Aaarghh! Sustainability?

I have a boy, a 5 y-o tall boy. God has blessed him with curiosity and kindness. I’d like to have a chance to eat those sweet fishes from the Atlantic Ocean. I’d like him to have a chance to kiss a girl. We were entrusted a girl, pretty, smart and with an innate knowledge of human mind. Will she ever receive white and red roses? Will she ever ever enjoy the majesty of snowfall? Or bear my mother a great-grand-child?

Mercredi 17/08, 07h37

[Disclaimer]
If you like your Self, you probably should not read this bunch of barely connected and unsubstantiated toughts produced by a tortured mind. If you feel distressed and disarmed and even disbanded, it’s your sole responsibility. The editors shall not be liable of you decide to do for our earth. With love, the poor me.

[Start]
Since Man has been on earth, since Men have lived in groups, cities, societies, this phenomenon has occurred. There have been head and crowds, resource sharing and land splitting, some dictating to others how they should behave and others accepting up to a certain point where they would rebel. Some confiscating others’ “belongings” and others taking arms to fight for their honour or the beliefs. There have been times when Nature would not provide food or rain and people would starve to death. There have been time when, because of an indelicate individual, disease would disseminate and destroy lives, many lives. Beggars and other poor people would sit at the doors of the city. Sellers would buy here and sell there to get every day a profit from the trade. Eventually, a group / civilization would decline / disappear and another would emerge.

In that sense, the Ecclesiastes is right, there is nothing new under the Sun. And What has happened before will happen again.

I have a boy, a 5 y-o tall boy. God has blessed him with curiosity and kindness. I’d like to have a chance to eat those sweet fishes from the Atlantic Ocean. I’d like him to have a chance to kiss a girl. We were entrusted a girl, pretty, smart and with an innate knowledge of human mind. Will she ever receive white and red roses? Will she ever ever enjoy the majesty of snowfall? Or bear my mother a great-grand-child?

Well, all of these basic things, that we enjoy from nature, all of these marvelous moments, these kids might not have a chance to live them ever.

[Even if there is no hope, shall we commit suicide?]
Well, if with these ideas of carrying capacity, it seems clear that there won’t be enough of everything for everyone, and that we are going towards fierce battles to “secure” whichever resource one can, you might think there is no need to care. But let’s phrase the question this way: if your relative is plagued with a disease that is slowly taking her to death, is it your mandate to deprive he from everything she has owned, to polluted her at the maximum of your capacity and to precipitate her and all her dependencies to a premature death?

[Material flow]
Our society is driving, at least from a material point of view, a linear path: we extract (as much as we can) material, material is used to build or manufacture products, products are used by consumers (think about this word!), consumers throw products (worn or not) to garbage, and waste processors process whatever they can , finally bestowing unprocessable garbage to landfill!

The extractor, quite an animal by itself. Their ethical equation seems to be simple, from what  we  can observe from afar: I’ll pump all, all that I can pump from this plot. And nothing can be there to stop me. I’ll bribe, start wars or expropriate people, as long as I can extract material from this land. Most of them would not care about the sustainability of what they are extracting: if this plot empties, I’ll go to the next one and start over. I care about one thing: earn the maximum amount of money from this plot. Just think about mineral ores: it took Earth and Sun working together a few centuries to produce this amount of gold or petroleum, but if just takes us 2 centuries to empty all resource. Need more? Consider the fishing industry that will fight against fishing quotas, even though they know that uncontrolled fishing is bound to stop in a few decades because of simple disappearance of species!

Let’s consider the manufacturer. Excluding a few exceptions, they are commercial companies, not interested by the invention of innovative and long lasting and energy efficient and zero waste products, but interested by producing benefits for the capital. It has been exposed that event till recent times, these companies goes to the extent of producing altered products in order to shorten usage time and accelerate consumer renewal. They use batteries of “marketing specialist” to make you, and eventually force you to buy “new” products you don’t need. Who cares about the actual “old” ones that are perfectlyt functional and satisfying your needs? Just dump it somewhere!
I don’t hate marketers (not that much), my beloved sister is one of them and my brother studies advertising. But we should consider something, when fully functional products are dumped, nobody cares about the power, about the materials in them: direction, for the greater part, the landfill. And even worse, for some products, landfill is not in the using country. There are “landfillable” countries were you’ll throw your electronic garbage, others dedicated to nuclear garbage and we can keep going on. And there is a growing part of humanity living inside garbage plots.

What to say about the consumer? Apart from the fact that he is a naive player in the game, at the mercy of “marketing”? Well the most important to me is it’s number. With the progress of medicine and sanitation and agriculture, world population has grown exponentially since 3 or 4 centuries. Look at this graph! [Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Population_curve.svg, census.gov].
Ok. It’s just estimates, but still, gives you an idea of the phenomenon. Going from 2 to 7 billion people (not grains of sand!) in less than 200 hundred years is just wonderful! If I may, even unbelievable. The single factor of massive volume poses questions about the sustainability of any global scale process.

[The addition of sand grains]
It is true that each one of us is a singular entity, with just about zero impact on the whole. As we used to call it in the old days at Melen, a very small ε. But the addition of nearly 8 billion εs is definitely a tiny ε anymore.
Imagine! If we all responsibly consume shoes, we can reaonably say each one of us can use average of 2 pair of shoes every year (roughly factoring the rate of babies and the rate of old people). So we will need 14 billion pair of shoes per year. Say it again! 28 000 million shoes per year! We will enough materials (leather, plastic), without even counting the packaging, to produce 28 000 million shoes…every year! And we will have to deal with the wasted 28 000 million shoes every year. Scary movie.

According to some estimates, we are already consuming (air, food, cloths, and all the rest of consumerism) as if we were exploiting 3 planets. For how many more years? If we are honest, we should even say for how many more days?

How many of us have an idea of what happens to the stuff we put in the dust bin? And for those items in the “recycle bin”, what exactly is happening to them? Which percentage of our garbage is actually absorbable by the landfill? Think about this: every two days, your bin is full of “new garbage”. You put the bin outside and a city system takes it to some garbage place. Depending on the garbage, it can take weeks, years or decades to be completely absorbed. Whilst you, and me, keep producing new garbage every day.And there are 7 billion of us…

There are certainly stuff to do in the material flow. Imagine and implement a more sustainable extraction of resources. Develop products that are designed to produce a maximum of service life with zero waste. There seems to be interesting results in the fields of bio-mimicry and circular economy. We can also learn to sell products that are useful instead o excuses to extract coins for poor people purses. Consumers can learn to use what they need and cut the waste. They can learn that second hand good is not shit, it is a good, functional stuff. They can care about what happens with their garbage. And we can also all learn the lesson learned by the PRC laready 3 decades ago: not only birth control but also birth regulation. With all this, we might reduce the problem!

But let’s face it. At the core of the flaws in the material flow we just discusses, there is  the human heart and its (his?) sickness; there is greed for more, probably more happiness, and it is translated as greed for more material stuff. Can we blame the previous industrial century? Or the “consumption” economy?
Bookchin seems to recognize that part of the equation and created social ecology, “based on the conviction that nearly all of human all of humanity’s present ecological problems priginate in, indeed are mere symptoms of, dysfunctional social arrangements” [from wikipedia sustainability page]. I’m yet to read his findings but it definitely seems to be a valid path.

We certainly have to work on improving material stuff. But we also have to adress fundamental human needs. May be standard of living is important, this measure of how much you can spend per day, even if I doubt it. But it is certain that the quality of life, that measure of how much you can be happy per day, is essential. Let’s give to spirituality it’s full place.

[The end… of this episode]
What do I take from all this? The immediate future of mankind is darkened by financial crises. The long term future is even more darkened by the effects of our actual ways of life.
But if we have no clue about what will happe, we are still humans. Mankind has thrived by its will, it’s ability to learn and adapt. It is time to to these values, to renounce our delusions of grandeur, and call to those values.

A new world will not happen without the cooperation, willed or unwilled, of all the actors. Individuals, Families, Cities, States, Companies, Corporations.
There is hope with researchers that are learning every day new processes, even more efficient. There is hope with mankind learning to control its numbers. There is hope with mankind learning to desire less material and more spiritual. There is hope with corporations learning to stop plundering the earth and selling useful services rather than useless products. There is hope with governments caring not about economic development nor economic growth, but about their citizens happiness.

The Belgian “Foundation pour les Générations Futures” tells us: leave a type of development and embrace another one that is yet to imagine and implement afar from our current practices will not be easy, nor happen quickly.

The work has begun a few decades ago and serious steps have been reached. Bruntland report in 1987, Agenda 21, or the Millenium Goals in 2000 to name a few. Everyday, more humans join the band. We have to continue the fight. We have to be more smart and more effective. Only then will we have a chance to maintain hope the next generation could one day bring another generation to life.

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