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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


May-June 2009

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Books of Note - May/June 2009

Blue-Green Coalitions: Fighting for Safe Workplaces and Healthy Communities
by Brian Mayer; ILR Press, Ithaca, NY, 2008; 232 pp., $55.00 hardcover (ISBN 978-0-8014-4722-8), $19.95 paper (ISBN 978-0-8014-7463-7)

Thoughtful environmentalists and community activists have long expressed concern about the lack of meaningful collaboration between the labor and environmental movements. Brian Mayer has produced a noteworthy book focusing on this important connection in three successful coalitions of labor unions, environmentalists, and community activists: the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow in Massachusetts, which advocates for safe workplaces and a clean environment; the Work Environment Council in New Jersey, which helped pass laws to protect people living near chemical plants; and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, which prevailed upon high-tech firms to address community and labor concerns about hazardous practices.

Mayer demonstrates how the health effects of toxic chemicals on workers and community residents alike often form the connective tissue that allows these coalitions to grow and succeed. For instance, because many factories and affected community members are in poor areas with large minority populations, environmental justice causes—such as fighting for the right to know what toxic materials are being used in the plants and often emitted to the community—unite many otherwise disparate elements. Mayer also finds that firefighter unions are among the strongest, most environmentally aware labor-movement supporters because as first responders, firefighters are often faced with unknown risks when, for instance, combating fires or responding to a spill in a chemical plant.

Many coalitions, Mayer notes, have organized themselves around the precautionary principle, which puts the onus on industry to definitively prove that a product will cause no substantial harm to people or the environment. Although not all groups call it by name because of negative publicity over the term, the precautionary principle often motivates industry and activists alike to find safer alternatives to chemicals in use.

Based on an extensive literature review and a large number of interviews with coalition participants, Mayer concludes that the use of “bridge-brokers,” people who have legitimacy in several parts of the coalition, is critical to success. He credits the work of Tony Mazzochi—legislative director of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (now part of United Steelworkers) and an early advocate of alliances among union members and environmentalists—for laying the foundation that allowed much of this work to continue.

One question calling for more research is whether issues other than health can bring environmentalists and labor unions together. Certainly the movement to create green jobs is one, although advocates have much more work to do to convince the unions that the jobs gained will be comparable to the jobs lost as we transition to a greener economy. Blue-Green Coalitions gives important data and analysis to help answer this and other questions. It is worth a careful read.

Alan H. McGowan
Eugene Lang College
 The New School for Liberal Arts
New York, NY


The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat
by Eric Roston; Walker & Company, New York, NY, 2008; 320 pp., $25.95 hardcover (ISBN 978-0-8027-1557-9)

Energy for Sustainability: Technology, Planning, Policy
by John Randolph and Gilbert M. Masters; Island Press, Washington, DC, 2008; 816 pp., $85.00 hardcover (ISBN 978-1-5972-6103-6)

Raising Cane in the ’Glades: The Global Sugar Trade and the Transformation of Florida
by Gail M. Hollander; University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 2008; 336 pp., $45.00 hardcover (ISBN 978-0-2263-4950-3)

Sand: The Never-ending Story
by Michael Welland; University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009; 360 pp., $24.95 hardcover (ISBN 978-0-520-25437-4)

The Shadows of Consumption: Consequences for the Global Environment
by Peter Dauvergne; MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2008; 328 pp., $24.95 hardcover (ISBN 978-0-262-04246-8)

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