Thu 6 Sep 2018
We must challenge the corporations that urge us to live in a throwaway society rather than seeking ‘greener’ ways of maintaining the status quo
Do you believe in miracles? If so, please form an orderly queue. Plenty of people imagine we can carry on as we are, as long as we substitute one material for another. Last month, a request to Starbucks and Costa to replace their plastic coffee cups with cups made from corn starch was retweeted 60,000 times, before it was deleted.
Those who supported this call failed to ask themselves where the corn starch would come from, how much land would be needed to grow it, or how much food production it would displace. They overlooked the damage this cultivation would inflict: growing corn (maize) is notorious for causing soil erosion, and often requires heavy doses of pesticides and fertilisers.
The problem is not just plastic: it is mass disposability. Or, to put it another way, the problem is pursuing, on the one planet known to harbour life, a four-planet lifestyle. Regardless of what we consume, the sheer volume of consumption is overwhelming the Earth’s living systems.
Don’t get me wrong. Our greed for plastic is a major environmental blight, and the campaigns to limit its use are well motivated and sometimes effective. But we cannot address our environmental crisis by swapping one overused resource for another. When I challenged that call, some people asked me, “So what should we use instead?”
The right question is, “How should we live?” But systemic thinking is an endangered species.