Useful And Fantastic: Excess Is Followed By Collapse
"Excess generally has been followed by social collapse – as in 5th century Athens and before the French Revolution. It is a
characteristic of the fall of empires and nations,'' writes Val Yule.
Northcote Parkinson, that astute observer of social trends, noted that the greatest buildings are often erected immediately prior to the collapse of the government.
Excess generally has been followed by social collapse – as in 5th century Athens and before the French Revolution. It is a
characteristic of the fall of empires and nations.
We can look at our own excesses, and wonder about tomorrow. We could trim ourselves back from the precipice.
‘Excess’ is defined as consuming more than we need, or behaving more stupidly than we need. What is the excess that has taken place in the last five years? Could we wind it back?
The astonishing thing is that most people do not regard our present way of life as excess. The general reaction to any call for personal responses to climate change, polluting emissions and waste of resources, has been loud cries that we will not tolerate any return to austerity. An article in this vein in OLO was entitled ‘sharing pain not wealth’
We have pushed the response and the responsibility on to governments, big business, taxes, and trading mechanisms, but kept our own lives as they are. Few people realise that the past five years have not been times of normal growth but of excess. Even our social problems are ones of excess – such as
obesity, drunkenness, drug-taking, gambling and property prices. If we stopped excess, our lifestyles would be
healthier and, I think, happier.
The Christian Lent has austerity and self-restraint mainly interpreted as restraining appetite in eating and drinking, but it could go further, and could go on for longer. We could learn to enjoy one drink, not many, at the one time; one flutter that risks one dollar not five hundred; and enjoying the beauty of the real world, more than escaping into a more expensive virtual world.
“Labour-saving” has become so over-valued and excessive that Westerners now suffer from lack of exercise. They drive to gyms to get healthier, while they use electric domestic machines for purposes they could achieve with their own energy not only for the boon these certainly are when saving
time and greater power are really needed.
Our brains need exercise. Let's apply scientific method to our life-styles, and obtain our exercise for free, by having a more sustainable household which uses “low technology” whenever we do not really need the costly appliances we have come to assume are essential for every little job. Drastic cutting of fossil fuels, carbon-emissions and other pollutions, bills,
maintenance, water, material resources, noise, and hard-rubbish waste is all possible once the attitude that “small” is not fit for men’s talk is abandoned.
Another excess is using the five-person cars to carry one person 80% of the time, often for short trips better done on foot or by bicycle. We don’t give a thought to the million-years-old resource we waste.
For the planet's health as well as our own, if we could have ten-years durability for machines, not two or three, we could
afford to have both low technology and high technology in our households, “Low Technology” is technology that does not
involve highly advanced or specialised systems or devices. This is hardly being mentioned as a way to help cut carbon emissions faster than our carbon-trading-in-the-sky around 2014. Suppose our appliances did not have to be completely replaced with each upgrade, unless there was an advance that required a change of form. Refrigerators for example have
hardly changed their form, but they may last only five years or even less. We could have fast, efficient, quiet, manual lawn
mowers like the old Australian Flymo H33 for ‘Australian’ lawns, not aspiring to shaven English lawns for suburbia. We can use carpet-sweepers and brooms when vacuums are not really required; shopping jeeps for when a car is not really needed, an improved version of the old Australian Twin Tub WTT 623 for small washes and all spin-drying, and use
two-tier plastic-covered metal dishracks and two basins as an everyday backup to dishwashers.
We could design our houses so that they did not need air-conditioners and central heating, and wear clothing that
better matched the weather. In every two-car garage, one car could be a small cheap model like a “citicar” used when motor
transport is needed for only one or two bodies - which may be most of the time,. We could have fashions that do not waste
fabrics or harm the wearers.
Cheap backyard solar cooking and heating with reflectors, and versatile pedal-power for more uses than just stationary exercise, adapt “low technology” used for developing countries. Long-lasting clocks, toys and emergency equipment do not all need the environmentally-hazardous batteries which often only eliminate the infinitesimal exercise required to wind up a spring.
We could have a Museum of the immediate past, to which we could return for ideas, which we could improve. Old people like me could contribute. Perhaps you might think we belong in a museum anyway. Did you know we laundered once a week, and did not wash clothes until they needed it? We only ironed clothes and linen which required it. We showered and washed our hair according to need, and only washed daily in hot weather. In fact, we old people stick to those old-fashioned habits. A surprising range of old household equipment was more versatile and sturdy than what we use now. A “What They Did Well” exhibition could inspire the development of improved replacements for short-life plastic, based on the ingenuity of our grandparents before electricity.
An argument for our excess today is that it gives lots of jobs. Yet we can think of hundreds of jobs more important to do
today , in new enterprises, conservation, research, salvage, and child and aged care, to make up for these unnecessary jobs, but who will pay for them?
Suppose we cut out the unnecessary excess in jobs that make us money. Suppose we stopped being buried in expensive wooden coffins – there are many alternatives today.
Suppose we had hair fashions that needed minimum washing and electricity. Suppose we had dress fashions like the Koreans used to have – a basic beautiful form, and
fashionability that came in the accessories and the way that sashes and such were used. Our clothes could last for ten years – or like some of mine, twenty or more. We could prevent boredom by interest in nature, people, science and books.
A Lowy Institute poll reported that Australians are more concerned about jobs than about climate change. The report said, “Asked how much extra each month they would be willing to pay on their electricity bill to help solve climate change, 53 per cent of Australians were only prepared to pay $10 per month or less.” What about an option of using less electricity? Why is this not mentioned? What about the jobs that are needed in order to respond to climate change and the other challenges ahead?
Low technology offers enterprising opportunities for our manufacturing industries and jobs, and is a fast way to
help cut carbon emissions. The powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution was human energy, even more than coal. This mental energy can surely be directed to the new challenge of adapting our economic system away from its fatal dependence on consumption regardless of the consequences.
Rather than abandoning all our manufacturing and skills to go overseas, we could at least develop, manufacture and sell
simple appliances to complement the rapacious “big” machinery that we now use automatically, without thinking and on every occasion, to save household labour.
We are obsessed with cutting labour costs (translated as cutting jobs). So our salvage industries are still minimal. Millions of potential dollars are thrown out with our hard rubbish collections and during repairs and renovations. These salvage operations cost labour but see what else they save, and future-wise they become profitable. There are jobs in preferring re-using rather than re-cycling - which has greater costs in fossil-fuel energy and emissions.
Our current building methods involve reckless waste, including the problem that renovation can cost more than destroying
and building from scratch. We are not building sufficiently repairable or sustainable houses “because it would cost too much labour”.
Alternative technology magazines report marvellous and gung-
ho technology to help save the world, often do-it-yourself. It is great that sophisticated Australian products are increasingly advertised. But for the future we also need to think about the small and easy innovations, and how changes in relative
costs of products and repairs must be made, and how to pay for the jobs that are needed instead of, as now, paying for jobs that increase waste.
We need public education to seek the alternative technologies. Where is the TV show that makes showmanship of “best
kitchen” practice before and after the present limited window of merely cooking?
Where is the TV sitcom about preventing climate change through our own jobs and our own household? Where are the
“Australia” shops that showcase local and other Australian products and inventions?
So much attention is being paid to carbon trading in by-and-by-2014 and what governments should do - but less to how our clay-footed economic system could adapt to a world without waste - without the waste of resources, production,
environment and people, now thought essential for economic prosperity.
In shutting down our manufactures, we neglect what the factories and abandoned skills might be producing instead. In trying to stick to the jobs we have, regardless of what they may emit or waste, Australians neglect the jobs we need to have.
In trusting government money to inspire innovation, and future carbon trading to miraculously cap emitters, we neglect our greatest resource, our own enterprise.
To produce further jobs with low technology manufactures, we need to come up with public lists of what we need to
invent, to improve our world, and to perhaps set an example to the world. We could think of commercial uses for pests
like locusts and cane toads; weeds and waste from gardens; problem by-products such as carbon dioxide, arsenic, tailings, salt and so on. We could re-invent our sewerage systems, which, currently, are based on unlimited supplies of water; and think about how to use the liquid human sewage that is currently flushed away.
Do I think that taking on more lowtechnology can make any difference to our future? Perhaps - over 20 million Australians can save waste and cut emissions faster what is going on at
present. “Pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will” in practice.
We have to do these things ourselves. Governments dare not presume to dictate or even suggest. They expect they would
not last a minute.