Here is one way to state the problem:
we humans have to fit our infinite appetites into the contours and confines of a finite world.
One of the glorious aspects of being human is that we are blessed with urges, desires. We are curious; we are inquisitive; we are daring; we are hungry for meaning, purpose, exploration, answers. We want to know more, do more, see more, possess more. That is what makes us human and that is what makes us just a little divine. Our drives make us worthy of being God’s partner in creation. People who are lazy or satisfied don’t build, discover, or grow. They just sit. How wonderful that Eve, way back in the Garden, dared to take the fruit and eat it.
But it is this very seeking and turning and digging and wanting that causes us to trash the earth. Our current linear, one-way path of consumption: dig up, transform, package, transport, sell, throw out, is a model of our expectations of endless resources. It functions as if there are infinite resources, infinite money, infinite dumps.But of course, there are not.
We need instead to build and use the model of cycles, the eternal return of stuff from earth to earth. (for an amusing, if sometimes edgy, portrait of what we do wrong and how we can do it right, see http://www.storyofstuff.com) We need to make things that from their inception, know how they will end up.
This has begun, elsewhere in the world. Elsewhere they are asking: What if manufacturers were required to dispose of, reuse, or recycle their products after their lifecycle was done? What if computer manufacturers, vacuum cleaner companies, car companies, etc had to take back their products and recycle or reuse or else pay to have the stuff hauled away and dumped?
Nations and companies have begun implementing, or exploring, take-back and recycle programs. Canada is exploring implementing an Extended Producer Responsibility (“EPR”), at least for electronics, mercury-containing lamps, batteries, packaging and printed materials.
The idea is that if manufacturers had to bear the responsibility and cost of managing the waste their products created, there would be much less waste.
This is one large way of extending our finite resources into a more infinite loop. And it is one way to help all of us understand the true lifecycle, and costs, of the goods we consume. Hurrah.