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Bonzer Words!: GDG

Ken Sillcock casts a cold eye on our wasteful ways.

Ken writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please do visit www.bonzer.org.au

What is GDG? The economists should know, but they are unwilling to admit it. Most of it is last year's GDP. They like to measure so-called 'productivity' as Gross Domestic Product. The truth is that humans produce nothing except ideas and purposes. We merely manipulate matter and energy, which already exist, and combine or dissect them into new forms.

In any case, most of last year's Gross Domestic Product is this year's Gross Domestic Garbage, and gross indeed some of it becomes.

Take food, water and fresh air, as we must. We convert a lot of them into that greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, constantly breathing it out every moment of our lives, and we change some food into other body wastes.

Fortunately, there are other living creatures which can, and do, use all our waste products for food and, in so doing, convert them into less gross products which can be used again. Of first importance are the plants with green leaves. Using the energy from sunlight, those leaves take in our carbon dioxide and build it back into sugars and starches, which we can use again.

Ninety years ago, and earlier, we missed the point and stupidly slaughtered whole forests of trees as if they were weeds, and burned them, so producing more carbon dioxide garbage faster than the remaining trees could re-convert it once more to useful food—and firewood for locomotives and other machinery. At that stage we also began to dig up those trees, which had been buried and were converted to coal.

Not satisfied with that damage, we also began to burn petrol, oils and, later, gas which had been formed below ground from trees long buried in Texas and elsewhere, much faster than the resultant garbage could be handled by the remaining trees.

Since then we have revolutionised our garbage production industry, strewing derelict cars, vans and trucks, and other discarded machinery, liberally over the landscape, and we have made lakes and streams, and even the ocean into receptacles for hazardous and noxious chemicals. We even want to preserve nuclear wastes by storing them in rock so that they can turn up again in some seismic upheaval to threaten our descendants.

Meanwhile, although we have largely replaced horse transport with more noxious forms, the racing industry still does its bit. A few years ago it was ranked fourth in Victoria, Australia in its production of GDP; yet all there was to show for it was some pet food, hides inferior to cow hide, and some manure for home gardeners. We didn't go quite as far as the New Yorkers did in 1942 where, at a high price, one could buy a gift pack of scented, pasteurised horse manure to give to the person who has everything else.

Now, 'products' include superannuation and annuity schemes which allow your hard earned money to vanish into computer programs, from which a much diminished sum will emerge later to help you through a year or two of so-called retirement, provided that you do not live too long. Now, the computers which generated the mythical money are now adding their remains to our total garbage.

We are giving the garbage industry a setback by reducing the use of plastic bags to carry our shopping, but the industry is hitting back on the grounds of 'security protection'. Almost every document, every jar or bottle, and many gadgets, come tightly wrapped in plastic film, which can be removed only at great risk to hands and fingers, by breaking into it with a sharp and pointed knife blade, or by breaking a seal on screw-top vessels with brute force exerted by a pair of pliers or an adjustable wrench. Can we get back to the days of trust and honesty when grocers and butchers weighed out what the customer wanted from a bulk supply, and when you could buy one nail, or one screw, from the hardware merchant instead of buying, in a plastic bag, a dozen or more that you will never need?

Above all, can we reduce the highly coloured garbage that fills our letter boxes, our newspapers and magazines, our TV screens and our email inboxes? Should we empty out the garbage in our Schools of Economics and replace 'How it works' with 'How it should work'?

© Ken Sillcock


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