The theme of this week, “Conservation, preservation, industrialization, and the treadmill” covers such a wide range of salient information and ideas that it is difficult to single in on one topic. In the readings the common theme seems to be is that while we progress in certain areas of society, we are also regress at a faster rate. Technological advances make society boring to be a part of, and efficiency dumbs down daily life. Certain societal advances that are good for the GDP such as development appear productive, but instead decrease the ecosystem’s productivity and health.
Capitalism, and therefore the rest of the business world, has taken the terms “efficiency” and “sustainability” under its wing. The major industries are beginning to notice that their customers are socially aware and that by promoting these green-washed ideas they can kill two birds with one idea: 1) reduce production costs with smarter decisions on energy and materials used, and 2) appear eco-friendly. Many large industries like to consider themselves “eco-efficient” when all they are doing is saving money, and being less-bad on the environment. When instead, they could be proactive in using renewable materials, practicing environmental justice in the workplace, and not make things with an expiration date to break so that the treadmill can continue. They are conning the public with products made with materials that were extracted from nature, combined with chemicals, and presented as quality products. The price tag on the product never accurately represents the labor, materials, water, and oil that went into making the product, leaving a deficit somewhere along the way that is usually paid by the environment. With the industrial revolution also came the idea of efficiency that equals lower quality products, falsely cheaper products, with more accessibility. As seen in our reading in Environmental Sociology, the international style that is being pushed on rising and existing capitalistic markets include products so monotonous and instant that any true human agency and creativity is bleached out of existence. Huge big-box homes are being built in Asia that are reminiscent of California suburbia. These Levittown-styled neighborhoods give me goosebumps because the neighborhoods look more like miniature toy sets than living, breathing systems of social life. This big monoculture that we are now living in encourage developers to ignore local expression, and stuff new developments with foreign plants, and synthetic fertilizers to make them grow.
This new age of efficiency is completely ignoring local ecology, and using the same techniques of production in all locations, regardless of the individuality of environment. For example, as more people move into the Chesapeake Bay watershed area, new infrastructure follows. Wetlands and natural buffers are being filled in and disregarded to make way for new homes, roads and businesses. Impenetrable surfaces such as concrete and asphalt create toxic runoff into the bay, and increase the risk of flooding. Therefore when heavy rains come into the area, the natural flood protectors such as wetlands are absent and cannot protect the new residents from the natural movement of water (http://www.chesapeakebay.net/issues/issue/development#inline). Having lived on the watershed my entire life, it is quite frankly disgusting to see what flows into the sewers that flow into the bay. Unless we begin to pay more attention to how we treat our water system, we will pay heavily when the water levels rise more quickly, and there will be nothing to do but retreat.