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Recycling is Awesome (Just don’t give up your people power while doing it)

October 22, 2009

Whether we’re skeptical or wholehearted believers, the fact of the matter is we can no longer continue to ‘develop’ as we have been for the past hundred years, as if supply would always equal demand (err…whaterverz), as if all information were readily and equally available (err…whaterverz!) and as if humans are rational beings (do I really need to err…whaterverz this one?). hether its because we believe in anthropogenic climate change – warming or cooling – or not, nifty ideas are popping out on how we can all improve our living condition and not rely on antiquated modes of production, based on limited resources and polluting modes of operation. For one, check out this nifty sci fi soon to be our future article from the Times’ new supplement Eureka.
if only it were so simple…
I am, at my core, an optimist. So ideas like buildings eating up CO2 emissions and friendly algae lighting our streets really appeals to my vision of a Utopian future. Scientists providing us solutions to improve our lives is excellent, and I am all for it  (hello penicillin?!) but, on the other hand, I am skeptical of the benefits of these quick fix, one hit wonder solutions in that they do not fundamentally address the problems arising from our consumption patterns.
How do we like it? More, More, MORE! And current eco solutions, whether scientific, like our CO2 eating friends, or institutional, like the new proposed green emissions targets, are all geared towards keeping us ‘consumers’ in a ‘happy’ state of consumption frenzy, and merely address surface issues. Take as a case in point, this interesting tidbit from the Times as well.

If solutions continue to be framed through a neoliberal lens — focusing attention on the individual as sole responsible  (recycle, plant a tree!), empowering producers to make more (just make it greener!) and presenting quick fix solutions which will make that possible (CO2 eating bacteria? Awesome – bring on the 20 cylinder monster truck five day marathon races!). No matter how many buildings we coat with shiny algae, these ecological solutions will fundamentally leave us at square one – resource shortages, ecological disasters, and standing on the brink of extinction.

We cannot merely rely on science, these breakthroughs have to be supported by deep, foundational changes in the way we live and our definition of progress. Utopia people, when did that go out of fashion?
2 Comments leave one →
  1. Claude Van Inkins permalink*
    October 22, 2009 1:40 pm

    Utopia out of fashion indeed:

    Why, with a whole cohort of tuned-in, educated, bourgie, internationalist and totally committed young people has the green movement failed to give us a real alternative economic, and by implication, political, manifesto to build upon, to debate upon, to fight for and to write for? I mean for F’s sake, we just had a major crisis of capitalism, and how many times did you hear people from the Green movement making sensible suggestions about an alternaitve way forward which we could get exicted about?


    And just over a year later, what’s new and different about how we live?


    Did rational, pragmatic and indivdualistic social apathy win the day?

    Is my moaning that someone else hasn’t done anything a sympton of this very apathy?

  2. snugglebus permalink*
    October 22, 2009 6:29 pm

    The really radical way to read your post is to turn it on its head. Why not be controversial here? Can’t we say that actually Utopia is what we need to escape from?

    Isn’t the present system utopian? For example a particular strand of utopian thinking has just ended, the idea that unregualted financial capitalism was the best way to guarantee properity for all (or most at least). That was utopian.

    And this package of business as usual with technical fixes, carbon pricing, and so on, as a solution to potential environmental catastrophe is utopian thinking at its most extreme!

    “Rational, pragmatic” individualism as Ian put it is not winning the day – the opposite is true! Massive utopian-escapism prevails.

    So as a big fan of what you set out to do, allow me to suggest a reframing of your prjoect: you are the pragmatist, they are utopians. Show how!

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