Red Shoulder Hawk

Red Shoulder Hawk

Monday, October 10, 2005

Conservation doesn't work

I'm enjoying an email exchange with someone who is concerned that my blathering about EVs and sustainability is filled with dangerous ideas. I'm not advocating conservation strongly enough, apparently, nor do I appreciate how "cheap" fossil fuels truly are (afterall, we just pump them up or dig them out of the ground, right?)

We clearly agree on the biggest picture: Americans consume too much. Our views about what to do about it are vastly divergent.

One place we don't see eye-to-eye is on the topic of conservation. One thing I've come to understand is that the Creative Force behind the Universe, whom I know as God but others know in various other terms, isn't really interested in conservation. Stewardship is important: namely, understanding our relationship to things and how we should care for the world around us, that's important. But the First Cause is all about explosive abundance. Limitless-ness. Unbounded enthusiasm.

Look at how stars spend energy. Look at how the natural kingdom takes the constant influx of sunlight and recycles that energy through plant leaves, to insects, to the higher orders, and finally back to soil. Nature, although appearing very wasteful, is actually merely exuberant. Nothing is really wasted. Anytime an abundance of waste product piles up, after a hundred thousand years or so something discovers how to eat it.

Conservation speaks to trying to restrict the exuberance which is built into our very cells. Conservation is a call to abstinence. We're all successful to varying degrees on this. We do certainly need to consume less, in terms of reducing our gluttony. But if we treat resource management the same way we treat sexuality in this country, we'll merely end up even more screwed up.

The energy of creation will find a way to express. If we block it, it sneaks past in unexpected (and sometimes hurtful) ways. If we embrace it, celebrate it, understand the true nature of the flow of energy, then our relationships with things, with money, with each other, and with our highest self will be restored to balance.

And the energy crisis will be resolved.

:[EDIT 10/13/05]:

After a meaty exchange with Amanda, I've come to see my definition of conservation was limited to the idea of applying a band-aid to a poorly designed system. What I think of as stewardship is "strong" conservation: designing a system to generate minimum waste in the first place.

There's a bunch of economic growth potential in zero-waste design. I like it.


  1. Yes abundance is the natural state of the divine life force. Take seeds for example. See how many thousands of seeds are released by one plant just to replace itself. The abundance theory is also a concept deeply embraced by the American entrepreneur (a role we both share). However, if you are going to parallel the abundance of the universe as an argument against conservation, I am compelled to point out that we humans are unique in that we take resources from the earth and make it into stuff that soon ends up being unusable even to us, not to mention that in the making of said stuff, we create huge amounts of toxic waste. As you point out, it is the devine design to create no waste products. Nature creates nothing without it being useful to one life form or another.

    At the very least, we should not try to claim that we are entitled to creating with abandon since we usually do it in a sorry toxic, waste-producing imitation of divine abundance. EVs being loaded with toxic batteries (and you know how dear to me is the EV). When we talk of continuing civilization as we know it, continuing our lifestyle without abstinence, a little humility is in order. We fool ourselves into talk about sustainablity, but in reality we are still taking from nature and making products - solar panels, electric cars, et al. We are just splitting the difference, negotiating a compromise with nature.

    And, while I'm here, sweeping up after your metaphors, if you are going to parallel resource management with the repression of sexuality (a topic near and dear to us both). then I feel compelled to compare the thoughtless wangking we call production, that is the result of our genius, with pornography. How's that for a rebuttal? Creation yes, but we must also pay homage to that which we take from the divine in the interim before we become food for something else (and that too, we manage to make a toxic process).


  2. Whew!

    You rock.

    I'm reading and re-reading this, to see how you managed to make me enjoy getting slammed so good.

    Ah! it is this:

    I sense that "conservation" enables bad design. My hope is I will move my species towards making stuff that does not create a mound of unusable waste. A cob house, as an example, returns to the earth when you cease to maintain it.

    Good production and infrastructure design honors the flow of energy, so that unused stuff for one process is used in another. Building houses of rice straw bales is an example, as is spreading treated sewage solids on crops.

    You identify quite clearly the problem: our wanking production is a mockery of nature's abundance, specifically because we don't plan what to do with product and the waste after we're done with it. How many more Happy Meal plastic toys do we need in our landfills!? Gah!

    I'm with you on this: change our method. Our method is bad.

    Because to change the natural abundant state of the divine life force is something I am surely not up for.

  3. Now you're talking. This is the concept behind Cradle to Cradle design and zero waste. I still must disagree with you that "conservation" fosters bad design. You are equating conservation with restrictions on your mind, with being on a leash. Your mind is still free. Consideration for the limitations of finite resources is the starting point not the ending point. Good design works within the contraints of the site. How many blocks of marble did Michaelangelo ruin before he got David? None I believe. (But he did make sure to pick a good block). I would counter that the concept of waste enables bad design.

  4. Heh, my mind is free, indeed. Inventing new brain paths is hard work. Worth doing, but hard. I can feel it happening, up in my head...

    Okay: There is conservation of matter, and conservation of energy.

    If I "conserve" water by planting native vegetation, am I conserving? I feel like that's a better design of yard. Conserving water by watering a lawn at dawn, that's still a pretty gluttonous use of water.

    I'm more interested in having water do two or three jobs before leaving my house. I could wash my body with it first, then my clothes, and finally it could flush my toilet. My overall water use would plummet, but I could be using a kingly amount of water while bathing. Is this conservation? Or a better design of a water system?

  5. Yes native vegetation as a design not only conserves water, it adds habitat, cools the micro-climate and preserves native vegetation. Also a lot more interesting to look at as pure design than a flat lawn. Watering said lawn at dawn is just a bandaid on what was a badly thought out design in the first place. In this case, native vegetation trumps lawn every time. It is an excellent example of a design that starts with the features of the site itself rather than some English gentry idea of aristocratic status transplanted to a land without rain for three seasons. (When I tell my English friends about our obsessions with lawns, they are incredulous.)

    As for washing, yes we must bath. With a Kingly amount of water? That is a luxury I would happily grant you, especially if used grey water is cycled through two or three other tasks. (You would probably have enough to flush toilet and water garden). This would be conservation and a better design of a water system. Which leads me to conclude again that good design conserves resources.

    Most of our municipal systems are designed using a centralized concept on a large scale. This way megacorporations profit from the dependence of many (and much is wasted in the process of transmission). Better that we collect what is given us on our own house - greenhouses and solar panels for sun, barrels for rain. And keep it there. I built a water catchment system for the washing machine once. Two 50 gallon water barrels on a platform. The washing machine pumped the water up 8 feet to the first barrel and we used gravity to let the water out through a hose to water the garden.

  6. Yes! I see it! My opinion of conservation has been that it is a band-aid!

    My new perception is "band-aid" is just one application of the idea of conservation. Zero-waste design is a larger, stronger application.

    So there's weak conservation and strong conservation. Weak conservation occurs when we try to shore up a bad design. Strong conservation is designing good resource management into the system in the first place.

    Using a washing machine's pump to gain elevation is a great multiple use for that appliance.

    Hmm, as I ponder my own gray-water system, I wonder if I could install some sort of A/B switch and use the washer to pump water from other things?