This article is from a talk given at the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at the University of Maine on September 14, 2015.
Two views image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.
Figure A: U.S. Households Containing Various Consumer Goods, 1900– 2000.
SOURCE: J. R. McNEILL AND GEORGE VRTIS, 2012
“Increases in longevity, reductions in mortality, ever-higher standards of living, greater freedoms for greater numbers and classes of people—the evidence was obvious for all to see. … “Even two World Wars, a planet-wide Great Depression, and the specter of atomic destruction… could not completely dampen the facts of modern progress.”
Figure B: US greenhouse gas emissions from products
SOURCE: Product Policy Institute, 2009
Cartographic depiction of toy exports.
SOURCE: JOHN BARRETT,STOCKHOLM INSTITUTE 2010.
Figure C: King County, WA Consumption and GHG Emissions.
SOURCE: KING COUNTY, 2012.
Figure D: The Rise of Products, 1900-2000.
SOURCE: Product Policy Institute, 2005.
Figure E: SOURCE: US EPA “Municipal Solid Waste in the US: 2012 Data”
Figure F: US Wasting and Recycling since 1960.
SOURCE: US EPA “Municipal Solid Waste in the US: 2010 Data”.
- Lack of recycling infrastructure or landfill space?
- Imperfect consumer behavior? or
- Poor product design?
- The Breakthrough Institute is at the forefront of the latter way of thinking. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, lead authors of the recent Eco-modernist Manifesto, argue for embracing technology like nuclear energy and GMO crops to “intensify human activities — particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry and settlement — so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world.”
- Cradle-to-Cradle co-author Bill McDonough is another proponent of the Abundance worldview. Ten billion people? Not a problem. Unleash innovation and we can redesign everything so it can be “upcycled,” there is no waste, and everyone can thrive.