Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Gone Tomorrow (Copy)

The first official Earth Day occurred April 22, 1970 in our country. Since then, school children have developed posters, teachers have created displays, and citizens have picked trash from local waterways and roadsides to celebrate. How will you observe this year’s eco-friendly date? Might I suggest books on the environment?

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is held as the catalyst for early environmental reform. The 1962 book explains the ill-effects of DDT. First debuting as a series of articles in The New Yorker, editors insisted the advantages of pesticides be included for a balanced argument. DDT was the miracle that eradicated malaria-causing mosquitoes in the Pacific during World War II.

It is hard to imagine spring without birds singing and flowers blooming. Carson’s vision, in the chapter titled, “A Fable for Tomorrow,” is haunting. We read of a small town void of life—streams without fish, skies without birds, and backyards without children, all creating an eerie silence.

Heather Rogers’ new book Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage not only explains how garbage is disposed, but also provides an excellent history of American trash. Rogers reports that even though we grew-up with slogans like, “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, Or Do Without,” we still lead world production in trash.

Rogers does an excellent job explaining and proving planned obsolesces—goods built with failure in mind. As early as 1939, General Electric manufactured light bulbs to burn out fast. A Fairchild representative said, “It is wasteful to make any component more durable than the weakest link, and ideally a product should fall apart all at once.”

After WWII, industries were over producing products, led by an abundance of man-power, cheap materials, and postwar factory machines. One just needed consumers. Author Vance Packard of The Waste Makers said, “The way to end glut was to produce gluttons.”

Personally, I prefer the word consumer to glutton. In our current consumer culture it is cheaper to buy new products than replace parts. Think about the vacuum cleaners, coffee makers, and microwaves we replace instead of repairing. With the parts being made of plastic, it’s a wonder appliances work at all.

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