Finding Out Why
When it comes to sustainability the current system we’re living in fails. It fails for reasons of design. Our systems of living, driving, eating, watching TV, have all been designed poorly; well, maybe not “poorly,” but with a different era’s needs and resources in mind.
This all began with the industrial revolution, and at the time, the goal was to progress humanity towards new goals a levels of improvement and achievement. Now, over a hundred years later, we have not moved the goals forward to where we need now in order to continue to progress.
Think about Edison, Einstein, Ford, etc. and what they developed, what they thought about, what they did. They were maintaining the cutting edge in inventions, physics, and industrialization … Great thinkers, inventors, and manufacturers at the turn of the 20th century made huge leaps for industry and for mankind. Since then, we have made few substantial leaps towards what could be the next “revolution.” We are talking about adding “reusability” and “conservation” to our current industrial practices, but that was what Henry Ford wanted to do with his, and he did a better job (shipping crates parts came in were turned into floor boards on Model Ts). How can we make better progress?
We need to think about whether or not the system we’ve created is worth keeping, not just what we can add to, take away from, or change about the system.
Sustainability and current design are somewhat at odds with each other. We have been designing systems of transportation, manufacturing, and containing ourselves and our things in modern America that are inherently wasteful. When you question this you get a “but that is the way it is” response … Well, we made it that way in the first place, so it doesn’t have to stay that way.
The car, and the trappings it brings with it, have directed the design of our cities and transportation policies. It has become increasingly difficult to get around our country without having a car. The idea that we need cars has become so ingrained in American society that just the mention of not owning one strikes listeners as crazy! How do you get around? people ask.
To that same end, we have also created a society that thinks of everything as disposable. Every product comes in a fancy package; food and drink come in ridiculous containers; and even the materials contained inside these wrappings and boxes are designed to be thrown away …
These concepts have become so prevalent that they are not even considered; they have just been taken for granted. It has become the new American way—need a new toaster, buy another 15 dollar toaster at WalMart, and throw whatever else you had before in the trash. Does anyone even know how to repair a toaster these days? Can you even repair one? Does it even matter? It apparently costs more to pay a real person down the street (though more likely down the highway) to look at it than build it on the other side of the world and ship it by boat and truck 10,000 miles. This seems absurd.
It sounds crazy, it sounds like a conspiracy, but its true. I am not talking about sacrificing our American way of life. I am talking about looking at the underpinnings of our day-to-day; examining the heart of modern business, cultural, and societal models; looking at what the ideas of the industrial revolution were about; thinking about what we need in the future; and designing whatever we need to make these things a reality.
Free transportation is not bad. Not having to burn coal is not bad. Not needing oil is not bad. Maybe a few people will lose a job here and there, however there will be other, new places to get jobs in their place—hopefully healthier, better jobs. We’ drastically changed things before, in the end, we historically have come out better. I’m sure all the horse-tenders were pretty pissed when they lost their jobs to people choosing motorized carriages over horse-drawn types … in the end though, they found other jobs and we all “progressed.”
Open up your mind, think about how you spend your days. How can you change that for the benefit of you, as well as the rest of us. Do you care that your lights come on? of course, but do you care where that comes from? If it came from solar panels, waterfalls, wind turbines and flywheel batteries would it make your life different? I say it would probably make your life better, but at the least your life would stay the same.
You can do a Google search for things to do to make yourself green. If everyone changed their lights to CFL and LEDs that would help, if everyone started driving a hybrid, that would help. However, those are just band-aids for a larger problem, they do not do anything to change what is ultimately wrong, that we live in a culture of waste.
There is a speed limit, there is a law mandating seat belts in cars, there are emissions standards for vehicles, we have smoking bans in most major cities, so why does a greenhouse gas ban sound so crazy? what about a fossil fuel ban? Some wealthy people might lose a lot of money that is why. Fuck them.
I wrote this all on a computer. Three computers actually. (As I am reediting this essay, I have now added a fourth computer to this process). It is hosted and served on yet an additional computer (probably several additional ones). I know the inherent problems within each of those plastic and metal cases. It makes me feel a little bit like a hypocrite. However, there is no reason that they could not have been made some better way, the product is not necessarily the problem. There is also no reason that they shouldn’t be solar powered, and have energy and material efficient components. Let us get to it.
Originally written and published on Better Living Through Sustainability in 2008 at some point … This version contains some updates, revisions, and improvements as of late 2012.