Remaking the Way We Make Things
Since the other student who read the book addressed the connect of “waste = food” and recycling vs up cycling, I will focus on the argument “respect diversity”.
The industrial revolution brought about many great advances in technology. We became more “efficient” at producing food and other consumer products, as well as transporting these products across the globe. The industrial revolution also brought about an extreme paradigm shift; Man, rather than working within the constraints of his surroundings, began to just add more power to overcome, conquer, and remove themselves from the natural system.
On a separate but related note, I watched a PBS documentary on the Dust Bowl this weekend. An interview one of the farmers sons that was interviewed stood out. He stated that they never “tried different”, they just “tried harder”. If the price of wheat plummeted, they just tilled more land and tried to sell more at the cheaper price. When the dust bowl hit, they didn’t try anything new, or look to old methods even, they just added more power in hopes that it would achieve a different result that year. Not only had they creates huge stretches of land with a monoculture landscape, they also killed off the natural predator, the coyote. This lead to an infestation of jackrabbits, who ate every inch of vegetation that was still left, compounding the problem further.
They did not respect ecological diversity, or ecological history of the location they cultivated. Not only did the farmers of the Midwest wipe out a series of very different ecosystems on the grassy plains, but they replaced it with a one size fits all solution: more powerful machines, and miles of monoculture wheat.
Man has also taken this same approach to making buildings. Rather than using materials and labor that compliments the culture and the location, we now ship in prefabricated parts made of materials from thousands of miles away. These parts may rust in the salt air, or degrade in the hot sun, so we slap some paint on it and slap on a bigger air-conditioning unit. We are hell bent on locking nature out.
So thats what not to do. McDonough and Braungart propose that instead of a monoculture solution that is simply made more powerful to overcome a diversity of problems, let us look to local and diverse solutions to solve different local problems.
In respect to the Dust Bowl example, they should have looked at what was growing there before we showed up: buffalo grass. A lot of the area was perfectly suited for grazing cattle. The roots of this grass kept the topsoil secure even in times of extreme drought. By all means, grow the wheat too, but take into account that an incredibly diverse and complicated ecosystem developed before we got there, and we should not only respect it, but look to it for solutions to problems . (I’m not going to go any further into this example since it was a side note to begin with).
As for buildings, commercial or residential, we should take cues from the local culture and environment, as well as considering future uses. The book mentions that in India, porous walls of wet sandstone serve as a way of cooling the air naturally as it blows through the building. Fresh cool air, no electricity needed, and its definitely nicer to look at than an airtight concrete box with a huge AC unit on the side. Add photovoltaic cells to roofs in areas with strong sun. Add green roofs to buildings in areas with seasonal temperature changes to help keep the building warmer/cooler than outside while creating a green space which if not only aesthetically pleasing but helps manage storm water runoff. Chicago is the Windy City. Why not explore wind power options?
We need localize solutions to both local and global problems, which take into account the history as well as it’s future lifecycle, wheather it be an ecosystem, a building, or a product.