Our failures in design

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The beach

I recently came across an interesting quote: ‘pollution is a symbol of design failure’. This wisdom comes from the book ‘Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things’, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. These few words describe very accurately what’s really wrong with our current way of living. In nature everything is recycled. Even excrements of animals are input for other intricate parts of the Cycle of Life. Only the human species, which biologically is simply one of the many animal species, has invented processes that produce objects, liquids and gases that no-one wants, and that cannot be reintroduced into the Cycle of Life. Design failures! Because we don’t want the end results of these failures anymore, we just do the easy thing, and the only thing we know: we throw them away. Not that long ago, all household garbage on Curacao was dumped into the sea, an act deemed acceptable because the sea was seen as this huge endless pit that would take care of our failures. Even today, dumping garbage overboard while underway is still a valid way of cleaning up, on board of ocean going vessels. The effects of this are littering our beaches now, and will haunt us for years to come.

The 'mondi'

Incidentally, our ‘throw away’ society even seems to be built upon principles of stupidity: we dump valuable resources and lots of energy. Just to remind us: it just takes 4 % of the amount of energy necessary to produce a sheet of aluminum foil from bauxite (aluminum ore) to make a sheet the same size out of recycled aluminum! In so far as we need the stuff anyway, because lots of generations survived nicely without it.

What’s needed is a serious engineering overhaul of all the processes we designed to make our lives easier. We should be able to do that, because we consider ourselves ‘sapiens’ – intelligent. The design flaws should be addressed in order to turn our society into one that’s pollution free. It will be a complex transition, and at times maybe even painful, but we owe it to the next generations. Most of the necessary steps can only be taken collectively, requiring effective leadership. As citizens of this small Island we should therefore demand vision, knowledge, and professionalism from our politicians, as well as selfless devotion to the cause of survival of our species.

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