Green penitence.

The "be less bad" environmental approaches to industry have been
crucial in sending important messages of environmental
concern--messages that continue to catch the public's attention and
spur important research. At the same time, they forward conclusions
that re less useful. Instead of presenting an inspiring and exciting
vision of change, conventional environmental approaches focus on what
not to do. Such proscriptions can be seen as a kind of guilt
management for our collective sins, a familiar placebo in Western
In very early societies, repentance, atonement, and sacrifice were
typical reactions to complex systems, like nature, over which people
felt they had little control. Societies around the world developed
belief systems based on myth in which bad weather, famine, or disease
meant one had displeased the gods, and sacrifices were a way to
appease them. In some cultures, even today, one must sacrifice
something of value in order to regain the blessing of the gods (or
god) and reestablish stability and harmony.
Environmental destruction is a complex system in its own
right--widespread, with deeper causes that are difficult to see and
understand. Like our ancestors, we may react automatically, with
terror and guilt, and we may look for ways to purge ourselves--which
the "eco-efficiency" movement provides in abundance, with its
exhortations to consume and produce less by minimizing, avoiding,
reducing and sacrificing. Humans are condemned as the one species on
the planet guilty of burdening it beyond what it can withstand; as
such, we must shrink our presence, our systems, our activities, and
even our population so as to become almost invisible. (Those who
believe population is the root of our ills think people should mostly
stop having children.) The goal is zero: zero waste, zero emissions,
zero "ecological footprint."
As long as human beings are regarded as "bad", zero is a good goal.
But to be less bad is to accept things as they are, to believe that
poorly designed, dishonorable, destructive systems are the best humans
can do. This is the ultimate failure of the "be less bad" approach: a
failure of the imagination.
William McDonough & Michael Braungart

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