Wednesday, January 25, 2012

becoming a green hero....

As a follow up to an improvised chat I had with a student in the coffee line, I want to share a scenario for you to ponder:
  • You land your spaceship on Earth but know nothing about the planet or its inhabitants, armed only with superior technology (you are after all an inter-galactic space/time traveler) and a well-intentioned desire to assist if possible.
  •  You ask your on-board computer for a print out of the key data on the planet and its peoples: you get data for "countries" listing income per capita; annual death rate, birth rate and infant mortality; life expectancy; some trends for the last 200 years for 200 countries;  an index of political freedom; and then some data on pollution levels, which includes per capita levels of "waste" -- being from another planet you have no idea what this last item is, but what the heck, computer lists it, must have some relevance.
  • Being of superior intellect you ask the computer to run a quick correlation analysis to help you determine what to do and how you can help.  
  • You can see from the data that over 200 years the planet has been steadily improving in all areas, in all countries but some parts still lag and could be classed as "less developed" "under developed" or just in an earlier stage of development -- note, have to learn the language these people use, don't want to offend anyone from the get-go! (Hmmm, wonder if these people still use violence?)
  • Anyways your data show that prosperity and waste are highly correlated: light-bulb!  You can bring more "waste" or even better help the poor places generate greater amounts of waste and, according to your data, their incomes will rise, their life expectancy will increase, infant mortality decrease and malaria disappear -- and you will be a hero.  
  • And as a tiny green alien, you would,of course, be a "green hero".
Now you still don't know cause from effect, but hey, who's perfect anyways?

Part 2: denouement

The point is not that waste is by definition worthless and useless, it is the conditions that create that value that are significant and meaningful.

A weakness of capitalism is it generates waste.  A strength is it generates prosperity.

So, if we educate concerned and active young people that waste is bad and should be curtailed, we have just focused on an answer based on flawed presumptions: fear and guilt -- based on an incorrect presumption about limits.  We then take their energy and enthusiasm and direct them to address waste.  Great. Even if they significantly reduce waste for the wealthiest 1 billion (which has not proven possible), what difference have they made to the lives of the lowest 1 billion?

Conversely, if we focus on strengths and hope, we challenge their education to ask the right questions as to how do we create prosperity for the lowest 1 billion -- implementation of sustainability that is actually transformative.  Poverty is antithetical to sustainability.

The first construct is stasist and does not significantly alter anything: the second is inherently dynamist and does: wealth is a necessary condition for sustainability whereas poverty is what kills people and degrades the planet.

So why does convergent thinking in education stigmatize wealth?  Rather than inspire or encourage any graduate work on waste, education should be inspiring and facilitating the examination of creative wealth creation contextualized and "in country" for those places most in need of development and wealth creation.

If waste management is the presumptive answer, the wrong question is being asked.