Imagine a world where the very way we live is steadily enriching the ecosystems around us.
It is a world where our households and communities, just by thriving, make the biosphere a greener, more abundant and more livable place for us and our fellow species. It is a world where every company and corporation, just by doing business, is subtracting CO2 and plastic from the biosphere. It is a world in which all our enterprises, large and small, account for not just their financial expenses and revenues, but also their gray and green ecological impacts. Here, concepts such as ‘minimizing footprints’, ‘net-zero’, ‘zero waste’ and ‘carbon-neutral’ are relics. No longer do we strive to minimize our gray harm, instead we strive to maximize our greening contributions. In this world, our culture and economy are like voices syncing in song with the planet’s cycles; a chorus of ecological harmony rising up with us towards the stars.
I believe that to the extent you and I can imagine this world, it is not nearly as distant as many despair. I also believe that this is a vision we all long for and aspire to. Like our love of a song well sung, of coordinated colors or of symmetrical shapes, the call to harmony unites us across continents and cultures. Whether it is our voice in a choir, our role in a community or our part in the the biosphere, we long to contribute. Indeed, I have come to see that our transition to authentic ecological contribution is part of an epic planetary story whose direction is literally in our hands.
So, how do we get to this beautiful world we all long for?
I’ve got one word for you: “Plastic”.
It is said in permaculture that the problem is always the solution. Through my personal plastic journey, I have come to see that our every day plastic is in fact a grand opportunity for awakening.
That ubiquitous material we all love to hate, is in fact a portal.
By looking at it closely and stepping through, a great ethical advance awaits us. Up until now, our understanding of how to contribute to ecological harmony has been juvenile — our notions vague, incomplete and human-centered. Our definition of ‘greening’ has been limited to simply reducing harm. However, through insights gleaned from plastic’s ancient-Earth story, we can gain unprecedented clarity and confidence into the fundamental principles of biosphere enrichment. With this foundation we can reorient our current enterprises and technologies and build new one’s from the ground up.
But first, let’s address the hate.
Plastic has garnered a bad rap over the last decades and the ire of us all. It has been piling up, clogging ecological cycles, polluting and contaminating. The consequences of our last century of plastic play is the focus of great consternation and condemnation. While, it may not be the most dire of our ecological crises, as we look out upon the polluted beaches, ruined rivers and suffering turtles, it certainly causes us the most shame.
However, an awakening has begun.
Around the world we’re realizing where our plastic, oh-so carefully segregated and recycled, is actually ending up. The latest investigative journalism and documentaries are making it clear: no matter what bin we put it in, plastic’s current inevitable destiny is the biosphere. Our observation of the ensuing pollution has evoked a collective despair. It has led to a harsh judgment of ourselves as a ‘destructive’ species and of plastic as innately ‘bad’.
However, as you you will see, these two judgments are misplaced.
Although, we’re now seeing clearly where our plastic ends — that is only half the story. Until now, we haven’t truly grasped where plastic begins. Our century story of plastic as human-made and managed has been woefully short-sighted. To the extent we haven’t understood the full Earthen cycle of plastic we have been blind to some startling insights.
Although our awakening has come from our understanding of plastic’s destiny, the wisdom to move forward comes from understanding its origins. As you will see, plastic is tremendously and innately valuable — in ways that we have completely overlooked.
To understand plastic’s true value, we must transcend our self-judgments and condemnations. To do so we must go back and look at how humanity got plastic into its hands in the first place.
Let’s start from the beginning.
This is the second post in a series laying out a new theory of Green — what I am calling Earthen Ethics. In the next segment we’ll take a look at the Long Story of Plastic — the epic billion year journey of carbon through the Earth’s history to arrive at our plastic bottles of today.
PREVIOUS: What is does Green Really mean?
Russell Maier is based in Indonesia, where he and his partner Ani Himawati tend a food forest garden that provides their fruit and greens. Together they track their household plastic and CO2 impacts. Their monthly household plastic consumption of 0.8kg/month is 14% of the Indonesian average. In 2020 their household CO2 emissions of 2046 Kg were 46.5% of the Indonesian per capita average. Meanwhile, their trees, bamboo, ecobricking and offsetting enabled them to secure 286% more CO2 (5851 kg of CO2 ) and keep 2200% more plastic out of the biosphere than they consumed (5.5Kg). See Russell’s full household plastic disclosure which is independent of his professional work and projects. See also full green impact accounting statement of the enterprise of developing Earthen Ethics and its publication. Russell and Ani are leaders in the global regenerative ecobrick movement.