I spent Mother’s Day arguing about the current U.S. recycling process with a Trump supporter family member that was less than satisfying. It was not until a 17 year old family member reminded us that it was Mother’s Day, that we ceased the relatively heated discussion.
The interaction give me a taste of the sheer magnitude of the “devil being in the details” due to the perspective differences between conservatives and liberals in America. A bipartisan effort is needed to bridge the seemingly insurmountable differences between the various groups of political affiliations and that will require young people on all sides having input, initiating compromise and implementing strategies across the entire socio-economic-political spectrum. Older people should be consulted for advice and experience, but our ship has already left the slip so please defer to the wishes of people who are going to be middle aged in the year 2046 and have a shot of living until the year 2100.
The way it looks to me now is that our recycling strategy relied heavily on China taking our waste and disposing of it. This was not a sustainable strategy for a number of reasons, including the fact that China was merely dumping the waste into landfills and that solution required enormous fossil fuels to transport the waste to such far corners of the planet. A more intelligent solution seems to be the transition towns that are starting to spring up that focus on zero waste and ideally not needing landfills at all through intensive recycling, reusing and the repurposing of our valuable natural resources.
Though I am not an expert, my gut is that it will involve selective burning, outlawing of single use plastic, and repricing recycling to penalize plastic in favor of metal and glass uses. Basically, if you look at life before plastics that is a good place to start in terms of recycling efforts. Plastic was invented in 1907.
The problem with plastics is that their manufacture endangers our food supply because small amounts of plastic, like bottle caps, are particularly dangerous to our food chain of sea animals, from plankton to much larger fish. If we are not careful, we could starve ourselves through polluting the seas indirectly through landfills that overflow from storms and end up in our oceans; thereby creating ocean gyres of large scale plastic islands, especially deep in the Pacific Ocean.
That hard plastic bottle cap is particularly pernicious because no one wants to recycle it and that is precisely what needs to be recycled or outlawed. In some ways, outlawing harmful substances to our environment is preferred but we would need protection against our legal system so that costly and wasteful lawsuits can be avoided; it will take political and public will to really start making a difference and not just corporate greenwashing. This is the type of legislation that will have to be enacted under the Green New Deal.
What about that annoying very hard plastic that packages your razor blades — it is so difficult to open that you risk cutting yourself seriously? Really, corporate America has to get with the program, first and foremost, that we live in a triple bottom line society that needs to recognize that social and environmental costs are at least as important to our society as are financial considerations.
If our world society does not have clean air, food and healthy food to eat, all the financial considerations are meaningless in terms of the quality of human and other species’ lives. Oscar Wilde’s famous aphorism about our society being one that “knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing” rings ominously true in today’s disposable planned obsolescence society.
N+1 is an engineering term used often in backup energy generation; that is, if the main generator of power is not operational then a backup system is put into service to provide continuous power to that locale. In terms of resilient communities, food supplies also need N+1 capabilities to prevent food shortages after natural disasters.
All this sets up the scenario for a Green New Deal, requiring extraordinary measures to curtail harmful industries that endanger our social and environmental well being and that includes fossil fuels and plastics to a very large extent. Fossil fuel companies should be acquiring renewable energy companies and transitioning towards 100% renewable energy generation in the near and not distant future. The public and political sectors must be motivated to convince polluters to reconfigure their businesses to fit with the actual social and environmental costs of their actions in a fair and reasonable matter. No amount of money matters if we do not have food, air and water that is necessary for a quality human existence. If polluters cannot be convinced through diplomacy, reasonings and compromise the efficacy of changing their business practices, police powers of some sort might have to be considered. Though not directly advocated, it is a way to non-violently get polluters to realize the costs of their actions when accurately determining the real costs of their products.
Part of my training in College involved the study of Marxian economics in 1976 with a professor by the name of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., who was the grandson of FDR, the President of the U.S. during the worldwide depression of the 1930s. The New Deal was FDR’s program and it spurred widespread large scale public infrastructure projects to get America working again in a form of socialism amidst the crash of capitalism in 1929. I have to re-read Das Kapital along with Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America to help frame a new paradigm for our political and economic systems. I do remember that Marx felt the end goal was not communism but rather socialism, but both these words have become tainted in America’s vernacular, due to a propaganda perpetuated by thinkers that believe the American capitalism system is sacrosanct and has been in effect a lot longer than it has been in effect, in reality. Fake news if I have ever heard fake news.
Perhaps the bipartisan effort could revolve around N+1 resilience efforts to protect populations at risk from flooding and drought. Dhaka, Bangladesh is a prime example of a city that needs an N+1 city in case of disastrous flooding and that N+1 city has to be on much higher ground and ideally have clean air, water and the ability to self-sufficiently generated the majority of its food and energy needs. Sustainable & resilient communities can be developed anew or cultivated from existing communities; they can be large, they can be small but the planning has to start now to protect lives.
These N+1 communities seem a better branding strategy than the Plan B Planned Relocation Communities that I originally envisioned for relocating people out of flood and drought areas. Perhaps Emergency Preparedness Communities is a more palatable solution for people but in any event most right thinking people believe the time to act is now and not get bogged down in minutiae that creates paralysis.
There were be many solutions and failures ahead in the climate change battle (yes I used that verboten word) but it is not really a battle at all; it is a realization that we as a species have to be respectful of a higher power and that higher power is nature. Working with (and within) and not against nature must be our new approach towards the evolution of our species. Natural, Sustainable or as I call it Resource Capitalism is the movement on the table. Embrace it before the time runs out.
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