Like most things about the Earth our climate is a fucking miracle but being human we can’t help but think that it’s existence has something to do with us. In a way I suppose it does, we are after all the ultimate expression of countless aeons of ceaselessly churning ecology, if the Earth speaks then we are not only its voice but its language. Unless of course you are a member of that unintelligible fraternity that believes humans are insignificant, that the planet would be better off without us, that of the trillions of organisms on Earth being the only one that knows it means nothing. No one is claiming that humans are perfect, arseholes abound, but our very existence is proof that we are meant to be here, that the planet’s evolutionary path has been laid for us to walk on, but lightly.
Clearly something has gone wrong with our relationship with mothership Earth. Dependent civilisation is the greatest trick that those in power can perform as a compliant yet competitive society will excuse almost any excess. Driven by the unremitting swash of capitalism we have become a race of creatures who no longer understand our pact with the environment and who deliberately lie to ourselves to assuage our guilt. In the West we go to great lengths to convince ourselves that we are conscientious, we drive a Prius, use low energy light bulbs, diligently separate our waste, rail against those that don’t. It’s a shame then that as professed friends of the Earth we rarely bother to find out what the impact of our fabulous environmental conscience actually is.
While it’s true that hybrid cars and compact fluorescents are the work of the fucking devil the damage they do will be fleeting when compared to the serial work of horror fiction that is recycling. That’s not to say that recycling can’t work, of course it can, it’s simply to point out that what we refer to as recycling rarely is. We get so righteous about things made with recycled materials, all sipping smugly from our brown yet ever so green coffee cups with ‘made with recycled materials’ printed on the side pretty much guaranteeing that we throw them away without a moment’s thought. Of course they can’t be recycled anyway so what does it matter? Nothing we buy lasts until we throw it away, then it lasts forever.
Recycling. The very name implies a virtuous circle, that a material can be returned to a nascent state and used over again, indefinitely. Well it can’t, unless the thing is glass or metal but even they are often so contaminated that they end up as little more than hardcore under roads, you know, the things that cars drive on. Certain types of cardboard can be used a few times, generally not as whole products but to leaven other cardboard so that the manufacturer can stamp one of many recycling logos on it and apply for tax breaks. The most recognised symbol though, the arrow loop, can be put on just about anything as it means that the product can, under exceptional circumstances, be recycled, but hasn’t yet. This is useful mostly because it identifies unsullied product to recyclers who might wish to avoid recycling anything that already contains recycled materials, which kind of misses the point.
Domestic recycling is horribly inefficient and expensive and usually only survives through subsidy and charity which is why so much of it in the past has been contracted to distant, less morally burdened nations but increasingly they don’t want our worthless shit anymore so it’s just buried or burnt while we all look the other way and put out our unrecyclable recycling boxes filled with unrecyclable recycling.
None of this is ever going to change until the materials and processes of manufacturing and the methods of collecting, collating and repurposing are standardised. Fat chance. Never going to happen. It could but it won’t, because there is one material, so brutally indispensable, so couldn’t-care-less multifarious and so totally unrecoverable that entire environmental policies and behaviour are bent out of shape just to accommodate it.
Plastic pollutes the environment unremittingly and its alleged recycling so strains credulity that any attempt on our part to suspend disbelief should be seen as a symptom of some as yet undiagnosed mental malady. Microbead ingestion perhaps. All of those plastic bottles, bags and containers that you so dutifully wash and crush and place in the proper box might as well be thrown out the window. The vast majority of plastic can’t be recycled at all and that which can is only recycled a few times into lower and lower grades until it too must be buried or burnt. Very often more energy is required and more pollution is created by recycling plastic than is saved through the process. Recycling plastic has always been the ultimate out of sight out of mind, nothing more than local propaganda for a global problem. Nothing exemplifies how invisible plastic waste is more than the world suddenly noticing it and being horrified by what is a comparatively tiny amount of the stuff bobbing around in the sea.
This highly visible waste is not as bad as it seems, being on the ocean is a hell of a lot better than being under it, afterall a lot of boats and buoys are made of plastic. That plastic boom the dim enviros have got floating aimlessly about in the Atlantic is going to add more plastic to the ocean than it’s ever going to take out. Visible plastic might be ugly but it usually means it’s still intact, the bottle on the riverbank or the witches knickers caught in a tree isn’t really pollution, it’s just rubbish, a decent argument could be made for making plastic bottles and bags that never degrade at all, it’s a lot easier to pick up a piece of paper than confetti, just ask a churchwarden.
At the moment we have the worst of both worlds because plastic doesn’t actually break down, it breaks up, which is why the vast majority of plastic in the sea is invisible, it sinks, sunlight and erosion reducing it to ever smaller pieces that never completely biodegrade and which look an awful lot like food to birds and marine animals. Add the small pieces of mystery plastic and the quintillions of tiny nylon fibres from clothing flushed out of washing machines and into the ocean and you have a recipe for dead fish soup but really, this is small potatoes.
This focus on packaging is not a bad thing, any negative attention unnecessary plastic can receive is good but between you and me, it’s going to achieve fuck all. It’s little more than a distraction, one that draws attention away from the true dirty bastards of industry. We can all choose to believe that we are making a positive impact, reducing carrier bag use, taking a reusable cup to the coffee shop, buying loose vegetables and bread in paper bags, all sensible behaviour, but plastic packaging, even that triple wrapped avocado, is pretty low density, low impact material compared to all of the hardcore plastic products we are so reliant on and yet don’t recognise as waste. Cladding, window frames, flooring, carpet, paint, cars, TV’s, computers, printers, white goods, toys, even furniture. That new sofa you just bought? It’s designed to fall apart in less than three years but the synthetic fabric its covered in will last thousands, every home is little more than a layby on the road to the rubbish tip of eternity.
One way of thinking about it is that every single thing that comes out of every single factory on the face of the Earth eventually ends up on the face of the Earth. Every factory making consumer products may as well build enormous conveyors or pipes carrying everything they produce straight out into the countryside or into the sea or into the air because that’s where it will end up, we’re just the chumps that have to pay for it.
Waste is a perfect demonstration of the demonisation of the end user rather than the manufacturer. Of course we deserve some of the blame, we do create the demand then kid ourselves that putting it in the magic receptacle turns it into something other than crap, but really if you want to reduce waste in the environment properly tax the fucker that made it. If it’s got your company name on it then it should be your responsibility to help clean it up and not in a way that gives the impression that you always did. Monster Corp, for a cleaner world, but begrudgingly.
Not that any of this makes any difference to the planet, the Earth doesn’t give a fuck if we fill the oceans with oil and plastic, couldn’t give a toss if we burn all the coal, melt the ice caps, foul the air, cut down the forests, murder or eat all the animals, the Earth doesn’t give a damn if we wipe ourselves out, it owes us nothing.
The planet can’t have a climate other than the one it has right now, this beautiful, fragile, mechanism. It wasn’t planned, it isn’t correct, the planet would be just as happy if the oceans were acid and the atmosphere was on fire, climate makes no difference to the planet at all. Our climate is perfect only because we know it is, declare it to be so, by any other criteria climate is irrelevant. It’s why fighting for the health of the planet is pointless, climate change presents no threat to the planet, it is a threat to us, we can’t save the planet, it’s not in danger, we are, we need to save ourselves.
The only reason we are here is climate, we have arisen now because the climate favours us, we are successful because the climate protects us, the current climate belongs to us. This is observation not hubris. The idea that we are destroying the planet or that we can somehow save it is ridiculous, and it doesn’t help anyone to insist that we are or can. Humans are an intrinsic part of the ecosystem, one that has a considerable effect on the environment as a whole. We are meant to be here, our influence is no more or less natural than a volcanic eruption or a meteor strike, unfortunately it has also become comparatively damaging.
We know this of course, despite the deniers, most of us understand that our climate and ecology are essential, consider them precious and in a very profound way that brings them into being. No other endangered species, and we are endangered, sits around discussing their diminishing habitat, no Orangutan ever turned to another and said ‘I fear that climate change, oil palm plantations and illegal logging might impinge negatively on the diversification of the rainforest.’ They just eat fruit and shit pips and when the food runs out they move higher up the mountain leaving it to a few good humans to worry about their future.
This is the same future that a few bad humans demonstrably don’t give a fuck about by refusing to represent the wellbeing of the vocal minority that didn’t vote for them. It seems even the climate body is complicit as many climate predictions and targets are deliberately understated just to get the biggest offenders to the table. The climate may be an inexact science but that inexactitude is something governments and their sponsors are only too happy to take advantage of.
It’s new, scant, social-conscience money versus old, vast couldn’t give-a-shit money and the old money is winning, there will always be enough poor people to peddle cheap filth to. Everything spins out from the money, over-developed nations will only protect the climate if there’s profit in it, so climate scientists and experts never tell them the whole truth, if they were to admit the situation was hopeless world leaders wouldn’t commit to anything, there’d be nothing left to do but move further up the mountain.
So climate change is recycled, sold as a financial opportunity with a little sprinkle of mortal danger despite the climate being non-recyclable. Carbon trading is invented, made to sound like a real thing, sure, go ahead, burn as much shit as you like, just buy the virtue of a cleaner country to meet your targets which by the way we’ve lowered to an achievable 1.5 degrees even though it’s not achievable and don’t give sea level rise or mass migration another thought, we don’t want you worrying about migrants drowning in your boathouse and we promise not to notice when you confuse weather with climate and want to assure your satisfied classes that anything positive you do will have an exclusive effect in your own country, it’s all about you sweetie.
The gruntled are increasingly disconnected, no longer feel any true communion with the environment, consider climate change little more than the brown edge of the lawn. We flaunt the hosepipe ban, sneak coloured glass in with the clear, think worrying about plastic is the same as doing something about it. We recycle our waste rather than reduce it, drive hybrid cars on petrol, feel validation through shiny new unnecessary things. This is what we have become, driven to consume in the guise of sustainability, blithely following those that lead us into catastrophe. It’s one marshmallow now or two in ten minutes, except in this scenario the options are shit loads of cash now or global destruction later.
Without great dissuasion those in power will always take the money thank you and be outraged should we mention it because it’s not just old white billionaires funding them, it’s us, we are all their sponsors, none of us seeming to give a damn about what happens to our grandchildren. Why should we? We’ll be dead when the shit hits. At least we can buy them something nice now to make up for any possible crop annihilation later. It’s a shame you can’t eat a puppy. Well, actually you can.