Recycling Projects for the Evil Genius (Book Review)

fortunes in formulasRussel Gehrke/Promo image

After I reviewed Russel Gehrke's book Renewable Energies For Your Home last year, , the author sent me a copy of his latest book, Recycling Projects for the Evil Genius. In the introduction he displays much of the attitude towards green living that he did in the earlier book, that would not endear him to your TreeHugger stereotype:

We won't ever by able to effectively change anything with scary doomsday predictions, politically driven actions or half baked solutions... If we could just for a moment pull all of our hands out of proverbial the cookie jar stop with the politics and the anti-industry, global warming and end-of-the-world speak, and realize that our need is to focus on the things we ourselves can do to change our own shade of green, we would be taking one small step in the right direction.

Russel sent me the book quite a while ago, and, to be honest, I sat on it. It's a cookbook, giving the recipes for everything from household cleaners to your own plastic lumber made from old bags to pothole patches from old shingles. You learn how to make soap from restaurant fat and concrete blocks from paper. My wife Kelly reviews cookbooks and writes recipes for TreeHugger and Parentables, and she would never publish a review without trying the recipes or post a recipe without cooking it, and I did not have the time or inclination to cook up any of Russel's recipes.

But I used to do a lot more of this kind of stuff, and used a recipe book, Fortune in Formulas, that I found in a used bookstore, published in 1944. I thought it might be interesting to compare the two, to see how the art has evolved over the 65 years between the two.

scan of old bookLloyd Alter/via

Sixty-five years ago, if you wanted to make soap in your garage you had to know your stuff. It read like an old-fashioned cookbook, with a list of ingredients, difficult to read instructions and the assumption that you knew your way around in the garage.

typical pagescan of page/via

Not so today. Russel lays out everything that you need, gives you tips and warnings, and goes step by step through the process with photos of every important move. It is clear and concise, and you know Russel has done it himself. Much of the book reads like TreeHugger and a lot of other green sites, with "101 cool tips" for reusing grocery bags, bed sheets, toothbrushes and even plastic swimming pools. You can make a campfire starter from lint and seedling starters from toilet paper tubes. You can make cleaners; lots of cleaners for all kinds of things. Russel notes in his paragraph "laundered money":

It is easy to understand why so much money is spent promoting cleaning products- they are very profitable for manufacturers and retailers. We as consumers spend hundreds of dollars each year on cleaning products. However, just knowing that 90 percent of what we bought is something that we already have in hand and is inexpensive or nearly free, it 's no wonder that we feel as if money is being washed right out of our pockets.... you also can use safer ingredients that are more friendly to people, your pets and the earth you live on.

That is so anti-corporate, organic, healthy and green, it just leaps out of TreeHugger. But back in Chapter 1, Russel writes:

My hope for all of us is that we are able to trust ourselves and not be scared that we have to change our lives drastically to satisfy the people who want us to feel guilty because some cows pass gas.

Perhaps another reason that I have been sitting on this book is that I was a bit put off by Chapter One when I first read it a few months back. Maybe he is just trying to make the larger audience comfortable with recycling; maybe he is just trying to prove, as he says at the start of the chapter, that he is not "just another stereotypical "eco-guy." But it included some pretty strong anti-environmentalist language and even a whiff of climate denial.

But since then Sami and I have been doing a lot of thinking and writing about Resilience. Sami writes:

Resilience is a little different as a motivating factor. Rather than appealing to our environmental consciences, it appeals to our self-interest, and to our social consciences as parents, spouses, neighbors and community members. It makes the case for why sustainability is not just about "doing the right thing" by the planet, but about covering our own asses too.

Russel is talking about being resilient, about being self-reliant and self-sufficient. He has written a book that is full of good tips and ideas. Our motivating factors may be different, but our paths cross at the end of chapter one. Start there.

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Recycling Projects for the Evil Genius (Book Review)
In which I compare a 1944 cookbook for self-reliance to Russel Gehrke's 2011 version.

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