Anyone playing the part of Pangloss, from Voltaire’s satire Candide, would appear an utter buffoon at this juncture. Tutor to the young, sheltered baron Candide, Professor Pangloss remained, despite suffering numerous slings and arrows such as syphilis, hanging, near dissection, and imprisonment, an absurdly steadfast optimist. “All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” At least Candide wised up along the way.
So here we are in the 21st century facing the same ol’ same ol’, but with an upping of magnitude. As bad as the 18th century looked, with its plagues, religious wars, and earthquakes, our current times might look abysmal to Voltaire. What was localized then, is now fully globalized. The shit storm comes for all of us. But remember Candide’s final words of wisdom? “We must cultivate our garden.”
Back to my micro-goal – how about going back to square one? Possibly simple-minded of me – but what is wrong with the boxes of yore? What ever happened to selling stuff in bulk, and the general idea of refillability? Ah, the purveyors of these products would break a sweat over the missed branding ops of package design; how create allure around our popcorn if we can’t slap the image of a fat pink Buddha and blazon the the magic words ‘Pink Himalayan Salt’ on our plastic packaging? Well, let’s work on that one. How about just packaging kernels of that buddha-like corn and a tiny paper pack of that oh-so-special salt in a friggin’ circular box like Quaker Oats? How about, where possible, returning to small local shops where everything is sold from open bins, and butchers wrap your meat and fish in paper? Maybe the available choices get reduced to prevent waste, but go back the following week and there might be a whole new range of stuff to eat. What ever happened to the ethics of Small is Beautiful, or the Locavore movement? (Ah yes, trampled by the juggernauts of the mega-stores, and agri-business.) Now I sympathize with those rural and suburban denizens who have to drive distances to shop and then have to buy quantities of food that will last til the next shopping excursion. But heck, have we so lost touch with the idea of a Main Street? Home gardens? Canning? Is there no way to bring that back?
As for my sinful addiction to plastic packaged peanut butter cups, I decided to just go retro and learn how to make those little devils myself! It’s actually quite easy, involves lots of gooey mindfulness, and produces flavors that are way richer. Now many people will scoff and say – Oh, lucky you, to have the time to do such things. Which brings me to another ancillary topic: Convenience, a diabolical, invidious marketing ploy if ever there was one.
Americans especially, but now increasingly all global citizens whom our lovely habits have infected, have been suckered into a life in which Convenience is King. We’re all sooo busy that we must have convenience layered into every aspect of our lives. How else will we succeed in our careers? Find time for everything on our anxious little schedules?
Well, convenience comes with a heavy ecological price tag. We trek to our local Costco or Walmart to buy multiples of stuff wrapped in plastic and then bundled up in more plastic. All in the name of Convenience and, another ‘indispensable’ benefit of plastic trumpeted by the industry, shelf life. I’ve got a link below to a solid review of the pros and cons of plastics, which includes a chart demonstrating what is a relatively small number of products to which this benefit applies. The plastic sheaths on cucumbers push their lifespan from 9 to 15 days. And meat, packaged in plastic film, supposedly gets a boost of 25 days. What, are we only able to stand shopping once every two – three weeks? Is that convenience really integral to our quality of life.
So why are we dragging our heels when beaches around the world are clogged with the plastic residue of our negligence, when albatrosses are feeding it to their young, when it has wound its way into every fish we consume? Let’s get down to the bottom line.
“Some experts fear that without the right approach, this rush to banish plastics from our shopping baskets will make the goods we buy more expensive.” — Richard Gray, BBC 7.18
Of course it will. Of course there will be an economic impact. Did we really imagine we’d get off scot-free after years of indulgence? We’ve been cheating and robbing the planet for decades (or standing mutely by as others did that for us) and now it’s time to pay the piper. But hey, a little suffering on our part is in order; we’ve been very very bad. But we consumers can adapt.
We can change our attitudes toward stuff, toward food, toward our lifestyle, and we will not suffer, except the pangs of longing for cheap chips and convenient chocolate peanut butter cups. And who knows – it may make us the better and the healthier for it.
The question is, will all the companies involved, big and small, also adapt – to a possibly smaller profit margin? Ah, here is the skeleton in the closet, of course – ye olde profit motive (and its corollary – the infinite growth of profit). Maybe that concept worked during the past century, during the heyday of Fossil Capitalism (which is looking more like a blip) but we’re staring out at an entirely new, soon to be tapped out, terrain. And here, the old system just doesn’t cut it anymore. We need to high-tail it into the new century with Sustainable Capitalism. As far as energy production, we already have a wealth of new technologies like solar, wind, and tidal. All we lack is the muscle and the moxie to fully implement them.
Oh sorry – I lapsed into the macro view, an armchair default. Now back to the micro, where the impulse to flex those muscles really resides. 2020, that year of vision, is right around the corner, and there’s no time like the present.
The Stoics taught us to live ‘hic et nunc’, in the here and now, i.e., paying attention to what we are doing — achieving what some modern psychologists call ‘flow’ in our actions. But a crucial component of this mindfulness is paying attention to the fact that your choices, even the apparently trivial ones, very likely have an inextricable ethical component to them, and you should be aware of it and choose according to virtue. — Massimo Pigliucci – How To Be A Stoic, 2018
*”A recent Yale University poll found that 81 percent of Americans support the idea of a Green New Deal, including 64 percent of Republicans.” : A great article on the Green New Deal, from Politico:
Nat Geo article:
BBC on plastics: