I am reading a book that is making me want to cheer and spit nails, by turns. Have you ever read a book like that? This one is entitled: “The Upcycle”, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. What I want to do is get these guys in a room and challenge them over some of their statements, but that doesn’t seem feasible so I decided to share my thoughts here.
I love their basic premise. They observe that the message we generally get these days is that humans are bad, and everything humans make is bad. And our goal should be to be less bad. I don’t know about you, but when I am always hearing how bad I am, I either feel like crawling under a table to hide or simply give up. So, these two have turned this scolding on its head and said, “how about if we think about being more good?” Yeah! That is a good place to start.
However then they spoil the whole thing by saying how easily and joyfully the earth could support 10 billion humans or more, and start describing cycles in which we let a tree stand for hundreds of years and then make it into a table that lasts for several years and then turn it into particle board and then it is ok to burn it for fuel. !!!! Well, I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t want to live in a world with 10 billion humans running around. And how does the above “cycle” for a tree address today’s need for energy? Burning is burning, and either way you are throwing carbon into the atmosphere. My point is, they throw out these pie-in-the-sky ideas and conveniently ignore, you know, facts. That really bugs me. I haven’t finished the book yet… hopefully the authors will tie up all of these wildly waving loose ends.
Having said all that, I’m still excited about their basic idea, that we can be more good. What if car parts were made of simpler plastics, so that when a part was damaged it could be popped off and easily replaced? The damaged part could be sent back to the factory and melted down, to make a new part. That could happen, but right now the plastics that are being made are complex blends of materials that cannot be separated. The best that can currently be hoped for is a down-cycle, like a water bottle into a bench. And what if we decided not to accept toxic chemicals in our manufacturing processes? What if companies stated as a goal to replace all harmful materials with innocent ones? Just stating it as an intention can move the company in the right direction. And speaking of energy, why not challenge ourselves to see how efficient our solar panels and wind turbines can be? How often I have been saddened to hear even dedicated environmentalist throw up their hands and say, “impossible”. It isn’t impossible, though! Think of early cars. They were a far cry from what we have today. But, people got excited about them and tackled the challenges of making them better.
What if, at the end of the day, the earth could be glad we were here?