February 07, 2008

Cradle To Cradle--BUY THIS BOOK

cradle to cradle.jpg

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
by William McDonough, Michael Braungart

Fellas, get this book. Cradle To Cradle is at Amazon.com

Here's what the books about:

"Reduce, reuse, recycle" urge environmentalists; in other words, do more with less in order to minimize damage. As William McDonough and Michael Braungart argue in their provocative, visionary book, however, this approach perpetuates a one-way, "cradle to grave" manufacturing model that dates to the Industrial Revolution and casts off as much as 90 percent of the materials it uses as waste, much of it toxic. Why not challenge the notion that human industry must inevitably damage the natural world, they ask.

In fact, why not take nature itself as our model? A tree produces thousands of blossoms in order to create another tree, yet we do not consider its abundance wasteful but safe, beautiful, and highly effective; hence, "waste equals food" is the first principle the book sets forth. Products might be designed so that, after their useful life, they provide nourishment for something new-either as "biological nutrients" that safely re-enter the environment or as "technical nutrients" that circulate within closed-loop industrial cycles, without being "downcycled" into low-grade uses (as most "recyclables" now are).

Elaborating their principles from experience (re)designing everything from carpeting to corporate campuses, the authors make an exciting and viable case for change.

What's most pathetic to me is that I only know two churchy people who have a clue about this stuff that I can actually dialog with about these issues. Two (Brian and Shawn).

These issues are not even on the radars of people in the church (regardless of race and class). Why? Why aren't people talking about this stuff?

Even worse, those churchy people who say they are concerned about these issues (i.e., the environment) don't have a clue about economics or the details involved and depend on the rhetorical emptiness special interest groups to make arguments (i.e., posers who don't actually study and research the contingent tensions--especially the economic ones). Wierd, ain't it. I'm at a point now where that I'll not even engage people on this stuff if they don't understand economics. Otherwise, you're often talking to the winds of emotions instead of actual facts and reality.

Posted by anthony at February 7, 2008 01:03 PM | TrackBack
Comments

So I guess you wouldn't debate James Kuntsler, Bill McKibben or any of the "post peak" prophets of doom?

Posted by: rob hatch at February 7, 2008 01:53 PM

I don't know what kind of people attend the churches you're familiar with, but my church is chock-full of engineers and scientists, and there are several of us that spend time talking and thinking about issues like these. We talk a lot about energy production, consumption, distribution, and availability as well, which I think is also tied to sustainability. I don't necessarily have the economic background you're looking for, but I and others I know do put a lot of thought time into how we could change processes or systems to be more sustainable or viable in more settings.

What would it look like, in your view, for "The Church" to be thinking/talking/working on these issues? Would it be enough for Christians to create and work for companies that are working on sustainable technology? Can/should pastors be making pronouncements on what products their parishioners should be using? Should my church sponsor a seminar on sustainable manufacturing? If it does, will it distract from or contribute to making disciples? I'm not trying to be facetious; these are legitimate questions in my mind about how the Church can/should impact the world.

Posted by: Natros at February 7, 2008 02:10 PM

I read this book a year or so ago after having it recommended to me by a friend who isn't a Christian. Loved it-- it goes against both the standard conservation model and the industry-is-bad rhetoric most environmentalists spout.

Posted by: Matthew Smith at February 7, 2008 02:32 PM

The economic perspective helps us to take alternative costs into consideration when making decisions. Just using less energy might not be the best plan in the long run. Downcycling might actually consume more resources than it preserves, especially in terms of human energy diverted from alternative applications.
Economics also predicts that if something is beneficial and worthwhile someone will be willing to pay for it and it won't be necessary to induce people into that action. It is worthwhile to capture cotton seeds from cotton production. Instead of turning them into waste they can be pressed into cotton-seed oil and the husks can be ground into animal feed. (Read "Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy") but this wasn't always the case. Making this capture worthwhile required an economy of scale which was prohibitive until the modern era. To impose an industry (cotton seed capture, or recycling) which was not (and recycling is not now in many cases) capable of large enough economies of scale yet would have (and does) produced inefficiencies which might have made the eventual growth of other industries impossible.
Anthony,
I look forward to discussing these ideas with you at Acton University in June. I just got my acceptance letter!
Nathanael Snow

Posted by: jurisnaturalist at February 7, 2008 02:39 PM

wootwoot!!


natros...I'd venture that if you're worried about working for companies that work on 'sustainable technology', you're already in the 'development is bad' camp, and you're using a skewed metric. I may be wrong, of course...but I doubt it. :)

nathan/anthony: I'm trying to get excited enough to force myself to apply to GMU/Mercatus for a fellowship...emailed one of the profs there about it. Only problem is, the wifey's applying to grad school's too, and likely won't end up in DC, and there's no way I'll be in a separate city from her.

Should anyone be interested in some great discussion of these issues (at least in terms of 'recycling', check out the Econtalk podcast on recycling with Mike Munger: www.econtalk.org). I've enjoyed almost every econtalk immensely, but I've listened to that one about 5 times: not quite as much as I've listened to Keller's 'Love and the Practical Graces' sermon series...but close.

Posted by: shawn at February 7, 2008 03:27 PM

I told you it is a damn good book!

I will send you drafts of my report on how the state of Oklahoma can profit and stay a net energy exporter with the monetization of carbon.

Example according to the DoE there is 9.0 billion barrels that is currently recoverable with CO2 fluids in Oklahoma. At a conservative price of $60.00 a barrel that is $540 billion in reserves. Which is around $150,000 for every man, woman and child in Oklahoma. And in the fact that if it is possible to store CO2 in old wells the state will also produce carbon credits.

Anyways I am excited I am able to work on this report and hopefully it gets something passed

Posted by: Brian Hewes at February 7, 2008 03:30 PM

Oooh, I like this sentence in the review at Amazon - "Because profitability is a requirement of the designs, the thinking goes, they appeal to business owners and obviate the need for regulatory apparatus." If this is referring to obviating the need for government interference, that sounds cool!

Posted by: t.smith at February 7, 2008 03:35 PM

Shawn,

You need to know there are two views on sustainable tech companies, one promoted by the fundies of the environmental movement which use it as a cover for their anti-development agenda, these people are dangerous and will if let to decide policy develop anti-human rules and regulations. They most be watched out for with intensity.

Then there is the other side, that of the book also know as Biomicry or as in the article in the Feb 2008 HBR "The Biosphere Rules" a world that follows nature in the sense that it is every changing, ever developing, always making new things from old. This is the world I will to promote and hopefully natros. We as humans will take our creation mandate and develop the oceans and the deserts and maybe in my life time start developing the solar system(One can dream). This is what is meant by sustainable from the people in the other camp. The one I hope, pray and work my ass off for wins the war for people's minds.

Posted by: Brian Hewes at February 7, 2008 03:43 PM

Shawn,

You need to know there are two views on sustainable tech companies, one promoted by the fundies of the environmental movement which use it as a cover for their anti-development agenda, these people are dangerous and will if let to decide policy develop anti-human rules and regulations. They most be watched out for with intensity.

Then there is the other side, that of the book also know as Biomicry or as in the article in the Feb 2008 HBR "The Biosphere Rules" a world that follows nature in the sense that it is every changing, ever developing, always making new things from old. This is the world I will to promote and hopefully natros. We as humans will take our creation mandate and develop the oceans and the deserts and maybe in my life time start developing the solar system(One can dream). This is what is meant by sustainable from the people in the other camp. The one I hope, pray and work my butt off for wins the war for people's minds.

Posted by: Brian Hewes at February 7, 2008 03:44 PM

This same thing happens when discussing boycotts of X or Y company by Christian groups...and don't even get me started on "fair trade". I'm with you Anthony!!! We need to discuss these issues more openly, but we must also work on strengthening the church's understanding of basic economics.

Posted by: Juan Callejas at February 8, 2008 10:42 AM

Thanks Jaun, that gives me the segue I need: I want to add "Basic Economics" by Dr. Sowell to our personal library. I remember a discussion here about one printing not being good because of the editing. Which printing should I purchase? (Thanks Juan!)

Posted by: t.smith at February 8, 2008 12:05 PM

Shawn,

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I don't think you understand where I'm coming from at all. Buzzwords aside, I think "Sustainable Development" should mean exactly what it sounds like. I am in favor of development: managing resources and creating value is part of the mandate we've been given. Good economic and community growth should take advantage of the technology we've developed to make people's lives better, and create new jobs and opportunities where once there were none. Good engineering, I think, can be as interesting, as creative, and as exciting as good art or architecture, and is worth pursuing.

Still, "Sustainable" is the other part of the equation, and I do think it's important. Sustainable to me means recognizing that unfettered greed and consumption are not virtues, but liabilities. Technology, poorly applied, can isolate and dehumanize people. Resources on earth are scarce, and it's unlikely that all people can live as we currently do, with our current patterns of consumption. We should be taking a "long view" toward development so that there are resources available for future generations, and so those currently on the outside of modern prosperity have a chance. We should consider not only the monetary impact of development, but also the impact on community and family relationships.

I think sustainable development is all about learning to do more with less, which is itself a growth opportunity. As I saw it, Anthony's post was praising a book that is promoting a similarly forward-thinking view of development. I haven't read it, but it sounds quite intriguing, and I'm adding it to my list of things to read. I still curious, though, about Anthony's complaint that these issues aren't on the Church's radar. What would it look like for it to "be on our radar," and what is the role of the Church when it comes to matters of technological development and economic growth?

Posted by: Natros at February 8, 2008 12:33 PM

I half want to question the basic premise of the book; that 90% of the materials going into the Industrial Revolution ended up as toxic waste. As I see things, the initial triumph was to finally take metalworking out of the blacksmith's shop and get it into mass produced tools.

Now personally, I grew up in steel country, and I don't see the "90% waste" that this source talks about. I see, rather, that the slag produced in steelmaking is used in roadbeds, the CO coming from the blast furnace is used to generate electricity, and iron items have been recycled since people learned how to smelt iron.

In the same way, we've been recycling rubber, paper, and glass for decades now. Lumber companies have learned to make useful materials out of wood chips and even sawdust.

The motive, of course, is "profit." I dare suggest that the authors really need to get out more and learn about how business has been historically done.

Posted by: Bike Bubba at February 8, 2008 12:35 PM

There's a great book by Calvin Beisner called "Poverty and Prosperity: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity". It's a bit hard to come by but it is definitely the book you need to use and read in churches. It raises great questions and provides great sound economic theory together with great (I think) biblical insight.

Posted by: Juan Callejas at February 8, 2008 04:31 PM

What's missing in this discussion is the time element. There was slag sitting around for a while, but now we've found a use for it, at a reasonable cost. Many things which do not seem sustainable now might be in the future. If the industrial revolution were focussed on sustainability it might not ever have happened and then many of us would never have been born and a good number of this blog's readers might still be slaves (though I hope not).
Nathanael Snow

Posted by: jurisnaturalist at February 10, 2008 04:59 PM

I read the book about five years ago and it's been a constant force in shaping manufacturing practices since its publishing.

The notion of "technical metabolism" is gaining ground and this book along with the works of Wendell Berry is beginning to have effect in how and why things are made.

What is unknown is whether or not countries like China with exponential industrial growth see any merit to these observations.

Posted by: stelmodad at February 12, 2008 12:26 PM

natros...have you seen the ehrlich/simon wager?

Let me know when you figure out which resources are so scarce that we're going to run out of them...

Posted by: shawn at February 15, 2008 01:28 PM
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