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The Alphabet Series: R is for Reduce, Reuse , Recycle

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 26, 2000


"He who knows when enough is enough, will always have enough." — Lao Tzu

R is a very environmental word. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say environmentalists like words that begin with R. Whatever the case, the trinity in the title has been a mantra of those wishing to endure since I first started hugging trees. Simply put, if this mantra does not become a national anthem we will all be forced to live with less. A lot less.

The term natural resources is one I'm hesitant to use because of it's firm foundation in anthropocentrism. Implying entitlement, it still must be used when we talk about the overconsumption of all things ‘logical. The biological, geological, and meteorological elements making up the earth's life support system have been relegated to a status not unlike that of a planetary Walmart. With 6 billion plus bargain hunters shopping for stuff, the outlook is not good.

Far from coincidence, the first word of the mantra is reduce. And I'm sure this does not refer to biodiversity, water or air quality, or hope of survival. What it does mean however is that humanity, Western civilization in particular, must reduce its appetite for the rest of creation. To do this, the first thing that must be done is a reduction in human population. Such a reduction need not be done with genocide or disease, the best way to accomplish a sustainable population, is to empower women worldwide with education, and freedom from cultural imperatives that take away their reproductive rights.

Reducing human population will begin to lessen humanity's impact on the biosphere, but sustainability will only be achieved when the consumer culture currently laying waste to the planet is abandoned. Yes we need food and water, clothing and shelter to survive. But that's where it stops.

Contrary to popular belief humans could live without the products of industrialization. In fact, we did for thousands of years. The production, marketing, and transportation of all things manufactured, degrades the environment in ways to many to count. Just shipping Twinkies and tricycles to market everyday is an ecological disaster in the making.

Multiply all the products being pulled from the planet and you begin to understand the the sheer magnitude of our impact. Food, regardless of how artificially created it is, must be constantly extracted for the web of life. The good news is that it will eventually be recycled in one way or another. Currently this can not be said about the majority of "consumer goods", and the plastic packaging keeping them safe and shiny.

Take clothing for example. Where once upon a time people made articles of clothing to serve a particular function, such as warmth in the winter, we now encourage people to buy and discard, buy and discard in a perpetual motion of manufactured desire. Granted few of us will ever match the gluttony of Imelda Marcos, but even a fraction of such takings is unjustifiable, regardless of the name on the label.

Most clothing, can, and is being reused. Some is even being recycled into other things. Currently on the market is paper stock made from old blue jeans. How cool is that. A women in Leucadia has a fashion line derived from recycled bed spreads and table clothes. Sadly, those refusing to shop retail are the exception to the rule. How else would you explain the plethora of mega-malls and storefront fashion frontiers.

Look around your home and ask yourself do you need need everything you see. Then ask yourself where did all these things come from, and what environmental price was paid for it's extraction, and by whom. In Deep Ecology this exercise is called "unpeeling the onion." It's safe to say, if the size of your house, is directly related to all the stuff you have acquired, then you have too much stuff.

By reducing the amount of "resources" we consume, reusing them as much as physically possible, and then recycling them, 100 percent, we will be taking a significant step towards sustainability. To do so would be a cultural shift capable of ushering in a  new paradigm that places environmental considerations before all else. With this new paradigm would come the understanding the pursuit of wealth requires an ever-expanding circle of destruction. Something none of us can afford.

Do I think Western Culture will kick the consumption monkey off its back any time soon? Of course not. Mainly because this is what lie at the heart of the beast. But I do know many people, from all socioeconomic levels, are beginning to embrace the "less is more" philosophy. And not a moment to soon.

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