Post No.: 0438
Indium for touch screens, rhenium for jet turbines, neodymium for magnets in motors, lithium for batteries, helium for MRI scanners… These things we need (or want) for our technological civilisation are all rare and are running out in this finite world.
We could try recycling these elements but this is currently very difficult because they’re hard to separate back out of the complex and compact designs of most modern gadgets. (And helium, in particular, literally floats away and so gets lost into outer space!) So in the meantime, we should really aim to keep our gadgets for a far longer time than the two years on average for smartphones. Even then, they’re still ultimately rare and finite materials.
We could possibly pool together what planetary resources we currently have to find a way to mine minerals from outer space (just like the Red Dwarf mining vessel!) But this is currently prohibitive in cost and holds many unknowns. Space mining missions will take many years or decades just for the travel alone when we need solutions quite soon, and they can quite easily end in failures – hence we could lose the materials that are used to make those mining vessels to outer space too(!) (Face paw.) Such costs would then get passed onto the public.
Yet if no solution can be found then one day only the extremely rich will be able to afford certain gadgets and there could be a segregation between those who can afford them and those who cannot – well a segregation that’s worse than the one that exists even today that is. Conflicts already rage over limited valuable minerals in parts of the world, like Africa.
Even resources like sand (needed for making concrete) are apparently running out! The use of limestone cement for making traditional concrete is also a huge source of carbon dioxide emissions. We don’t want to resort to a message of ‘doom and gloom’ because people will tend to just switch off, yet we don’t want to present a message of ‘it’ll be alright’ when it’s not looking that way either because people will just blissfully carry on as they are. The doom is not imminent and the human species will probably survive – it’s more a question of what kind of state will people’s livelihoods, lives and civilisations be in? Maybe we’ve got to be more like sensible doctors or scientists and be honest about the expected values (the sum of the potential payoffs of all of the outcomes possible multiplied by their respective odds of happening), although humans aren’t always rational even when provided such information. (There appears to be a theme with these last few posts of mine despite their different topics – woof!)
Instead of conserving what we have, we’re myopically trying to metaphorically wring out every last drop of blood from this planet. We’re buying new clothes, new cars and new electronic devices when our existing ones still work fine or could be fixed, thus we’re needlessly depleting finite resources that are running out fast – resources that could be more efficiently or effectively utilised, such as by only using them for producing and then buying stuff that’s truly needed and/or that’ll really change our lives; for which a marginally faster phone or a slightly different pair of jeans won’t pass that test.
So our short-sighted selfishness may ruin us, or at least ruin the advancement of our technological civilisation, ironically. When we work for only the good of ourselves (everyone going ‘I want new stuff and so I’ll buy it’ without a consideration for its cumulative consequences), we risk harming the lives of everyone, especially the not-yet-born (of all kinds of species that share this planet) who don’t have a say or control about the future they’ll be detrimentally forced to inherit and accept because of our actions. Our liberty affects the liberties of others – our freedom to do whatever we want affects the ability of others to do whatever they might want to do, such as simply breathe clean air.
Post No.: 0295 explained why, just because you may have paid for something according to its market value, it doesn’t mean you have paid back to nature what it was worth according to its value to nature.
Some material compounds cannot be efficiently recycled. And nuclear transmutation, or converting one chemical element or isotope into another (basically alchemy), for all of the elements we want in our modern technologies, is either not commercially viable or not viable at all on Earth. Therefore recycling what exists on this planet is imperative because we cannot simply manufacture more of those elements. We haven’t perfected furry fusion power on Earth yet; never mind equivalent to supernovae explosions (where elements denser than helium, or in particular denser than iron, can be produced, sometimes with the help of cosmic ray spallation), if the latter will ever be even physically possible to achieve on Earth.
Recycling still takes energy too, and regarding recyclable plastics in particular, they can only be recycled so many times because they degrade each time they are, unlike glass or metal. Thus we still need to reduce and reuse. There are confusing recycling symbols on packaging (some are even meaningless or misleading) and differences between local councils regarding what they’ll recycle; and if we just err on the side of caution and stick something in the recycling bin anyway then this can cause more harm than good if we get it wrong.
We therefore need to reset the standardisation of recycling labelling and recycling procedures so that we’re clearer on what we must do when it comes to recycling. Manufacturers need to improve their material choices and designs too. Still, we can put the right plastics in the right recycling bins but if councils are just exporting what is collected to poorer ‘developing’ countries, where they’re sometimes just dumped there rather than processed, then it’s all pointless as well as unfair on those countries. (These countries are increasingly refusing to accept trash from other countries though.) The US is the worst in the ‘developed’ world when it comes to the amount of average waste produced per head and when it comes to recycling.
Many companies like to over-package their products in order to give them a more ‘premium’ feel and price. They also like to fill a lot of plastic packaging with air to try to con their customers into thinking that a pack of something, such as potato chips, is larger. It’s a waste of space and transport, even though it may maximise their profits. So businesses aren’t going to improve the situation unless they face market pressures from customers – who must actually hurt their bottom lines by not purchasing their products rather than merely expressing words of disgust – or alternatively face external pressures from governments.
We might have to do some things that aren’t commercially viable. For instance, even though exporting or incinerating rubbish might be the most (immediately) cost-effective solution, we’ve got to look at alternatives that are better for the long-term. If that means that governments need to step in since the free market isn’t incentivised to find the solutions then that means that governments will need to step in.
I still believe that we can do something to ensure a better tomorrow for future generations of life, but we’ll need to first combat excessive greed and purely selfish interests – in particular short-term interests. How the human species has been treating the Earth is a reflection of how the human species has been frequently treating its fellow humans, other life and things too i.e. as if merely resources to exploit for personal gain.
Education alone evidently isn’t enough. Most people nowadays know what they must do – consume less, prolong the life of what they’ve already got and aim to waste nothing. Or reduce, refuse (any excessive or single-use packaging), reuse, repair, re-purpose, recycle (in that order of importance), and restore and replenish. Yet too many people in this world who can do these things aren’t doing these things, or aren’t doing them enough, because of a lack of incentive i.e. something that hits their personal bottom lines because appealing to morality isn’t enough for most.
Politically, based on how voters vote, the economy tends to come before environmental concerns, hence the message is to consume to boost the economy rather than to save to ease limited environmental resource depletion. And the public cannot blame the governments if the public overall puts the economy before the environment whenever they vote! (It won’t improve one’s popularity to blame the public but I’m not a politician who’s soliciting for votes.) Corporate interests are obviously mainly about promoting consumption too in order to maximise shareholder value or profits per quarter. But again we could possibly blame the public for this as the shareholders with voting rights in these corporations or as the people who instruct how their fund managers should invest (albeit this is a far smaller, wealthier, subgroup of the population).
Too many people’s individual interests, meanwhile, are to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ in terms of materialism. It’s about pleasure now and pain later, buy now and pay later, luxury over abstinence, convenience over effort, throw away rather than fix, drive rather than walk/cycle, the tragedy of the commons because if you don’t take something that’s shared then someone else will, status symbols and power-orientated motives and objectives as conferred by money, displaying a jet-set lifestyle and having the latest products and the most stuff, and other psychological limitations or fuzzy myopias of human programming that override the desire to look after the environment and biodiversity. The desire for consumption and conspicuously exhibiting materialism is too great. People still tend to generally judge others negatively (e.g. as having a lower status) if they have and use old and shabby stuff. Such human instincts basically need to be overridden with a fundamental change of culture – but that won’t likely happen soon because many people watch, follow (and thus reward and reinforce) and aspire to live like those who flaunt their affluent and excessive lifestyles.
Human natural instincts didn’t evolve to prioritise big-picture and long-term interests over proximal and short-term interests, particularly when it comes to sexual selection – where exhibiting excess attracts more potential mates, and there’s no limit to excess. People can change but their psychology means that they likely won’t without at least nudges in the right direction. The market system, the culture of aspirational glamour and opulent lifestyles, of images of status and power inferred via material acquisitions, are antithesis to environmental consideration – even celebrities (whom many people regard as their role models), when they espouse environmental messages, are sending mixed messages with their own high-consumption, luxurious lifestyles.
We need to ditch the notion of ownership and switch our roles to one of stewardship. This planet and everything in or on it isn’t just ours, and while we’re alive, we’re only looking after it; perhaps like a pet cat or dog we should be loving and caring for.