call For Action!

Make a difference. Make it possible for youth leaders to join an intercultural experiential learning program that equips them with leadership skills in sustainability, project and funding management, digital media and ethics.
“The purpose of the e-GLO (Earth Charter Global Learning Opportunity) course is to make a positive impact on society by familiarizing local level Earth Charter youth activists with sustainability leadership skills, shared ethics, and digital collaboration tools. The ultimate aim is to develop the capabilities necessary to create Earth Charter inspired creative products that advance local, national, regional, and global sustainability goals.”.
e-GLO has trained more than 100 young activists from around the world, more than 90% of them from developing countries. In a 2011 UNESCO study, e-GLO was named a Good Practice for promoting cultural diversity in education for sustainable development. This is because, through e-GLO, the participants will learn a multitude of cultural perspectives, how to respectfully engage in discussion about differences, and how to embrace differences in order to address universal ethical and sustainability challenge.
 (pictured above, e-GLO 3 participants)
The curricula of all three e-GLO courses have been a mix of Earth Charter sustainability ethics, project development units, social media training, social entrepreneurship units, proposal development, local action project assistance, fundraising skills, and digital storytelling.
The upcoming e-GLO 4 will be an exercise in applied creativity focusing on sustainability ethics, art, video, music and creative expression. The objective is to unite young people from different parts of the world who have a variety of specific skills and abilities such as videography, poetry, philosophy, music, social media, and other abilities and who are also leaders in using their creativity to foster sustainability towards a better, more sustainable world.
The philosophy behind this e-GLO session is that art and creative expression have the unique and timeless universal ability to create an emotional connection through which transformation happens.
What e-GLO alumni say about the program:
“..Looking back at my experience in e-GLO 3 and with the Earth Charter now after all that has happened in my country, I am proud. Proud that I applied for such a course and joined such a movement”! - Janna El Hadad, Egypt ( read more here: guest post from an egyptian youth and e-glo 3 participant )
"My experience with e-GLO is my first great connection experience to the world. Meeting and sharing with the people on one vision, getting inspired together by the Earth Charter, and having one goal for peace and a sustainable world are also an unforgettable experience. This final session is not the end, but this is the start of stepping together to make a better future for our world’" - Putri Ayusha, Indonesia
“There were real solutions that were being posed to our different obstacles and I felt a sense of community that I hadn`t felt in a while, especially when one has to bear the solitude of leadership on some decisions at least.” - Jessica, UK
“The sessions really opened up the box and allowed us to think on how to apply the Earth Charter to our local communities and create a better world.” - Wajahat Nassar, Pakistan
“The lessons were superb and the presentations were excellent. The intercultural exchange was very good and in a way we were able to share and learn from colleagues the world over.” - Ndenge Godden Zama, Cameroon
"e-GLO is a great connection experience. A place for everyone who is interested in a sustainable way of living. Saving our planet is far from easy. Through e-GLO 2, we reached many ideas, plans and attitudes that are already developing or starting in many parts of the world." - Vinícius Almeida, Brazil

The dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species. Communities are being undermined. The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict are widespread and the cause of great suffering. An unprecedented rise in human population has overburdened ecological and social systems. The foundations of global security are threatened. These trends are perilous - but not inevitable.
The choice is ours: We can form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life. Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living.
There is the need to train the next generation of sustainability leaders for dealing with the highly interconnected and interdependent problems in the world like climate change, social inequality, exploitation of natural resources etc. The sustainability approach to leadership requires special competencies to meet the ongoing challenges, compared to traditional leadership; Knowledge about the impact of globalization, capacity for innovation, dialogue and communication skills, systems thinking, global mindset, peer networking ability and strong capacities in Information and Communication technologies (ICTs), to mention a few.
With this aim, we want to equip young leaders through the Earth Charter Global Learning Opportunity 4 (e-GLO4). These champions will promote our cause for everyone to share responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world. The course aims to stimulate discussion on sustainable development challenges, unite more young creative activists across the world, rattle old paradigms, and create messages that speak to different generations and cultures.
A total of 16 students will be selected for this course, which is broken into eight 3 hour sessions using our interactive online learning platform. They need funding support so they can join the course. Help us train tomorrow's global leaders!
The e-GLO course costs $1000 per student. Our goal for this campaign is to raise the e-GLO course payment required to provide full scholarships for all the sixteen students from different regions of the world. ($16,000)
Each contribution from you counts in helping young leaders foster their knowledge and cultivating expertise in sustainable development.
Implementing organizations:
Earth Charter International
The Earth Charter Initiative is the global network that embraces, uses and integrates the Earth Charter principles. The mission of the Earth Charter Initiative is to promote the transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework that   includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace.
The ECI Secretariat, which is based at the United Nations-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica, endeavors to promote the mission, vision, strategies and policies adopted by the ECI Council. It supports the work of the Council, assists with strategic planning and coordinates many Earth Charter activities. The Secretariat guides and liaises with efforts to bring the Earth Charter to the fields of education, youth, business and religion, manages communications with the larger Earth Charter network, and promotes the use of the Earth Charter as an international soft law document.
Earth Charter International uses the Earth Charter document, which is a declaration of fundamental ethical principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It is a vision of hope and a call to action.
Principle 14 of the Earth Charter emphasizes the importance of “Integrating into…education and life-long learning the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life”. Education is fundamental to the mission of Earth Charter Initiative.
BeatBoard is a youth leadership, new media and contemporary arts education social enterprise based in Victoria, BC, Canada.For the past 18 years, BeatBoard’s Mike Sheehan has been designing and delivering a variety of educational programs for both youth and adults. His work is sought out by Indigenous communities, conferences, school districts, alternative education centres, youth detention centres, government and businesses. Mike is known for creating meaningful and inclusive learning environments with a surprising level of engagement and energy.
BeatBoard is committed to affecting positive change in communities through delivering experiential education programs that value diversity, inclusion and solutions for healthy living.  Mike has visited hundreds of thousands of youth in formal and non-formal educational settings.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nurturing Literacy: Tips and Resources For Developing Lifelong Readers


"Read along with me: the best is yet to be." - Lisa Dabbs (adapted from Robert Browning)

When I first became a teacher, I was excited to begin sharing the love of reading with my students. I grew up loving to read and couldn't wait to open up the children's literary book club pick that my Dad had on monthly order for me.

The time I spent with books transformed my life and sparked my imagination. I wanted to create a similar experience for my students, but I found that it was sometimes a challenge due to their home life circumstances. In the end, though, it was well worth the effort.

Fostering the love of reading in your class may take a little work, but there are plenty of resources available to support you in this effort. Here are five suggestions that can help you get started with leading the "love for reading" charge.

1. Read Aloud

Read-aloud time was one of the favorite things in my class. My students loved the chance to sit together on the carpet or at their desks and listen to their teacher read. It was one of the best times of the day for me. I loved to read in different voices and "ham it up," depending on the book we were reading. It gave my students a chance to see me in a different light and connect with me in a down-to-earth way. Don't neglect this opportunity to bring reading alive in the classroom. Remember that it's OK to read fave books many times during the year, and to include chapter books and poetry as well. If reading aloud is not your thing, seek out colleagues, administrators, parents and web friends who can support you. Skype an Author is also a great way to build excitement around the read-aloud time.


2. Visit the Library -- Weekly

When was the last time you stepped into your local library to check out the haps? When was the last time you did this with your class? It's true that many school libraries have been shut down, but why not consider planning a library field trip? It's an amazing opportunity to get books into the hands of your kids -- for free! Get colleagues, parents and school admin to support you. Your local librarian can be an excellent resource, so be sure to tap him or her for support. While you're there, don't forget to sign everyone up for a library card!


3. Develop a Classroom Library

Did you know that research says we should have at least 1,200 books in our classroom libraries to support our students' literacy? Do you have a classroom library? If not, I urge you to develop one. To share the love of reading with our students, we need to have a variety of books that are easily accessible for them to read. How do we accomplish this feat? By enlisting the support of parents, friends and family who will make a commitment to support your goal of developing and sustaining a classroom library. Ask them to donate books or sponsor your class with resources that can be used to purchase books. Also, be sure to collaborate with colleagues on creative ways to fund your libraries.


4. Start a Book Club

The idea of a book club can be so exciting for our kids. Many students will benefit from the fun interaction that a book club can provide. Book talks with friends makes the idea of reading that much more enjoyable. The whole social nature of book clubs can be a very positive activity for kids who may still feel that reading is boring. For a resource on how to get a book club rolling, check out Elizabeth's blog post about how she engages her students in reading.


5. Write Stories

Writing stories can be overwhelming for kids. At the beginning, let's make this easy and fun. Try the idea of adapting a current storyline of a favorite book (Brown Bear, Brown Bear comes to mind) and having students turn that into "their" story. Early grades especially can benefit from this strategy to support a student's writing until they are ready to write (with your guidance) on their own. Consider integrating apps, such as StoryBird and FlipSnack, that allow for a collaborative writing experience.


More Suggestions to Keep On Reading

Here are three more resources that you might want to check out:

  1. Read with Me: My Book List: Create a Pinterest board with your classroom.
  2. What Should I Read Next?: Type in your favorite book, and this website will list 20 others similar to it.
  3. Ten Ways to Cultivate a Love of Reading in Students: My fellow Edutopia blogger Elena Aguilar provides more great tips.

The five tips I've shared today are probably not new to you, but they are a way to help you stay on course with nurturing a love of reading in your classroom. Do you have suggestions of your own? I'd love to have you share them in the comments.

As a teacher, I was obsessed with cultivating a love of reading in my students. I love to read, loved it as a kid too. I'm equally compelled to ensure that my own child loves reading -- and he does. I well aware that I'm on a mission -- but I also know it's a worthy one!

Here are ten suggestions for how any teacher, teaching any subject can participate in this mission, and how parents and administrators can help.

  1. Read. Simple first step! If we're going to encourage kids to read we need to do it too. Read for pleasure, information, instructions, connecting with others, and so on. Read. Read a little more than you've been reading lately.
  2. Share your reading experiences. Share with colleagues, friends and students. Tell them what you've been reading, what you've gained or learned from these texts, what you recommend. As a teacher, I very intentionally and regularly told my students what I was reading, where I read, ("in the bath!"); I brought in the books I read, I read passages to them, I read during silent reading, I told them about how I couldn't wait for the weekend so that I could read, about my book club arguments, the stories my husband I read aloud to each other...and so on. Help them see what a reader does. Also -- I recently discovered Goodreads where you can share, get recommendations, and read reviews that friend have written -- I had so much fun on this site and was reminded of how socializing and reading are a perfect match. If you are on Goodreads, or join, find me there! I'd love to hear about what you're reading. I also wonder if there's an equivalent for kids to use -- anyone know?
  3. Invite students to socialize around reading. Set up book clubs, reading groups, literature circles. Many students (especially boys) need to interact with each other around texts. It greatly enhances their comprehension and makes it so much more enjoyable. Adults know that (we join book clubs and spend hours on Goodreads) so let's help kids have this experience too.
  4. Organize a Read-a-Thon. A beautiful event that parents and administrators can take a lead on setting up. My son's school recently did a Read-a-Thon and it was the highlight of the year for my boy. Kids wore PJs, took their pillows and stuffed animals to school, were invited to re-read their favorite books or select a "challenge book." Parents supplied snacks, teachers and administrators read. It was fun and community building and they raised a lot of money.
  5. Take a field trip. This is another way to make reading social and exciting. Visit your local library, a university library or a bookstore. It's not about checking out or buying books -- it's about being surrounded by thousands of books, touching their gorgeous pages, seeing the world of possibility in print, salivating over what there is to know and explore. In my family, we often take weekend trips to explore different bookstores in the area. We make it an adventure and talk about what constitutes a "good bookstore;" it's just fun. This is another event that parents can organize and administrators can support or encourage.
  6. Listen to audio books. Invite students to listen to them; play short passages. To me, audio books "count" as reading. While you're not developing decoding or fluency skills, you are acquiring vocabulary, applying comprehension strategies, and enjoying stories or accruing information. Some of the audio books I've listened to have stuck with me in ways that reading text hasn't. My mind was free to visualize the scenes in a way that creating lasting images. (One such book like this was Native Son by Richard Wright. A phenomenal listen).
  7. Invite authors to speak. Another activity that can be supported by admin and parents. Kids can be greatly impacted from hearing an author (if possible, especially one from a similar background to theirs) speak about reading and writing.
  8. Make connections between reading and other issues. I just read this this fascinating article in Harper's about how people in Mali hid their ancient sacred texts as Islamic militants took over Timbuktu. Books and reading have always been political (think banned books, prohibitions on slaves becoming literate, etc.). Help students see the wider, historical and political context of the importance of reading to enhance their appreciation.
  9. Learn about specific needs for specific populations. Those responsible for teaching literacy also need professional development in how to serve specific vulnerable populations. One book that dramatically changed how I taught reading in middle school is Reading Don't Fix No Chevys, by Wilhelm and Smith. If you teach boys, you must read this book! Another equally impactful book for me was Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males, by A. Tatum. We need to meet the needs of all learners.
  10. Teach reading strategies. Finally, I believe that all teachers, in every content area, should be responsible for teaching reading. Text genres are different in every content area -- teachers should receive PD in how to teach reading strategies so that they can do so with students. Kids won't enjoy reading if they can't do it -- no one loves doing something that's really hard. We must give them the skills to read at the same time that we cultivate an attitude.

There's so much more we can all do -- from the superintendent to the classroom teacher, the custodian to the parent's association. I'm tempted to turn this list into "20 things..." but I'll stop here and invite your participation!

Teaches, how do you cultivate a love of reading? Administrators, what do you do towards this end? Parents, how do you do this with your own children? Please comment in the section below.


The importance of early literacy cannot be understated. Countless studies have shown that students who start reading earlier are better prepared for the academic road ahead. Not to mention, early readers are much more likely to become lifelong readers.

Parents and teachers play an important role in lifelong literacy, but how exactly can they best help their kids cultivate a love for reading? Well, there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, and I'm sure you all have strategies of your own. But we wanted to highlight a few resources from around the web that can offer support in this challenging task.

  • Early Literacy Teaching Guides: MAKE WAY FOR BOOKS, an early literacy advocacy nonprofit, offers a wealth of resources for educators. And MWFB’s early literacy teaching guides are just one example. Each guide offers tips, strategies and activities for helping young learners develop a love for reading. The MWFB website also features a section for families that offers information about early literacy and strategies for enjoying books with your kids.
  • Excerpts from Building Student Literacy Through Sustained Silent Reading: ASCD published the first chapter of Steve Gardiner’s book for free, with other chapters available if you purchase the e-book. The first chapter is a wonderful resource, and it provides a solid overview of SSR, some research behind it, and ideas for incorporating a silent reading program in your classroom. Also check out sixth-grade teacher Donalyn Miller’s article “Becoming a Classroom of Readers,” originally printed in Educational Leadership, which offers strategies for encouraging reading in your classroom.
  • Early Literacy Resources from Reading Is Fundamental: Early literacy nonprofit Reading Is Fundamental produced this collection of activities, book lists, articles and multicultural reading resources, and it's full of helpful information. For middle school students, there’s the interactive reading resource “Reading Planet” that would certainly be useful in class. You might start with the article "Getting Your Child to Love Reading,” by Kathryn Perkins.
  • Tips for Creating a Home Library from Reading Rockets: Reading Rockets is a fabulous source for reading resources for parents and teachers. It’s hard to pick just one piece -- but I felt that this article really fit with the theme of cultivating a love of reading. A home library is a powerful motivator for kids, and here you’ll find fun tips for putting one together on any budget. For students who use tablets for reading, “Top 12 Comprehension Apps,” is a great source for reading tech inspiration.
  • Interactive Reading Resources from ReadWriteThink: These interactive resources from ReadWriteThink cover a variety of topics. But for reading specific modules, check out the Learning About Language and Organizing and Summarizing collections. Both offer some extremely useful tools to encourage deeper reading, comprehension and organizing notes and research.

    Really, there are many different useful tech resources. Which ones do you use in your classroom? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check out these other useful tech resources for reading comprehension:

    Some Recent Edutopia Reading Blogs:

    Edutopia's bloggers wrote some pretty inspiring posts about literacy and lifelong reading last year. These are just a few from 2013 that were hits with our readers, and each one offers practical tips, tools and strategies for encouraging students to read.

  • Tuesday, February 18, 2014

    The Best Complete Streets Policies of 2013


    Communities across the country are making roads safer and more accessible for everyone who uses them—and these changes are happening on a larger scale than ever before.

    In 2013, more than 80 communities adopted Complete Streets policies. These laws, resolutions and planning and design documents encourage and provide for the safe access to destinations for everyone, regardless of age, ability, income or ethnicity, and no matter how they travel.

    Nationwide, a total of 610 jurisdictions now have Complete Streets policies in place. Today, 27 states as well as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have Complete Streets policies. Fifty-one regional planning organizations, 48 counties and 482 municipalities in 48 states also have adopted such policies.

    The National Complete Streets Coalition examines and scores Complete Streets policies each year, comparing adopted policy language to ten ideal policy elements. Ideal policy elements refine a community’s vision for transportation, provide for many types of users, complement community needs and establish a flexible approach necessary for an effective Complete Streets process and outcome. Different types of policy statements are included in this examination, including legislation, resolutions, executive orders, departmental policies and policies adopted by an elected board.

    Fifteen agencies led the nation in creating comprehensive Complete Streets policies in 2013. These policies are a model for communities across the country. They are:

    1. Littleton, MA
    2. Peru, IN
    3. Fort Lauderdale, FL
    4. Auburn, ME (tie)
    4. Lewiston, ME (tie)
    6. Baltimore County, MD
    7. Portsmouth, NH
    8. Muscatine, IA
    9. Piqua, OH
    10. Oakland, CA
    11. Hayward, CA (tie)
    11. Livermore, CA (tie)
    11. Massachusetts Department of Transportation (tie)
    14. Cedar Falls, IA (tie)
    14. Waterloo, IA (tie)

    The National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, supports communities as they develop, adopt and implement Complete Streets policies. Its staff and members are proud to have worked with and supported many of the communities discussed here.

    A ranking of top Complete Streets policies is intended to celebrate the communities that have done exceptional work in the past year and to provide leaders at all levels of government with ideas for how to create strong Complete Streets policies.

    Download the report

    The Best Complete Streets Policies of 2013
    Download the full report, including the list of top 15 Complete Streets policies from 2013 as well as a full explanation of our policy evaluation.

    Click here to download the full report (PDF)


    The Best Complete Streets Policies of 2013: Executive Summary
    Download the list of top 15 Complete Streets policies from 2013 as well as an an overview of our policy evaluation.

    Click here to download the Executive Summary (PDF)


      Download the report

      The Best Complete Streets Policies of 2012

      In 2012 nearly 130 communities adopted Complete Streets policies, with Indianapolis, IN coming away with the top policy of the year.
      Read 2012's full report >>

      Learn how to create a Complete Streets policy

      The Complete Streets Local Policy Workbook is a starting point for transportation experts and interested local leaders to begin mapping out their own Complete Streets policies.
      Get the guidebook >>

    Special Issue: Resilience in the built environment

    Resilience in the built environment

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014

    The sharing economy: a short introduction to its political evolution

    By Adam Parsons

    Share and care.jpg

    Can the sharing economy movement address the root causes of the world’s converging crises? Unless the sharing of resources is promoted in relation to human rights and concerns for equity, democracy, social justice and sustainability, then such claims are without substantiation – although there are many hopeful signs that the conversation is slowly moving in the right direction. 

    In recent years, the concept and practice of sharing resources is fast becoming a mainstream phenomenon across North America, Western Europe and other world regions. The internet is awash with articles and websites that celebrate the vast potential of sharing human and physical assets, in everything from cars and bicycles to housing, workplaces, food, household items, and even time or expertise. According to most general definitions that are widely available online, the sharing economy leverages information technology to empower individuals or organisations to distribute, share and re-use excess capacity in goods and services. The business icons of the new sharing economy include the likes of Airbnb, Zipcar, Lyft, Taskrabbit and Poshmark, although hundreds of other for-profit as well as non-profit organisations are associated with this burgeoning movement that is predicated, in one way or another, on the age-old principle of sharing.

    As the sharing economy receives increasing attention from the media, a debate is beginning to emerge around its overall importance and future direction. There is no doubt that the emergent paradigm of sharing resources is set to expand and further flourish in coming years, especially in the face of continuing economic recession, government austerity and environmental concerns. As a result of the concerted advocacy work and mobilisation of sharing groups in the US, fifteen city mayors have now signed the Shareable Cities Resolution in which they officially recognise the importance of economic sharing for both the public and private sectors. Seoul in South Korea has also adopted a city-funded project called Sharing City in which it plans to expand its ‘sharing infrastructure’, promote existing sharing enterprises and incubate sharing economy start-ups as a partial solution to problems in housing, transportation, job creation and community cohesion. Furthermore, Medellin in Colombia is embracing transport-sharing schemes and reimagining the use of its shared public spaces, while Ecuador is the first country in the world to commit itself to becoming a ‘shared knowledge’-based society, under an official strategy named ‘buen saber’.

    Many proponents of the sharing economy therefore have great hopes for a future based on sharing as the new modus operandi. Almost everyone recognises that drastic change is needed in the wake of a collapsed economy and an overstretched planet, and the old idea of the American dream – in which a culture that promotes excessive consumerism and commercialisation leads us to see the 'good life' as the 'goods life', as described by the psychologist Tim Kasser - is no longer tenable in a world of rising affluence among possibly 9.6 billion people by 2050. Hence more and more people are rejecting the materialistic attitudes that defined recent decades, and are gradually shifting towards a different way of living that is based on connectedness and sharing rather than ownership and conspicuous consumption. ‘Sharing more and owning less’ is the ethic that underlies a discernible change in attitudes among affluent society that is being led by today’s young, tech-savvy generation known as Generation Y or the Millennials.

    However, many entrepreneurial sharing pioneers also profess a big picture vision of what sharing can achieve in relation to the world’s most pressing issues, such as population growth, environmental degradation and food security. As Ryan Gourley of A2Share posits, for example, a network of cities that embrace the sharing economy could mount up into a Sharing Regions Network, then Sharing Nations, and finally a Sharing World: “A globally networked sharing economy would be a whole new paradigm, a game-changer for humanity and the planet”. Neal Gorenflo, the co-founder and publisher of Shareable, also argues that peer-to-peer collaboration can form the basis of a new social contract, with an extensive sharing movement acting as the catalyst for systemic changes that can address the root causes of both poverty and climate change. Or to quote the words of Benita Matofska, founder of The People Who Share, we are going to have to "share to survive" if we want to face up to a sustainable future. In such a light, it behoves us all to investigate the potential of sharing to effect a social and economic transformation that is sufficient to meet the grave challenges of the 21st century.

    Two sides of a debate on sharing

    There is no doubt that sharing resources can contribute to the greater good in a number of ways, from economic as well as environmental and social perspectives. A number of studies show the environmental benefits that are common to many sharing schemes, such as the resource efficiency and potential energy savings that could result from car sharing and bike sharing in cities. Almost all forms of localised sharing are economical, and can lead to significant cost savings or earnings for individuals and enterprises. In terms of subjective well-being and social impacts, common experience demonstrates how sharing can also help us to feel connected to neighbours or co-workers, and even build community and make us feel happier.

    Few could disagree on these beneficial aspects of sharing resources within communities or across municipalities, but some controversy surrounds the broader vision of how the sharing economy movement can contribute to a fair and sustainable world. For many advocates of the burgeoning trend towards economic sharing in modern cities, it is about much more than couch-surfing, car sharing or tool libraries, and holds the potential to disrupt the individualist and materialistic assumptions of neoliberal capitalism. For example, Juliet Schor in her book Plenitude perceives that a new economics based on sharing could be an antidote to the hyper-individualised, hyper-consumer culture of today, and could help rebuild the social ties that have been lost through market culture. Annie Leonard of the Story of Stuff project, in her latest short video on how to move society in an environmentally sustainable and just direction, also considers sharing as a key ‘game changing’ solution that could help to transform the basic goals of the economy.

    Many other proponents see the sharing economy as a path towards achieving widespread prosperity within the earth’s natural limits, and an essential first step on the road to more localised economies and egalitarian societies. But far from everyone perceives that participating in the sharing economy, at least in its existing form and praxis, is a ‘political act’ that can realistically challenge consumption-driven economics and the culture of individualism – a question that is raised (although not yet comprehensively answered) in a valuable think piece from Friends of the Earth, as discussed further below. Various commentators argue that the proliferation of new business ventures under the umbrella of sharing are nothing more than “supply and demand continuing its perpetual adjustment to new technologies and fresh opportunities”, and that the concept of the sharing economy is being co-opted by purely commercial interests – a debate that was given impetus when the car sharing pioneers, Zipcar, were bought up by the established rental firm Avis.

    Recently, Slate magazine’s business and economics correspondent controversially reiterated the observation that making money from new modes of consumption is not really ‘sharing’ per se, asserting that the sharing economy is therefore a “dumb term” that “deserves to die”. Other journalists have criticised the superficial treatment that the sharing economy typically receives from financial pundits and tech reporters, especially the claims that small business start-ups based on monetised forms of sharing are a solution to the jobs crisis – regardless of drastic cutbacks in welfare and public services, unprecedented rates of income inequality, and the dangerous rise of the precariat. The author Evgeny Morozov, writing an op-ed in the Financial Times, has gone as far as saying that the sharing economy is having a pernicious effect on equality and basic working conditions, in that it is fully compliant with market logic, is far from valuing human relationships over profit, and is even amplifying the worst excesses of the dominant economic model. In the context of the erosion of full-time employment, the assault on trade unions and the disappearance of healthcare and insurance benefits, he argues that the sharing economy is accelerating the transformation of workers into “always-on self-employed entrepreneurs who must think like brands”, leading him to dub it “neoliberalism on steroids”.

    Problems of definition

    Although it is impossible to reconcile these polarised views, part of the problem in assessing the true potential of economic sharing is one of vagueness in definition and wide differences in understanding. The conventional interpretation of the sharing economy is at present focused on its financial and commercial aspects, with continuous news reports proclaiming its rapidly growing market size and potential as a “co-commerce revolution”. Rachel Botsman, a leading entrepreneurial thinker on the potential of collaboration and sharing through digital technologies to change our lives, has attempted to clarify what the sharing economy actually is in order to prevent further confusion over the different terms in general use. In her latest typology, she notes how the term ‘sharing economy’ is often muddled with other new ideas and is in fact a subset of 'collaborative consumption' within the entire 'collaborative economy' movement, and has a rather restricted meaning in terms of "sharing underutilized assets from spaces to skills to stuff for monetary or non-monetary benefits" [see slide 9 of the presentation]. This interpretation of changing consumer behaviours and lifestyles revolves around the “maximum utilization of assets through efficient models of redistribution and shared access”, which isn’t necessarily predicated on an ethic of ‘sharing’ by any strict definition.

    Other interpretations of the sharing economy are far broader and less constrained by capitalistic assumptions, as demonstrated in the Friends of the Earth briefing paper on Sharing Cities written by Professor Julian Agyeman et al. In their estimation, what’s missing from most of these current definitions and categorisations of economic sharing is a consideration of “the communal, collective production that characterises the collective commons”. A broadened ‘sharing spectrum’ that they propose therefore not only focuses on goods and services within the mainstream economy (which is almost always considered in relation to affluent, middle-class lifestyles), but also includes the non-material or intangible aspects of sharing such as well-being and capability [see page 6 of the brief]. From this wider perspective, they assert that the cutting edge of the sharing economy is often not commercial and includes informal behaviours like the unpaid care, support and nurturing that we provide for one another, as well as the shared use of infrastructure and shared public services.

    This sheds a new light on governments as the “ultimate level of sharing”, and suggests that the history of the welfare state in Europe and other forms of social protection is, in fact, also integral to the evolution of shared resources in cities and within different countries. Yet an understanding of sharing from this more holistic viewpoint doesn’t have to be limited to the state provision of healthcare, education, and other public services. As Agyeman et al elucidate, cooperatives of all kinds (from worker to housing to retailer and consumer co-ops) also offer alternative models for shared service provision and a different perspective on economic sharing, one in which equity and collective ownership is prioritised. Access to natural common resources such as air and water can also be understood in terms of sharing, which may then prioritise the common good of all people over commercial or private interests and market mechanisms. This would include controversial issues of land ownership and land use, raising questions over how best to share land and urban space more equitably – such as through community land trusts, or through new policies and incentives such as land value taxation.

    The politics of sharing

    Furthermore, Agyeman et al argue that an understanding of sharing in relation to the collective commons gives rise to explicitly political questions concerning the shared public realm and participatory democracy. This is central to the many countercultural movements of recent years (such as the Occupy movement and Middle East protests since 2011, and the Taksim Gezi Park protests in 2013) that have reclaimed public space to symbolically challenge unjust power dynamics and the increasing trend toward privatisation that is central to neoliberal hegemony. Sharing is also directly related to the functioning of a healthy democracy, the authors reason, in that a vibrant sharing economy (when interpreted in this light) can counter the political apathy that characterises modern consumer society. By reinforcing values of community and collaboration over the individualism and consumerism that defines our present-day cultures and identities, they argue that participation in sharing could ultimately be reflected in the political domain. They also argue that a shared public realm is essential for the expression of participatory democracy and the development of a good society, not least as this provides a necessary venue for popular debate and public reasoning that can influence political decisions. Indeed the “emerging shareability paradigm”, as they describe it, is said to reflect the basic tenets of the Right to the City (RTTC) - an international urban movement that fights for democracy, justice and sustainability in cities and mobilises against the privatisation of common goods and public spaces.

    The intention in briefly outlining some of these differing interpretations of sharing is to demonstrate how considerations of politics, justice, ethics and sustainability are slowly being allied with the sharing economy concept. A paramount example is the Friends of the Earth briefing paper outlined above, which was written as part of FOEI’s Big Ideas to Change the World series on cities that promoted sharing as “a political force to be reckoned with” and a “call to action for environmentalists”. Yet many further examples could also be mentioned, such as the New Economics Foundation’s ‘Manifesto for the New Materialism’ which promotes the old-fashioned ethic of sharing as part of a new way of living to replace the collapsed model of debt-fuelled overconsumption. There are also signs that many influential proponents of the sharing economy - as generally understood today in terms of new economic models driven by peer-to-peer technology that enable access to rather than ownership of resources - are beginning to query the commercial direction that the movement is taking, and are instead promoting more politicised forms of social change that are not merely based on micro-enterprise or the monetisation/branding of high-tech innovations.

    Janelle Orsi, a California-based ‘sharing lawyer’ and author of The Sharing Solution, is particularly inspirational in this regard; for her, the sharing economy encompasses such a broad range of activities that it is hard to define, although she suggests that all its activities are tied together in how they harness the existing resources of a community and grow its wealth. This is in contradistinction to the mainstream economy that mostly generates wealth for people outside of people’s communities, and inherently generates extreme inequalities and ecological destruction – which Orsi contends that the sharing economy can help reverse. The problem she recognises is that the so-called sharing economy we usually hear about in the media is built upon a business-as-usual foundation, which is privately owned and often funded by venture capital (as is the case with Airbnb, Lyft, Zipcar, Taskrabbit, etc.) As a result, the same business structures that created the economic problems of today are buying up new sharing economy companies and turning them into ever larger, more centralised enterprises that are not concerned about people’s well-being, community cohesion, local economic diversity, sustainable job creation and so on (not to mention the risk of re-creating stock valuation bubbles that overshadowed the earlier generation of enterprises). The only way to ensure that new sharing economy companies fulfil their potential to create economic empowerment for users and their communities, Orsi argues, is through cooperative conversion – and she makes a compelling case for the democratic, non-exploitative, redistributive and truly ‘sharing’ potential of worker and consumer cooperatives in all their guises.

    Sharing as a path to systemic change

    There are important reasons to query which direction this emerging movement for sharing will take in the years ahead. As prominent supporters of the sharing economy recognise, like Janelle Orsi and Juliet Schor, it offers both opportunities and reasons for optimism as well as pitfalls and some serious concerns. On the one hand, it reflects a growing shift in our values and social identities as ‘citizens vs consumers’, and is helping us to rethink notions of ownership and prosperity in a world of finite resources, scandalous waste and massive wealth disparities. Perhaps its many proponents are right, and the sharing economy represents the first step towards transitioning away from the over-consumptive, materially-intense and hoarding lifestyles of North American, Western European and other rich societies. Perhaps sharing really is fast becoming a counter-cultural movement that can help us to value relationships more than things, and offer us the possibility of re-imagining politics and constructing a more participative democracy, which could ultimately pose a challenge to the global capitalist/consumerist model of development that is built on private interests and debt at the cost of shared interests and true wealth.

    On the other hand, critics are right to point out that the sharing economy in its present form is hardly a threat to existing power structures or a movement that represents the kind of radical changes we need to make the world a better place. Far from reorienting the economy towards greater equity and a better quality of life, as proposed by writers such as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Tim Jackson, Herman Daly and John Cobb, it is arguable that most forms of sharing via peer-to-peer networks are at risk of being subverted by conventional business practices. There is a perverse irony in trying to imagine the logical conclusion of these trends: new models of collaborative consumption and co-production that are co-opted by private interests and venture capitalists, and increasingly geared towards affluent middle-class types or so-called bourgeois bohemians (the ‘bobos’), to the exclusion of those on low incomes and therefore to the detriment of a more equal society. Or new sharing technology platforms that enable governments and corporations to collaborate in pursuing more intrusive controls over and greater surveillance of citizens. Or new social relationships based on sharing in the context of increasingly privatised and enclosed public spaces, such as gated communities within which private facilities and resources are shared.

    This is by no means an inevitable outcome, but what is clear from this brief analysis is that the commercialisation and depoliticisation of economic sharing poses risks and contradictions that call into question its potential to transform society for the benefit of everyone. Unless the sharing of resources is promoted in relation to human rights and concerns for equity, democracy, social justice and sound environmental stewardship, then the various claims that sharing is a new paradigm that can address the world’s interrelated crises is indeed empty rhetoric or utopian thinking without any substantiation. Sharing our skills through Hackerspaces, our unused stuff through GoodShuffle or a community potluck through mealshare is, in and of itself, a generally positive phenomenon that deserves to be enjoyed and fully participated in, but let’s not pretend that car shares, clothes swaps, co-housing, shared vacation homes and so on are going to seriously address economic and climate chaos, unjust power dynamics or inequitable wealth distribution.

    Sharing from the local to the global

    If we look at sharing through the lens of just sustainability, however, as civil society organisations and others are now beginning to do, then the true possibilities of sharing resources within and among the world’s nations are vast and all-encompassing: to enhance equity, rebuild community, improve well-being, democratise national and global governance, defend and promote the global commons, even to point the way towards a more cooperative international framework to replace the present stage of competitive neoliberal globalisation. We are not there yet, of course, and the popular understanding of economic sharing today is clearly focused on the more personal forms of giving and exchange among individuals or through online business ventures, which is mainly for the benefit of high-income groups in the world’s most economically advanced nations. But the fact that this conversation is now being broadened to include the role of governments in sharing public infrastructure, political power and economic resources within countries is a hopeful indication that the emerging sharing movement is slowly moving in the right direction.

    Already, questions are being raised as to what sharing resources means for the poorest people in the developing world, and how a revival of economic sharing in the richest countries can be spread globally as a solution to converging crises. It may not be long until the idea of economic sharing on a planetary scale - driven by an awareness of impending ecological catastrophe, life-threatening extremes of inequality, and escalating conflict over natural resources - is the subject of every dinner party and kitchen table conversation.


    Agyeman, Julian, Duncan McLaren and Adrianne Schaefer-Borrego, Sharing Cities, Friends of the Earth briefing paper, September 2013.

    Agyeman, Julian, Just sustainabilities,, 21st September 2012. 

    Bollier, David, Bauwens Joins Ecuador in Planning a Commons-based, Peer Production Economy, 20th September 2013,

    Botsman, Rachel, The Sharing Economy Lacks A Shared Definition,, 21st November 2013.

    Botsman, Rachel, The Sharing Economy Lacks a Shared Definition: Giving Meaning to the Terms, Collaborative Lab on, 19th November 2013.

    Childs, Mike, The Power of Sharing: A Call to Action for Environmentalists,, 5th November 2013., Shareable Cities Resolution: Passed, 26th June 2013.

    Daly, Herman and John Cobb, For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future, Beacon Press, 1991.

    Eberlein, Sven, Sharing for Profit - I'm Not Buying it Anymore,, 20th February 2013.

    Enright, Michael in interview with Benita Matofska and Aidan Enns, Sharing, Not Buying at Christmas (Hr. 1), CBC Radio, 16th December 2012.

    Friends of the Earth, Big Idea 2: Sharing - a political force to be reckoned with?, 26th September 2013.

    Gaskins, Kim, The New Sharing Economy, Latitude, 1st June 2010.

    Gorenflo, Neal, What's Next for the Sharing Movement?,, 31st July 2013.

    Grahl, Jodi (trans.), World Charter for the Right to the City, International Alliance of Inhabitants et al, May 2005. 

    Griffiths, Rachel, The Great Sharing Economy, Co-operatives UK, London UK, 2011.

    Grigg, Kat, Sharing As Part of the New Economy: An Interview with Lauren Anderson, The Solutions Journal, 20th September 2013.

    Heinberg, Richard, Who knew that Seoul was a leader in the sharing economy?, Post Carbon Institute, 12th November 2013.

    Herbst, Moira, Let's get real: the 'sharing economy' won't solve our jobs crisis, The Guardian, 7th January 2014.

    Jackson, Tim, Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, Routeledge, 2011.

    Johnson, Cat, From Consumers to Citizens: Welcome to the Sharing Cities Network,, 9th January 2014.

    Kasser, Tim, The High Price of Materialism, MIT Press, 2003.

    Kisner, Corinne, Integrating Bike Share Programs into a Sustainable Transportation System, National League of Cities, City Practice Brief, Washington D.C., 2011.

    Leonard, Annie, The Story of Solutions, The Story of Stuff Project, October 2013,

    Martin, Elliot and Susan Shaheen, The Impact of Carsharing on Household Vehicle Ownership, Access (UCTC magazine), No. 38 Spring 2011.

    Matofska, Benita, Facing the future: share to survive, Friends of the Earth blog, 4th January 2013.

    Morozov, Evgeny, The ‘sharing economy’ undermines workers’ rights, Financial Times, 14th October 2013.

    Olson. Michael J. and Andrew D. Connor, The Disruption of Sharing: An Overview of the New Peer-to-Peer ‘Sharing Economy’ and The Impact on Established Internet Companies, Piper Jaffray, November 2013.

    Opinium Research and Marke2ing, The Sharing Economy An overview with special focus on Peer-to-Peer Lending, 14th November 2012.

    Orsi, Janelle and Doskow, Emily, The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life and Build Community, Nolo, May 2009.

    Orsi, Janelle et al, Policies for Shareable Cities: A Sharing Economy Policy Primer for Urban Leaders, Shareable / The sustainable Economics Law Centre, September 2013.

    Orsi, Janelle, The Sharing Economy Just Got Real,, 16th September 2013.

    Quilligan, James B., People Sharing Resources: Toward a New Multilateralism of the Global Commons, Kosmos Journal, Fall/Winter 2009.

    Schifferes, Jonathan, Sharing our way to prosperity (Part 1),, 6th August 2013. 

    Schifferes, Jonathan, Profiting from sharing (Part 2),, 6th August 2013. 

    Schor, Juliet, Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth, Tantor Media, 2010.

    Juliet Schor, After the Jobs Disappear, New York Times, 14th October 2013. 

    Simms, Andrew and Ruth Potts, The New Materialism: How our relationship with the material world can change for the better, New Economics Foundation, November 2012.

    Standing, Guy, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

    Tennant, Ian, What’s in it for me? Do you dare to share?, Friends of the Earth blog, 8th January 2014.

    Wiesmann, Thorsten, Living by the Principle of Sharing – an interview with Raphael Fellmer,, February 2013.

    Wilkinson, Richard and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, Penguin, 2010.

    Yglesias, Matthew, There Is No "Sharing Economy",, 26th December 2013.

    Photo credit: Friends of the Earth International, flickr creative commons

    - See more at:


    A Whole World of Knowledge at Your Fingertips

    by Jay Walljasper

    The School of Open helps us navigate the immense resources of on-line learning -

    The origins of the Western higher education system go back to ancient Greece when religious institutions, hospitals, museums and individual scholars such as Plato and Aristotle founded schools where knowledge in many arenas was shared, sometimes with students simply gathering under a certain tree at a certain time.

    Even with the rise of universities in the middle ages, this informal means of education continued in many forms including apprentice programs. As schooling became more structured as a profession in the 20th Century, this spirit of of one-and-one learning flourished at open universities that emerged in the 1960s and ’70s and the whole constellation of workshops held in community centers or the backrooms of bookstores today.

    The Internet brings a whole new universe of possibilities in connecting with people who can teach what you want to know. One of many examples is P2PU (Peer to Peer University) which last year launched the School of the Open in partnership with Creative Commons

    The aim of the School of the Open is to guide people to the information and wisdom they seek by making it easier to navigate the immense world of on-line learning through “online courses, face-to-face workshops, and innovative training programs on the meaning, application, and impact of “openness” in the digital age and its benefit to creative endeavors, education, and research.”

    Enjoy what you’re reading? We have so much more in store for 2014—but we need your help to create a strong financial future for our organization. Please watch the video below and consider making a tax-deductible donation today to advance the commons movement. Let’s own this work together.

    - See more at:


    Tuesday, February 4, 2014

    Enough is Enough: Full movie

    "Based on the best-selling book by Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill, this new film lays out an alternative to the perpetual pursuit of economic growth- an economy where the goal is enough, not more. The film explores specific strategies to fix the financial system, reduce inequality, and create jobs, featuring interviews with leading economists, politicians, and sustainability thinkers such as Tim Jackson, Kate Pickett, Andrew Simms, Natalie Bennett, and Ben Dyson. Described as being ‘full of fresh ideas and surprising optimism’, Enough Is Enough hopes to be the primer for achieving genuine prosperity and a hopeful future for all".

    Sustainable Living - Online video course by UCLA


    Monday, February 3, 2014

    What's the Economy for, Anyway? (film chapters)

    Watch online at:
    Film Chapters Additional Resources by Chapter
       Act One - Introduction
       Act Two - The GDP
       Act Three - Quality of Life
       Act Four - Health                               
       Act Five - Happiness
       Act Six - Security
       Act Seven - Time
       Act Eight - The Greatest Number
       Act Nine - Sustainability
       Act Ten - Ancient History
       Act Eleven - Modern History
       Act Twelve - Financial Crisis
       Act Thirteen - What's Next?

    Freegan: strategies for sustainable living beyond capitalism

    Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed.

    After years of trying to boycott products from unethical corporations responsible for human rights violations, environmental destruction, and animal abuse, many of us found that no matter what we bought we ended up supporting something deplorable. We came to realize that the problem isn’t just a few bad corporations but the entire system itself.

    Freeganism is a total boycott of an economic system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations and where massively complex systems of productions ensure that all the products we buy will have detrimental impacts most of which we may never even consider. Thus, instead of avoiding the purchase of products from one bad company only to support another, we avoid buying anything to the greatest degree we are able.

    The word freegan is compounded from “free” and “vegan”. Vegans are people who avoid products from animal sources or products tested on animals in an effort to avoid harming animals. Freegans take this a step further by recognizing that in a complex, industrial, mass-production economy driven by profit, abuses of humans, animals, and the earth abound at all levels of production (from acquisition to raw materials to production to transportation) and in just about every product we buy. Sweatshop labor, rainforest destruction, global warming, displacement of indigenous communities, air and water pollution, eradication of wildlife on farmland as “pests”, the violent overthrow of popularly elected governments to maintain puppet dictators compliant to big business interests, open-pit strip mining, oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, union busting, child slavery, and payoffs to repressive regimes are just some of the many impacts of the seemingly innocuous consumer products we consume every day.

    Freegans employ a range of strategies for practical living based on our principles:

    Huge quantities of fresh bread are thrown out every day.
    We live in an economic system where sellers only value land and commodities relative to their capacity to generate profit. Consumers are constantly being bombarded with advertising telling them to discard and replace the goods they already have because this increases sales. This practice of affluent societies produces an amount of waste so enormous that many people can be fed and supported simply on its trash. As freegans we forage instead of buying to avoid being wasteful consumers ourselves, to politically challenge the injustice of allowing vital resources to be wasted while multitudes lack basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter, and to reduce the waste going to landfills and incinerators which are disproportionately situated within poor, non-white neighborhoods, where they cause elevated levels of cancer and asthma.

    Perhaps the most notorious freegan strategy is what is commonly called “urban foraging” or “dumpster diving”. This technique involves rummaging through the garbage of retailers, residences, offices, and other facilities for useful goods. Despite our society’s sterotypes about garbage, the goods recovered by freegans are safe, useable, clean, and in perfect or near-perfect condition, a symptom of a throwaway culture that encourages us to constantly replace our older goods with newer ones, and where retailers plan high-volume product disposal as part of their economic model. Some urban foragers go at it alone, others dive in groups, but we always share the discoveries openly with one another and with anyone along the way who wants them. Groups like Food Not Bombs recover foods that would otherwise go to waste and use them to prepare meals to share in public places with anyone who wishes to partake.

    By recovering the discards of retailers, offices, schools, homes, hotels, or anywhere by rummaging through their trash bins, dumpsters, and trash bags, freegans are able to obtain food, beverages, books, toiletries magazines, comic books, newspapers, videos, kitchenware, appliances, music (CDs, cassettes, records, etc.), carpets, musical instruments, clothing, rollerblades, scooters, furniture, vitamins, electronics, animal care products, games, toys, bicycles, artwork, and just about any other type of consumer good. Rather than contributing to further waste, freegans curtail garbage and pollution, reducing the over-all volume in the waste stream.

    Lots of used items can also be found for free or shared with others on websites like Freecycle and in the free section of your local Craigslist. To dispose of useful materials check out the EPA’s Materials and Waste Exchanges directory. In communities around the country, people are holding events like “Really, Really, Free Markets” and “Freemeets”. These events are akin to flea markets with free items. People bring items to share with others. They give and take but not a dollar is exchanged. When freegans do need to buy, we buy second-hand goods which reduces production and supports reusing and reducing what would have been wasted without providing any additional funds for new production.

    Because of our frequent sojourns into the discards our throwaway society, freegans are very aware of and disgusted by the enormous amounts of waste the average US consumer generates and thus choose not to be a part of the problem. So, freegans scrupulously recycle, compost organic matter into topsoil, and repair rather than replace items whenever possible. Anything unusable by us, we redistribute to our friends, at freemarkets, or using internet services like freecycle and craigslist.


    Freegans recognize the disastrous social and ecological impacts of the automobile. We all know that automobiles cause pollution created from the burning of petroleum but we usually don’t think of the other destruction factors like forests being eliminated from road building in wilderness areas and collision deaths of humans and wildlife. As well, the massive oil use today creates the economic impetus for slaughter in Iraq and all over the world. Therefore, freegans choose not to use cars for the most part. Rather, we use other methods of transportation including trainhopping, hitchhiking, walking, skating, and biking. Hitchhiking fills up room in a car that would have been unused otherwise and therefore it does not add to the overall consumption of cars and gasoline.

    Some freegans find at least some use of cars unavoidable so we try to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels by using cars with diesel engines converted to run on biodiesel or “veggie-oil” literally fueling our cars with used fryer oil from restaurants – another example of diverting waste for practical use. Volunteer groups are forming everywhere to assist people in converting diesel engines to run on vegetable oil.


    Freegans believe that housing is a RIGHT, not a privilege. Just as freegans consider it an atrocity for people to starve while food is thrown away, we are also outraged that people literally freeze to death on the streets while landlords, banks and cities keep buildings boarded up and vacant.

    Squatters are people who occupy and rehabilitate abandoned, decrepit buildings. Squatters believe that real human needs are more important than abstract notions of private property, and that those who hold deed to buildings but won’t allow people to live in them, even in places where housing is vitally needed, don’t deserve to own those buildings. In addition to living areas, squatters often convert abandoned buildings into community centers with programs including art activities for children, environmental education, meetings of community organizations, and more.

    We live in a society where the foods that we eat are often grown a world away, overprocessed, and then transported long distances to be stored for too long, all at a high ecological cost. Because of this process, we’ve lost appreciation for the changes in season and the cycles of life but some of us are reconnecting to the Earth through gardening and wild foraging.

    Many urban ecologists have been turning garbage-filled abandoned lots into verdant community garden plots. In neighborhoods where stores are more likely to carry junk food than fresh greens, community gardens provide a health food source. Where the air is choked with asthma inducing pollutants, the trees in community gardens produce oxygen. In landscapes dominated by brick, concrete, and asphalt, community gardens provide an oasis of plants, open spaces, and places for communities to come together, work together, share food, grow together, and break down the barriers that keep people apart in a society where we have all become too isolated from one another.

    Wild foragers demonstrate that we can feed ourselves without supermarkets and treat our illnesses without pharmacies by familiarizing ourselves with the edible and medicinal plants growing all around us. Even city parks can yield useful foods and medicines, giving us a renewed appreciation of the reality that our sustenance comes ultimately not from corporate food producers, but from the Earth itself. Others take the foraging lifestyle even farther, removing themselves from urban and suburban concepts and attempting to “go feral” by building communities in the wilderness based on primitive survival skills.


    How much of our lives do we sacrifice to pay bills and buy more stuff? For most of us, work means sacrificing our freedom to take orders from someone else, stress, boredom, monotony, and in many cases risks to our physical and psychological well-being.

    Once we realize that it’s not a few bad products or a few egregious companies responsible for the social and ecological abuses in our world but rather the entire system we are working in, we begin to realize that, as workers, we are cogs in a machine of violence, death, exploitation, and destruction. Is the retail clerk who rings up a cut of veal any less responsible for the cruelty of factory farming than the farm worker? What about the ad designer who finds ways to make the product palatable? How about the accountant who does the grocery books and allows it to stay in business? Or the worker in the factory that manufacturers refrigerator cases? And, of course, the high level managers of the corporations bear the greatest responsibility of all for they make the decisions which causes the destruction and waste. You don’t have to own stock in a corporation or own a factory or chemical plant to be held to blame.

    By accounting for the basic necessities of food, clothing, housing, furniture, and transportation without spending a dime, freegans are able to greatly reduce or altogether eliminate the need to constantly be employed. We can instead devote our time to caring for our families, volunteering in our communities, and joining activist groups to fight the practices of the corporations who would otherwise be bossing us around at work. For some, total unemployment isn’t an option it’s far harder to find free dental surgery than a free bookcase on the curb but by limiting our financial needs, even those of us who need to work can place conscious limits on how much we work, take control of our lives, and escape the constant pressure to make ends meet. But even if we must work, we need not cede total control to the bosses. The freegan spirit of cooperative empowerment can be extended into the workplace as part of worker-led unions like the Industrial Workers of the World.