Nature has solutions for a capitalist world awash in waste

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Climate strike in London, April 2019. Image: Socialist Appeal/Flickr

The climate change and biodiversity crises have the same causes: unlimited development, industrial agriculture and resource extraction. These destroy habitats and emit greenhouse gases.

If this keeps up, populations of all species -- including humans -- will crash. 

Trying to impose "limits" on development, industry, and resource extraction is a recipe for failure. It only triggers push-back from powerful corporate actors and perpetuates capitalism.

Ecosocialism -- a Green New Deal -- will also fail if it narrowly addresses climate change. A collective effort to tackle waste reduction and create a "circular economy" is urgently needed -- a flourishing, diverse, job-rich economy based on repair, recycling and reuse.

Industry is not inherently bad, but must learn from nature and learn to work with nature.

Natural ecosystems abhor waste. They annually break down, recycle and reuse nearly everything that is discarded.

Our bodies constantly repair our cells, recycling and reusing molecules. 

Trees recycle nutrients into their branch tips and buds before leaves are shed in the fall. Millions of tiny soil animals, fungi and bacteria take up what's left and convert it into reusable forms.

Nature runs on renewal.

Industrial society currently burns non-renewable fossil fuels, dumps huge amounts of gaseous wastes into the atmosphere, and destabilizes climate.

Factories poison our lands, waters and bodies with mass-produced plastics engineered to resist breakdown by natural processes and last essentially forever.

Corporations are allowed -- indeed encouraged -- to produce essentially unlimited amounts of waste. Governments provide huge subsidies and tax breaks for raw resource extraction.  

Waste management gets downloaded onto cash-strapped municipal governments and individual households who lack tools for waste reduction.

It doesn't have to be this way. 

Nature represents a model economy to emulate. Our material needs can (and must) come from this Earth. Our energy needs can come from the sun.

We treat nature as a waste dump. Let's show some respect.

Governments can aim to reduce consumption of raw materials to an absolute minimum. Engineers can design cars, appliances, and built infrastructure for maximum durability and ease of repair and disassembly. Chemists can make household products that are non-toxic to living organisms and water bodies. Farmers can grow food organically and return food wastes safely to the soil.

This would create good jobs, with plenty of scope for innovation and private enterprise -- not a grey socialist dystopia.

In nature, growth is sustained only in tandem with its opposite. Ecologists speak of producers and consumers -- plants (and a few microbes) on one hand, animals (and most microbes) on the other.

Humans are not producers -- we're consumers. And we're bad consumers. Unlike other animals, we consume in grossly excessive amounts, and most of what we consume turns into non-reusable waste.

Perhaps language is why we've learned to ignore waste. Consider its opposites: who wants belt-tightening, penny-pinching, and austerity? Why do we love growth? Consider its opposites: failure, loss, stagnation, destruction.

Humans, do you want to survive? Look to nature.

Ole Hendrickson is a retired forest ecologist and a founding member of the Ottawa River Institute, a non-profit charitable organization based in the Ottawa Valley.

Image: Socialist Appeal/Flickr

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