Peter Singer’s 1975 book Animal Liberation is perhaps the seminal text on awakening human consciousness about nonhuman animals. More of a philosophical tract, it presents an even-handed narrative of why animals’ interests should be considered that is neither ‘good’ not ‘bad’ per se. It’s big idea of ‘the greatest good’ is an effective route to ethical behavior, and it resonates with the challenge of how to get people to care about nature, which – if not cast as satire – is one of the most urgent ideas of the last and the next twenty years:
It is easy to see how bleak accounts of the state of the planet can overwhelm people and make them feel hopeless. What is the point of even trying if the world is going down the drain anyway?
To muster public and political support on a scale that matches our environmental challenges, research shows that negative messaging is not the most effective way forward. As a conservation scientist and social marketer, I believe that to make the environment a mainstream concern, conservation discussions should focus less on difficulties. Instead we should highlight the growing list of examples where conservation efforts have benefited species, ecosystems and people living alongside them.
The promise of positive messaging and marketing language to sway greater environmental sh*t-giving is cynical, but here we are. He’s not wrong, though the degree to which the vision of this kind of promotion will necessarily muster the language of commodity (great cause of said looming catastrophic scenarios) to save the Earth makes the pain in my neck throb. It could also make the messages that feel like Coca-Cola ads that much easier to dismiss from familiarity. Optimism in the face of destruction has its limits, and sometimes we need to look at things as they are and act accordingly. Like adults instead of media companies.
Still, Lost & Found is a good idea. We can do worse than trying to invigorate the public with the wonder of natural wonder, as long as they don’t begin to believe too strongly in its resilience. We can lead the water to horses, but can we make them care?
As a spectral wavelength whose connotations reflect both hope and envy, and also youth, calm and sickness, green is the word for everything that ails us as well as a kind of catch-all for the cure.
But the abstracted semantic debate is only so interesting without any stringent technical guidelines to introduce tension between our wayward intents and limited amounts of energy and materiel. Not to worry, though; enter the American Chemical Society.
The Twelve Principles of Green Engineering
- Inherent Rather Than Circumstantial
Designers need to strive to ensure that all materials and energy inputs and outputs are as inherently nonhazardous as possible.
- Prevention Instead of Treatment
It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it is formed.
- Design for Separation
Separation and purification operations should be designed to minimize energy consumption and materials use.
- Maximize Efficiency
Products, processes, and systems should be designed to maximize mass, energy, space, and time efficiency.
- Output-Pulled Versus Input-Pushed
Products, processes, and systems should be “output pulled” rather than “input pushed” through the use of energy and materials.
- Conserve Complexity
Embedded entropy and complexity must be viewed as an investment when making design choices on recycle, reuse, or beneficial disposition.
- Durability Rather Than Immortality
Targeted durability, not immortality, should be a design goal.
- Meet Need, Minimize Excess
Design for unnecessary capacity or capability (e.g., “one size fits all”) solutions should be considered a design flaw.
- Minimize Material Diversity
Material diversity in multi-component products should be minimized to promote disassembly and value retention.
- Integrate Material and Energy Flows
Design of products, processes, and systems must include integration and interconnectivity with available energy and materials flows.
- Design for Commercial “Afterlife”
Products, processes, and systems should be designed for performance in a commercial “afterlife.”
- Renewable Rather Than Depleting
Material and energy inputs should be renewable rather than depleting.
They’re not the twelve Apostles, but neither will they fit on a license plate. Bumper stickers, however, would be an entirely different story.