Perhaps it can be said that the source of man-made environmental problems began with our “disconnect from nature”, as noted in Cradle to Cradle. Within the last couple hundred years, man has risen “above” nature with advanced industry, technology, and insatiable consumption of resources. Building structures and urban development wall off the wild tangles and beauty of nature – keeping it at a safe distance. However, as declared in all three readings from this past week, we are part of the system; we are part of nature. And as members of ecology, we must do our part to support the sustainability (and even growth) of the system -like the ants.
According to Cradle to Cradle, people should strive to emulate ants, and with good reason. In many ways they are not so different from us. They are social creatures that populate nearly every climate on earth, farm food in the form of a white fungus, and build vast structures (or tunnels) for their homes. Although, then again, they differ from us in many respects: they play a critical ecological role in aerating soil; their homes and venom are entirely biodegradable. But, the important lesson to derive from studying ants and other species around the globe is (as pronounced in “A Manual for Ecological Design”) we are responsible for the “cycling of nutrients” that we use. On that note, I very much concur with a point made by Ken Yeang, that our earth is a “closed materials system with finite mass”. Our current unsustainable consumption of fossil fuels is just one example that ignores this principle. Instead of considering the earth as an abundant storage of resources to use and abuse, we should see it as the nonlinear set of interconnected complex and diverse systems that it is.
If we are willing to embrace the fact that we must protect the delicate networks and diversity that allow us to live so comfortably on this planet, there are immediate steps we must take to prevent our reinforcing loop of destruction. So, what are the “leverage points” (as Donella Meadows described in Thinking in Systems), the sweet-spot points of solution in an unnacceptable and unsustainable system? Well, sometimes what is needed is to take a step back from the problem to look at the bigger picture. In the brilliant words from Cradle to Cradle , we are encouraged to “expand design considerations and recognize distant effects”, because in the end “we’re all downstream”. If the system itself is wrong, then reducing it’s negative impacts does not make it right. What may be necessary in our quandary, is to rethink the system with the vision of a win-win situation between humans and the environment.
Only stubborness will lead people to believe that they cannot thrive with nature as our partner. We cannot survive without the planet we evolved to learn and love. To balance our feedback loop, we can start by eradicating (not reducing) pollution. Like the cherry tree example from Cradle to Cradle, it’s blossoms fall in hopes of producing a seedling while the rest become detritus. Yet, this waste is never wasted because the blossoms return into the healthy food and nutrients cycle of its ecosystem. Everything is connected, just as we are connected inherently to nature.
Braungart, Michael and William McDonough. Cradle to Cradle. New York: North Point Press, 2002. Web.
Meadows, Donella. Thinking in Systems: a primer. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2008. Web.
Yeang, Ken. “A Manual for Ecological Design.” n.d. 5 September 2013.