making cherry trees

When I complained about recycling, it wasn’t that I think the environment isn’t in crisis. I know it is. I complained because I believe there is an opiate-like effect for people who want to feel not-powerless, so they believe “reduce, reuse, recycle” is close to enough. They are doing their part. As a friend said in the comments, “But if you buy a Prius you can pretty much do what you want because you’ve already done enough.” It’s that kind of thinking (that is almost not an exaggeration) that I find troubling.

In “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” the authors paint a beautiful and hopeful picture of what our future could be. Why not change everything about how things are made? They suggest we move from being “less bad” (reduce, reuse, recycle) to being “always good.”

Using a cherry tree as one of the metaphors for evolutionary design, they note that the “efficiency” of a cherry tree doesn’t involve having the fewest blooms possible producing the ideal single fruit with the one seed that will grow into a new tree. The tree is an integral part of the greater system. It is entirely interdependent on and with the life around it. The blossoms fall off and feed the soil, the fruit and seeds feed insects and birds and mammals, the wood and branches provide homes for critters, etc… The authors do a beautiful job of articulating how the design of the tree isn’t so much efficient as it is sustainable, effective, beautiful, and, of course, entirely biodegradable.

the cherry tree in the backyard of my parents’ summer place, taken on Mother’s Day 2012

A friend shared this link to an article about a fungi that eats plastic. That’s potentially fantastic. However, it strikes me without changing our whole point of view that having one more way to sort of clean up after ourselves won’t solve much. “Why try to optimize the wrong systems?” is the question the Cradle to Cradle authors ask. In the context of that question, this fungi could be a part of a grand change in the design and production of materials using the cherry tree model (entirely interdependent, 100% biodegradable, energy producing not just consuming, life-giving). Or, it could be something that’s used to kind of, sort of, take care of some of the problem while we all continue feeling a little guilty about the materials we’re using.

I’m new to all of these questions and issues. But, my gut says that household recycling and returning your wine bottle corks to Whole Foods isn’t going to make much of a difference in the environmental crisis (reminder, I’m not suggesting you don’t recycle just that you don’t think that’s “the answer”). Supporting the legislation and industries that will turn Industrialization on its head seems a good use of our time. We should stop trying to find new ways to deal with the problems of our current systems. Instead we should create new products, processes, materials, and systems that—instead of doing less harm—actually make the world healthier and stronger because we are using them.

6 thoughts on “making cherry trees

  1. Well said. CTC is a personal favorite right from the opening line “This book is not a tree.” Brilliant. The problem as I see it is simple, it all comes down to being responsible and responsibility has been abdicated by the fact that all our stuff goes “away” and we no longer have to deal with it or at least we don’t see how we are eventually being forced to deal with it. Putting it “away” is not dealing with it, it’s actually doing the opposite.

    We as a society need to step up and close the loop by buying things without packaging and demanding that packaging be decreased and industry be responsible for the packaging they put out there. Reduce, reuse recycle should be replaced with refuse reuse recycle. Don’t buy it in the first place and the battle is already won.

    As i always tell my audiences, recycling isn’t good, it’s just less bad.

    • In the context of the systems we have, I suppose “refuse” is a worthwhile goal. But, that’s just “less bad,” too, yes?

      Know one of the things that most rocked my world about this book? The section on making a book out of plastics. How irreverent and horrifying but, ultimately, I was totally sold.

      • Hmmm, if consumption is the problem that leads to everything else, isn’t limiting consumption a solution? Perhaps I’m missing something. How is limiting consumption not a good thing?

        As for the book, brilliant. Should be required reading for every high school kid.

        • If everything was made in a way that *helped* the earth and with helping the earth as the goal, then consumption wouldn’t be a problem. I’m thinking of that example of people wanting litter because of the seeds in the biodegradable packaging (loose example, you’ll remember from the book, though).

          I think the focusing on reducing consumption is important as things are now. But, it’s still thinking inside the current framework. It is thinking about being “less bad.”

          Does that make sense? (That is, am I being clear as I try to express my thoughts?)

          • Oh you and your clarity. No i get you. You are talking about remaking the system in which we live and I am talking about improving the system in which we live in order to move towards what you are talking about. I think that were your system in place but we still over consumed to the point we do, we’d still be in trouble because the resources we have cannot handle the consumption we take part in. So yes, I hear you, it’s all part of the process and a work in progress. I guess I speak more to the immediate because in my work if I don’t speak to people about immediate solutions (solutions being a start on the road to what you are talking about) then nothing will happen. I think everyone is always looking for the magical silver bullet when sadly there is none. That said, the good news is that the solutions exist, it’s just that most of us may not be happy with what they are.

            • Same page, pretty much. I just think changing a world view is so unlikely that when “solutions” (or “less bad” actions) are offered, it should be prominently noted that it’s part of the current system. Just noticing that it’s part of the old instead of a revolutionary change that could make a significant difference seems really important to me. But, yeah, what you said.

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