Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cradle to Cradle to Cradle

Right now I’m reading a book called Cradle to Cradle. The general premise is that right now, from an environmental and ecological perspective, our goals are only to be less bad and that’s no good. We aren’t considering natural design. With a focus on efficiency, we’re creating single-minded solutions for one time problems. Treating the symptoms rather than the cure. They claim our problems are not a problem of excesses, but a problem of design.


This book is sort of changing the way I think about environmentalism. A process, I suppose, that has been going on for the last couple of years, most especially in the last few months as I’ve been reading more and more about agricultural practices, ecology, food, the planet, etc. What I like about these guys (though I do still have some reservations) is that, unlike Wendell Berry and Barbara Kingsolver (both who I enjoyed) they lack some sort of sentimental naivete. And unlike Pollan, they lack the sort of pragmatic pessimism. In this book lies a pure and complete awareness of the problems, down to what sorts of off gasses and toxins exist in our clothing, our books, the pages, and a genuine seeking and call to seek out a different way of considering the issue. Going all the way back. They make their book an example of their intention. Created on polymers designed to be recycled, so that when the book is recycled, it can actually be “upcycled” so as not to lose its structural integrity/quality, or to release more toxins into the air (and thus our lungs, etc). They give examples of all the ways things we do to be ‘less bad’ may actually be just as bad. Toxins that are released when recycling. The way “energy efficient” buildings are often hazardous to a person’s health, or downright depressing/stifling.


But a lot of this is stuff I already thought about. What’s changing, sort of, is that they are proponents of excess. Using an example of a cherry tree, who produces more blossoms than it needs to reproduce, but none of these blossoms are wasted. They feed their local ecology: birds, insects, the soil. So they say industrial design should be: rather than over produce by including unnecessary filler which turns to ‘waste’ (that goes away but not really away, instead to a toxic landfill, or seeping into the soil, or what have you), we design industry like the cherry tree… overflow that feeds the local environment rather than poisons.


When I summarize it, it doesn’t seem all that ground breaking really. It seems obvious. But it’s not.  My favorite example so far (I’m only half through), is the examples of roofing. Right now they absorb and reproduce and overheat within their community (black soaking in heat and then re-emitting it). But they aren’t particularly effective from a heating/cooling energy standpoint. Cradle to Cradle suggests using a soil/plant life roof. Like grasses. These would naturally help maintain a home temperature that was cooler during the summer, and warmer during the winter. They would also help with water run off and produce a natural ecology for wildlife (birds, squirrels, insects, etc). Plus… pretty! Of course, other countries do this sort of thing already, they tell us. This sort of design exists all over Europe (and probably Africa and South America and hell… even probably Canada.).


The problem comes when these guys present it as if people won’t have to give anything up. But people won’t see it this way. Here in America, people don’t want to give up anything—including what they “want.” And rarely do I see people consider their neighbors (human or non human) in these situations. Take, for example, my parents. They are getting to re-pave their driveway. Why? Because a weed broke through the pavement, cracking it about 20 feet in any given direction. Right in the middle of their driveway, a giant weed. I took a picture. It’s rather pretty—what nature can do. Remarkable to see it fight back.


But according to Cradle to Cradle that weed fighting through the concrete is just a sign of unintelligent design. And a lack of imagination on the part of the designers. And I am tending to agree.  

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