Environment & the World

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Natural Capitalism, Chp. 3: Karen’s comments

Filed under: Reading Group, Waste — kwolfgan @ 1:36 am

I am the designated discussion leader for this week’s chapter, and as it turns out, that’s a harder job than I expected. I am writing this on a Saturday night while simultaneously making sure a sleeping nine-month-old doesn’t roll of bed. She’s done it once before, and in doing so quite effectively caused her babysitters’ paranoia level to skyrocket. She knows I am here and keeps checking to make sure I’m not going anywhere…so I won’t. At least not while writing.

I am still a mom-of-the-somewhat-distant-future, thank goodness, and so I have time to compare and contrast models of baby care and see what works and what most certainly doesn’t. At this point, I am putting the pieces together from several wise aunties and grandmas and unrelated advisors, all of whom have something to say about the social-emotional upbringing of their niece/granddaughter/cherished little person. Little or no attention is given (in this baby’s circle, at least, and I have reason to believe that on this dimension she’s representative of a larger trend) to environmental impact or sustainability—to making sure this representative of the next generation at least has something in which to swaddle her own children.

And that’s where baby and Natural Capitalism, Chapter Three intersect. Ours is one of those kids that equals ten other kids—you know, because American moms and dads are consume resources at an astounding rate, making sure their little ones are taken care of. Carseats and cribs and diaper bags (not to mention diapers), oh my! And really, who can blame them? I would do anything to make sure this baby is happy, up to and including sitting here in the dark instead of putting her in her crib, where she would probably cry for an hour. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, per se, that the next generation in this country is unbelievably spoiled (at least materially); I wish they all received the level of attention our little one gets. But our collective focus is on other things.

H & the Ls don’t say anything I haven’t heard (such seems to be the trend lately, and perhaps I will write on that later), but do provide some food for thought in this chapter, “Waste Not.” For instance, they point out that environmental feedback is constantly occurring in nature, but not in our social institutions: for instance, when’s the last time you heard a parent say “oh, dear, the diapers my baby shat in last week are not decomposing, and I am concerned.” Moms don’t say those things, because along with everything else disposable, diapers get put out on the curb for collection each week—it’s one of the many miracles of modern life. (To be honest, garbage collection never ceases to amaze me; neither does the mail, for what that’s worth.)

The point of this chapter is one that I could explore further, though: the connection between wasting resources and wasting people. What does it mean that the U.S. is the largest penal colony on earth (54) and whatever we’re teaching our children isn’t working (55)? Whatever happened to wrapping the baby up and carrying her on your back while you did whatever you were going to do and then, when she became mobile enough, having her follow you around and showing (not telling) her the essential skills for survival? Why do we farm out that experience? And what change will be effected by the ameliorative measures being taken in (alternative) education these days, when even the best moms and dads don’t consider what the baby’s stroller is made out of, or where it’s made, or who made it?

I’m not interested in bleak statistics or dire warnings or predictions at this point. I am interested in what is compelling about the model of babyhood (and childhood and adolescence and adulthood, for that matter) that we currently work from. Something obviously is, and I can’t condemn folks for being compelled by it. I don’t know the way to fix what’s broken, but I know we’re broken and there has got to be a better way. Pressure’s on to figure something out, though: kids today are depending on us.



  1. Karen, thank you for taking the lead on this chapter. Like you, I also found compelling the connection the authors made between wasting resources and wasting people. H& the Ls sum it up by writing, “A society that wastes resources wastes its people and vice versa” (55). What they also argue, but perhaps don’t state as succinctly, is that societies espouse certain overarching goals and guiding principles. Their social realities then unfold in the effort of attaining these goals. The U.S. and many Western societies work towards growing their GDPs, but as H& the Ls (and many others before and after them) point out, relying on the GDP as an indicator of society’s wellbeing is riddled with problems.

    Years of chasing GDP growth now means that we can raise baby with the help of car seats, cribs, diaper bags, tons of toys, and other material comforts. However when it comes to raising baby as a charitable human-being and giving her a sense of purpose and belonging in live, GDP doesn’t necessarily offer much.

    So if we could, as H & the Ls propose, shift our national project to chasing other indices that include health, quality of life, leisure time, real wages, education, security, etc. then we might find ourselves better off. But shifting direction like that is no small task: it requires political will, debate, and plenty of agitating support. So, I think you steer us in the right direction in your last paragraph. In order to attain this shift, we need to examine “what is compelling about the model of babyhood (and childhood and adolescence and adulthood, for that matter) that we currently work from.” Maybe a good place to start would be to delineate and describe, in order to make explicit, the models that we currently follow.

    Comment by Amir — Wednesday, January 24, 2007 @ 3:43 pm

  2. Amir and Karen have emphasized the connection between wasting resources and wasting people. I also really appreciated H&L’s discussion of how “human resources” are undervalued in our society. This goes back to their earlier point about how the industrial model was developed at a time of abundant resources and scarce labor, whereas we currently have the exact opposite situation.. I have often thought about this issue of how to use less resources while using more labor. Living in China with the tremendous labor resources here, they have certainly adopted much more labor-intensive solutions to problems. Coal mines are less mechanized but employ about 50 times more miners per ton. The streets are swept by people with brooms, and salted after the snow by people with bags of salt. This is certainly one solution, but on the other hand, these are hardly high quality jobs that provide the sense of human dignity that H&L often emphasize. In short, I am finding it difficult to imagine how “moving the economy toward resource productivity can increase overall levels and *quality* of employment.”(my emphasis) On the other hand, the Chinese examples I’ve given do not use natural resources any more effectively either, so they do not exactly fit the model of increased resource productivity. If we go back to H&L’s previously mentioned example of improved resource productivity, the Hypercar, I do not see how any more people would necessarily be employed in that industry than in the current automotive industry. Indeed, because of the reduction in upstream manufacturing costs in the form of producing steel dies, etc, there might be a reduction in employment.

    So perhaps the solution is to adopt the methods of, e.g. France, in requiring only a 35 hour work week. But developing nations, and probably the US, would not be willing to accept this reduction in economic growth. In the US, just enforcing the 40 hour work week, would require a dramatic shift in mindset. This brings me right back to the cultural shift that Amir and Karen discussed in their responses, to which I don’t have any easy answers. The path that we are currently on is largely the path of least resistance, I would say. In terms of national and corporate interest, chasing GDP is far easier than working on improving quality of life.

    Comment by ckunkel — Saturday, January 27, 2007 @ 2:43 pm

  3. I just want to pick up briefly on the resources vs. jobs thread. I’ve also wondered about why using resources more efficiently would increase “overall levels and quality of employment.” This point is actually also one of the selling points in the Apollo Alliance, so I went to their website for some insight.

    A fact sheet on their website offers some bullet-point statistics on how energy efficiency/independence can create new, well paying jobs. For example:

    “Every $1 Billion invested into public transportation supports 47,500 jobs.

    “Energy efficient buildings and appliances have higher labor content than traditional technologies, replacing wasted energy with high skill jobs.

    “DOE estimates that standards on clothes washers, water heaters, and fluorescent lamp ballasts will create 120,000 jobs through 2020.

    “Renewable power production is labor intensive – wind power creates 2.77 jobs for every MW produced, Solar PV creates 7.24 jobs per MW, and geothermal creates 5.67 jobs per MW.”

    So I guess the general argument is that energy efficiency measures require employing more people. It also seems like the many of the jobs it will create will be manufacturing jobs, and perhaps a layer of management and bureaucractic jobs (though I’m not sure about the new-jobs specifics). Considering that the U.S. has lost much of its manufacturing base over the past few decades, this would be a positive development that would perhaps expand and strengthen the middle class base in this country.

    Comment by Amir — Sunday, January 28, 2007 @ 12:24 pm

  4. Interesting writing.. Hope to definitely visit again.

    Comment by Keendestfut — Wednesday, May 20, 2009 @ 10:38 pm

  5. I love your style. I will try and follow you as much as I can.

    Comment by Davinci Kalani — Tuesday, January 26, 2010 @ 6:18 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: