For more than six days Earth has been our friend in the lunar skies. That fragile piece of blue with its ancient rafts of life will continue to be man's home as he journeys ever farther in the solar system. Apollo 17, December 14, 1972

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

9. In Praise of Plastics

"T'ain't What they Do (It's the Way That You Dispose of them)".......

This very poor hark back to the words of the band, Bananarama, from the 1980’s introduces the us the opportunity and the problem with plastics. Plastics generally get a bad press - but happily not in a recent article in the Financial Times by Sam Knight on 26/4/08. I’ve looked closely at what he said, which was very informative indeed, and taken I've a little of it for use in this post.

Plastics are designed to be disposable....
If you buy something expensive it’s rarely made of plastics. You generally expect it to endure and work for a long time. If it goes wrong you either decide to ‘make do and mend’ or eventually replace it. Objects made from plastics are generally cheaper and will deteriorate over time (this is called ‘ageing’), but they normally do outlast the use we put them to. They are then generally disposed of - herein lies the difficulty. We are hopeless at coping with plastic waste. We have not applied anything like the same creativity we did in the design, to what we should do with them once they’re ready to be thrown away.

Glass isn’t designed to be disposable, but it is.....
The position is made even more nonsensical by our predilection for glass (see post 8). Glass is extremely heavy and requires a lot of energy to move it around the globe. In the UK plastics represent 53% of the packaging we use, but only 20% of the weight of packaging we use, transport and dispose of. Glass, on the other hand, represents 10% of the packaging we use but, at 20% of the weight, is equally burdensome on transport and disposal. Simplistically glass is five times less efficient, gram for gram, than plastics as a packaging material. Australian winemakers - the real innovators in the wine business - have worked this one out, and are now using PET bottles to export wine to the UK, as it's more economical in energy terms.

In praise of plastics again....
In the FT article the Packaging Foundation claim that ‘modern life’, for better or worse, is only possible because of the highly creative design and use of plastics - they describe it as the ‘forgotten infrastructure’. Some interesting illustrations of its wider effect are:

  • Plastics packaging has enabled us to source and distribute foods from many parts of the world and keep it in good condition, thus defying the local seasons and giving enormous variety to our diet. So for example, thanks to laminated plastics packaging, fruit juice from Brazil can be kept palatable for nine months in a Tetrapak. It also enables us to buy pre-prepared meals which can be made presentable and edible in just a few minutes.

  • In India, which uses much less packaging, 50% of the food in the supply chain is lost, compared to the UK’s complex supply chains which lose only 3%. All this good food going to waste is bad enough but the energy to distribute it needlessly must also be put into the emissions equation.

  • The film wrapped cucumber is taken as an icon of needless packaging. The Cucumber Growers Association argue that the film, weighing in at 1.5g per item, doubles the shelf life to two weeks, and makes the product more durable in transit. So for a very small investment in plastics film we reduce waste and all its additional associated disposal and distribution costs.

Sensible disposal of plastics....
Given then that we have invented a brilliant way of reducing waste throughout the pre-sale supply chain, but acknowledging that it does cause a challenge for us to dispose of, let’s look at this from first principles. The disposal problem could be very simple if we return to the waste hierarchy:
Reduce - yes, that is a light possibility, although plastics manufacture only uses 2% of the crude oil produced. If we are talking about plastics packaging, there are good reasons for continuing to use it.
Reuse - there is little we can do to reuse plastics because of their tendency to deteriorate. Who wants a yellowing, slightly cracked PC monitor?
Recycle - this is generally very difficult because there are so many different types of plastic which are difficult to differentiate and then separate, or are tightly juxtaposed in laminates. There are over 20 different types with very specific properties. When mixed up they lose their specific functionality.
Energy recovery - has definite possibilities. At high temperatures many plastics will burn reasonably cleanly but they will produce CO2, from the carbon in them. As that carbon is derived from crude oil extracted from the subterranean sphere (see post 5), it is adding to the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and thereby contributing to climate change.
Landfill - or disposal at sea could look like the most likely option. When this occurs, there is very little nature can do with plastics, unlike vegetable waste, for example. It just remains as unbiodegradeable rubbish - unsightly and offensive on the eye. In the sea it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces as part of its natural ageing process and due to the violent movement of the sea’s surface. Eventually it looks like plankton and is ingested by marine life, where it has no nutritional value. The presence of non-biodegradable plastics in the sea has also caused quite a stir in environmental circles with the reporting of large quantities of plastics ending up in the Sub Polar North Pacific Gyre - a natural marine vortex. Not only is this unsightly and disrespectful to other creatures in the biosphere it is also a significant waste of an opportunity. These plastics have plenty of energy and chemical structure left in them - it is simply a matter of using these productively without producing greenhouse gases. We haven’t found a viable way of doing that yet.

This landfill conundrum is still an opportunity. Think of landfill as ‘well-fill’, or ‘mine-fill’. Let us fluidise or compress this stuff and put it away, fully acknowledged and recorded, deep down beyond any degradation agents such as light or microbes, or dissemination forces such as the wind or water. Here it can remain, immobile and inert, until perhaps 30 years when we have had time to invent the technology to make prudent use of its energy and chemical structure. When the fossil fuels begin to run out we will have a store of low grade hydrocarbon material ready to be pumped up again. There is a great symmetry to it: we extract hydrocarbon, turn it into something useful which does its job, and then return the hydrocarbon whence it came, for the next generation if they choose to use it.

Making it happen....
Assuming that we have got the design right for the post sale supply chain and then built it, we will need to get those people who are earnestly recycling in one way to do so in another. This is not easy but is an inevitable price for making an ill considered false start. But let’s face up to it, agree on the mistake and get on with it straightforwardly. There is no time to lose. The plastics wine bottle is a good example, like the cucumber, of the received wisdom being wrong. As a result populist governments enact legislation which is misguided and influence populations and major corporations like supermarkets to behave in totally counter-productive ways - this is perverse in the extreme, and extremely serious as it is leading well-meaning collective human effort in the wrong direction. The FT quotes one of the Prime Minister’s sustainability commissioners, Tim Lang, as describing the situation as a ‘mess’.

Plastics, particularly in packaging are thought of as an environmental threat - the iconic disposable carrier bag - typifies this:

  • What for one person is a non-biodegradable blight on the landscape, for which legislation on their issue by supermarkets is being considered,

  • For another, it is a brilliant bit of design arriving at a extremely low cost way to help customers get their purchases home in one piece and avoid waste from damage, and

  • For another, like me, it is a piece of material with fossil fuel carbon sequestered away within it, which could be taken out of the biosphere.

The earlier ‘minefill’ suggestion satisfies all three points of view. Perhaps if this were viable, then the post sale supply chain needs designing with similar ingenuity as the pre-sale one. Finally people need to understand it and ‘buy into’ it, as they have done, for other domestic and commercial waste streams.

Addressing a nagging doubt....
In their praise of plastics, the FT quoted the modern lifestyle. Plastics are serving our desire for the modern lifestyle admirably and if we learn to dispose of them sensibly, what’s the problem? However, what about this modern lifestyle that we feel impelled to adopt - is it providing satisfaction and fulfilment? If we honestly ask the following questions of ourselves, what does it reveal?

  • Are we really finding happiness living this modern style of life?

  • Does happiness increase with increasing consumption?

  • If so, if we push even harder will it get better?

  • Does it matter if we deprive others elsewhere in our quest for greater happiness?

  • What do others think of our enormous propensity to consume?

Amongst the people of around my age (53), I detect quite a bit of ambiguity and enquiry. On the one hand, as we have advanced in age, our careers may have made us richer, we probably possess more than our parents and can, for example, afford several foreign holidays, but on the other hand we still hark back to a less complicated, slower life, in our childhood. I, for one, am coming to see climate change as an alert, a symptom of a profound problem about ourselves. We seem not to see the big picture - where this might all rather end up. Perhaps it’s not plastics, nor cheap air travel, nor my next mobile phone that’s the actual problem, but it’s our unthinking hunger for them which is going unbridled.

As in many of these posts, when you step far enough back to see the big picture, the view changes and the solutions can seem more profound and lasting. My next post will consider some excellent and optimistic thinking from Adair Turner in the book, ‘Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth?’.


Unknown said...

Now there is a solution and much better alternative to levying, recycling and reusable canvas grocery bags for those who forgets their canvas bag at home or in the car which is called "Bioplast Biodegradable Plastics."

Bioplast is a manufacturing company of BIOPLAST Branded Biodegradable Garbage Bags and Fridge Bags for the household markets and for the industry as well as Biodegradable Carrier Bags and Vegy Bags for the retail sector using their own patented unique formula of bacteria enzyme base substrate as against starch base as used by other manufacturers world over which is not as strong or durable as polymer (plastic) bags and has a cost addition of 300%-400%. Also starch based products can comprise of genetically modified crops (GM Crops) which contains PLA the substitutes can increase emissions of greenhouse gases on landfill sites and releases Methane which is 23 times more damaging than the C02 that Al and Goreites have demonized and cannot be recycled in Britain. See The Guardian reported on Saturday on “Corn starch based material can damage the environment”;

Bioplast is the only Biodegradable technology in the world using bacteria enzyme base substrate which is 100% biodegradable within 6 months after disposal as per ASTM-D 5988-1996 and EN 13432:2000/ISO 14855 standards with the lowest cost addition of 15%-20%.

Bioplast biodegradable products are also compostable and hence enhancing the nutritive value of the remaining soil. All the ingredients of Bioplast biodegradable plastic products are food grade and non-toxic in nature therefore suitable to be in contact with food products.

Bioplast is using nature to solve a man made problem.

Bioplast believes that this great innovation will go a long way in preserving the ecological balance around the world which has brought intelligent and affordable solution to the disposal of polyethylene plastic waste problem worldwide.

Now the local and central Governments must ban all non-biodegradable plastic bags and force all the retailers to use ONLY 100% Biodegradable bags in their stores as an alternative to reusable canvas bags which will be the evidence of their sincere concern for the environment and their commitment to tackling the considerable problem of plastic bag waste and the pollution.

"What will you tell your children? Were you part of the Problem or part of the Solution?"

Anonymous said...


I tried to respond twice to the last post but something obviously wasn’t happening…

A few points that arise in response:

1) Interesting points you make about the use of plastics in reducing food waste, and the inherent cost (including energy / carbon cost) of transporting food only to be thrown away. This makes the plastic / energy equation look rather different doesn’t it?

2) Regarding the options for disposal of plastics, I feel there is more to the Pacific Gyre problem than is being considered. It is inevitable that there will be a certain amount of litter that finds its way into our oceans. The effect of this material on marine life and the whole food chain may be far worse than initially thought. This is an excerpt from a reference link from the Wikipedia article that was posted earlier:

“As these fragments float around in the ocean, they accumulate the poisons we manufacture for various purposes that are not water-soluble.
It turns out that plastic polymers are sponges for DDT, PCBs and nonylphenols—oily toxics that don't dissolve in seawater. Plastic pellets have been found to accumulate up to 1 million times the level of these poisons that are floating in the water itself. These are not like heavy metal poisons that affect the animal that ingests them directly. Rather, they are what might be called second-generation toxics.
Animals have evolved receptors for elaborate organic molecules called hormones, which regulate brain activity and reproduction. Hormone receptors cannot distinguish these toxics from the natural estrogenic hormone, estradiol, and when the pollutants dock at these receptors instead of the natural hormone, they have been shown to have a number of negative effects in everything from birds and fish to humans.
The whole issue of hormone disruption is becoming one of the biggest- if not the biggest - environmental issue of the 21st century. Hormone disruption has been implicated in lower sperm counts and higher ratios of females to males in both humans and animals.
Unchecked, this trend is a dead end for any species.

3) Regarding the carrier bag issue – surely the use of re-usable bags is the best option as is happening? Stronger re-usable non-plastic bags have a long life and would eliminate the problem completely. How many of us do this? A fairly simple quick fix lifestyle change?

4) On a slight tangent – did you see the 11th Hour movie on the TV over the weekend? The environmentalist David Suzuki made a very good point that stays with me – although I forget the figures which is a shame – he was talking about how our current economic models fail to take account of what nature does for us for nothing. i.e, If we had to invent technology to do the job of trees in absorbing carbon from the air, or a way of pollinating fruit crops without bees, or any other number of things nature does for us for free - it would cost us trillions. Therefore these things need to be given a £ or $ value in the equation when considering the impact of our actions. Like your earlier risk management post, but not just climate change. Not immediately practical but may wake some people up to how our model is skewed.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

I'm reading Jared Diamond's book COLLAPSE: HOW SOCIETIES CHOOSE TO FAIL OR SURVIVE. Diamond is best-known for his amazing history book GUNS GERMS & STEEL, and this one is similarly illuminating.

He analyses societies that have flourished and then collapsed. There are a number of factors in this, but poor environmental management is probably the biggest one. He gives a detailed account of what happened on Easter Island, where every last tree was cut down to make canoes and rollers for their massive statues, and to clear the ground for agriculture. Food sources such as birds and fish were also severely depleted. Once the sources of food got low, the Islanders started to kill each other, and eventually became cannibalistic. Most of the famous statues were deliberately toppled, as if the society had completely lost its integrity and belief system. Easter Island is the most distant point of land on the globe and once the big trees were gone, there was no way to get new resources.

Diamond ponders the question as to what they said to themselves as the last tree was felled. We don't know, of course, because there were no survivors.

His point is that the fate of Easter Island parallels the possible fate of our globalized culture. Like them, we have nowhere else to turn if we get it wrong, marooned as we are in an ocean of space. As with them, our society is likely to destroy itself long before the food is actually all gone.


Anonymous said...

Having reflected on the issues raised by this blog for a while, I come back to the item top of the agenda on the waste hierarchy - REDUCE - where there seems to be fairly unanimous opinion that the greatest gains are to be made. I recently came across an article in the Independent about the rise of an over-consumption based economy and particularly how marketing creates desires rather than meets needs:

Someone sent me in response to this link the following talk / animation which is a good and simple summary of our situation. It would be good to see this shown in schools:

So, I'm wondering how the 'reduce' part of the equation can best be tackled? I feel that advertising is a big part of it. Though I accept there is a legitimate activity in a business informing potential customers of its product or service, the marketing industry has gone beyond all acceptable bounds of pyschological manipulation in order to create desires so that the less than vigilant do little but consume 'stuff' that isn't needed with devastating environmental consequences - just so a few can get rich. This whole use of misleading 'imagery' reminds me of a magician or the beautiful maiden who turns out to be a warty old hag when the spell wears off. Something needs to break this spell.

It is easy for those with a fair degree of self-control to see the advertising as harmless but the majority do not have self control. Like Jesus' analogy, there are shepherds and sheep. The shepherds are those of power and influence, of whatever kind. The weak minded are clearly swayed against all reason. Whose is the responsibility in this regard?

So, practically, maybe it is first of all misleading advertising that should be tackled. I think Lexus recently came under fire for implying one of their cars had no impact on the environment.

Well, I'm giving some consideration to the best course of action for myself but I'll leave you with a verse that came to mind from the Tao Te Ching:

Tao just is, and everything gets done.
If leaders could be this way,
People would change by themselves.
If people were compelled by desire,
Their leaders would lead them back
To their original simplicity.
Eventually there would be no desire,
And without desire there is peace.
In this way the world rights itself.

Trans. Timothy Freke - Verse 37

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Excellent resource by a Cambridge physicist who has taken a cool look at the numbers regarding energy usage, possible contribution of renewables etc. He argues that most of what we hear are 'adjectives not numbers'. Hence sober decisions are not being made both in our choices as consumers and as regards national energy policy. His book is being published online and there is an exec summary:


Anonymous said...

Nick, I take your point about marketing, but there is no hope of advertisers changing their methods because they are doing the job of getting people to pay attention to their products. There is even less hope of people becoming free of desire. Instead we should focus on what is allowed to be advertised or consumed. Smoking has been severely restricted in advertising, which has had an effect, and I read the other day that since the UK ban on smoking in public spaces, 28% of smokers have given up!

Daoism (or Taoism) is one approach to managing society that has been tried, but the Chinese long ago realised that Confucian methods, though more prosaic, are what work. Yes, people would change if their leaders changed, but leaders have to take responsibility for deciding how people will be allowed to live whether or not they themselves adhere to the highest personal standards. EG Arnold Schwarzenegger may have a carbon footprint the size of a zeppelin, but if he gets California to adopt electric cars then he is doing his job.

"without desire there is peace"

Despite its venerable age, this quotation is nonsense. Banning desire is not possible. Easier to change behaviour first. If you restrict the amount of food someone can eat to a reasonable total, they will stop desiring so much food because they will become accustomed to feeling less full and being healthier.

The same applies to environmental problems. Don't expect people to stop wanting gas-guzzlers - take action to ban or make them prohibitively expensive. Then desires will move elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Kevin said: "Smoking has been severely restricted in advertising, which has had an effect, and I read the other day that since the UK ban on smoking in public spaces, 28% of smokers have given up!"

In a recent article in the Telegraph, the climate scientist James Hansen suggests prosecuting oil companies for crimes against humanity. Their deliberate disinformation is compared to tobacco companies who denied the link between smoking and lung cancer.

Hansen is a 'leader' as are those who brought about the UK smoking ban. The illusions can be broken and 'the people' can be returned to natural order. I don't think you understood this argument at all or Taoism which you unthinkingly and disrespectfully dismiss.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous ... I would have thought Hansen's action, though somewhat quixotic, is an example of non-Taoist action. The Taoist idea, as I understand it, is to rule by doing nothing ... the internal change is transmitted to others by osmosis.

It doesn't matter whether Hansen is himself a user of fossil fuels, or an enlightened sage. What matters is the action he takes and whether it is upheld by judges.

Maybe I am being a bit hard on the old Taoists ... but I don't think their philosophy, which is skeptical about any practical steps one might take to bring about change, is a good one to employ in this circumstance.

I also think Jeremy's view, expressed earlier in the blog, is right: it is easier to change the behaviour of the few (oil companies, governments) than to change the behaviour of the masses.

Anonymous said...

Ph.D History of Science Professor Naomi Oreskes examines the history of global warming science and more importantly, the history of global warming denial in this video lecture. Who are the deniers? What proportion of the scientific community do they represent? Who do they work for? What tactics are used to create confusion and delay effective action? Highly recommended.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for that - very, very well argued expose of Global Warming Denial.

Shows how the scientists that have fuelled the doubts over Global Warming were the same people who argued that tobacco didn't cause cancer, that sulphur didn't cause acid rain and that CFCs didn't cause a hole in the ozone layer. All of these arguments are now dead in the water: all these people did was to delay the emergence of the truth by a couple of decades, for their own political reasons.

Their tactics were not to try to disprove these phenomena, but to argue that "scientists disagree" about them - which is 99% untrue.

Jeremy said...


Sorry - I've been totally incommunicado recently and just trying to catch up. So I'm reading backwwards up the chain of comments. I may have to do this in bite sized chunks. The first theme seems to be about

Scientific Denial of Climate Change.

Post 3, with the help of 'wondering mind' convinced me and many others that this debate will never end entirely, but from a risk management point of view, 'doing nothing' is an unreasonable option.

When I've listened to Naomi Oreske's 58 minute lecture - which I've added a link to on the blog, I hope I might be a bit clearer about whether there is a point in a scientific debate at which the Wandering Mind's Risk Management approach is appropriate - perhaps before that point we are still getting to some sort of consensus on impact. This is a bit of an intellectual issue really.

The Point of Most Effect.

It's a very interesting debate going on between Nick and Kevin about the inner control of desire or the external constraining of behaviours motivated by desire. It's probably undeniable that restaint is needed, and I would contend that we need leadership in this area and that that leadership has to impose something on us all but maybe in different ways. In 'Situational Leadership' terms,(I find the concept very useful) the style of imposition depends upon the subordinate's 'maturity' and results in delegation, participation, selling or telling. So our government could enact some narroww law (aka telling), which with due process and good design, might be complied with. However it's unlikely to cover the big picture and therefore could have entirely perverse effects.
Two examples of this:
1. Gordon Brown's recent views on food waste are likely to be quite true and recognisable for nearly all of us, but our wastefulness is only a symptom of something else: something Nick is trying to address by showing how reliant we are on what Nature does for us, unpaid and unacknowledged. I'd put the imperative firmly in the 'Reduction' bit of the waste hierarchy but next to impossible to implement, other than by taxing or by perhaps getting rid of sell by dates. The problem as I see it is still best addressed by the sustainability argument and Nick's ideas - we can no longer ignore the impact on a limited biosphere of bringing 200,000 additional human bodies onto the planet every day, all of whom have western style desires. We have to reduce on both and Adair Turner and the New Economics Foundation et al have some answers on this in relation to what really makes us happy.
2. Gordon Brown on hybrid cars. This is another stealth tax and an attempt at influencing public opinion. when I finally get to it I've got a post to give on how we might burn fossil fuel without producing any greenhouse gases.
It's only the big picture that gets from greenwash, up to tactics and eventually to strategy and leadership.

Global leadership.

Isn't this part of the difficulty? There is no such thing, outside world wars. This is a global problem but there is no global leadership - at best, it is described as mutual self interest, but finding mutual self interest amongst 200 nations is proving to be impossible. Kevin is right in suggesting, as on Easter Island and in many other examples, so it will be here on this globe, dog eat dog. I think many see potable water as being the next thing to become scarce and we will war over. At the risk of just getting gloomy isn't this just the natural descent into anarchy, Plato speaks about in the Republic at the end of rule by democracy? He and others have also said the peoples get the governments they deserve. With today's global crises now very pressing we have to find some global leaders from amongst us. Hence the 'Big Picture' blog goes on....

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeremy

Long time no hear.

On the subject of leadership and degrees of intervention:

- when you get to it, you'll see this is an interesting point Oreskes makes about 'free market fundamentalists' who abhor any form of government intervention equating it with communism.

- perhaps a more rounded approach (allowing freedom of movement and indirect control) is described in the book I'm currently reading (Culture Jam by Kalle Lasn). He talks about True Cost Economics where the externalities are brought back into product/service pricing. He says:

"True cost is a simple but potent way to redesign the global economy's basic incentives in a relatively uncharged political atmosphere. Conservatives like the idea because it's a logical extension of their free-market philosophy. Progressives like it because it involves a radical restructuring of the status quo. Governments like it because it gives them a vital function to fulfill: that of calculating the true costs of products, levying ecotaxes and managing our bioeconomic affairs for the long term. And environmentalists like it because it may be the only way to achieve sustainability in our lifetime."

I suspect this may not be quite as trouble free as Lasn implies - he elsewhere suggests that a basic 'true cost' car may cost $100K and $250 to fill up with petrol, unlikely to be a popular notion to those (most of us) with lifestyles that rely on the externalities being someone else's problem - but there does seem to be some room for idealogical agreement as a starting point.

As always though, there's no real reasons for the 'vested interests' with the power, influence etc to be interested in giving up their unfair advantage. They already have their teeth in the world's governments. Like you say, there's no real leadership. Well not of a government kind, but what I was trying to somewhat clumsily say earlier - the 'influencers' may be more subtlely operating. Without trying to claim anything personally, I've been talking to a number of colleagues about this kind of thing and the responses have been surprising (including two of them going off to look at high mpg cars on the net after a lunchtime conversation about peak oil. I jokingly told one of them his new Audi would be worth about 10p in a couple of years!). But similarly, the 'true cost' idea even just as an idea in the public domain may prick the conscience of the morally minded. I have recently heard it said that pressure should be applied to the world's religions to get serious about this. As I heard an American preacher say on TV, "buying a low-polluting car is simply an extension of love thy neighbour".


Jeremy said...

Nick et al,

I'm so glad to be back. You seem to be a source of extremely useful knowledge and understanding. At some point perhaps you could reveal yourself.

I've got a work gap coming up soon so I'll take time to read 'Culture Jam'. True cost does sound a progressive and encouraging concept. Obviously I'm very interested to hear your views too.

I've had some very interesting face to face interactions with knowledgeable people. I hope to convert these into posts during my break, if not before.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jeremy & anyone else reading,

Haven't dropped by for a while what with AIA and being away with work. I'm not sure what you'll make of Culture Jam, but I find the basic premise really hits a nerve. The author had tried various forms of activism before he hit upon the notion of taking on the power of marketing and using it against itself. As was discussed earlier, one of the greatest forces working against the 'reduce' option on the waste hierarchy is that there is a whole industry devoted to creating and inflaming desire for things. If the image bubble can be burst and the reality behind the image revealed, this might just sober some people up. Results stemming from Lasn's Adbusters organisation have been mixed but I still find the notion of producing ads to tell people to buy nothing or deliberately 'subvert' the false promises of the advertising industry appeals to this individual! And some things are becoming clear about which level of law one should obey. As Martin Luther King Jr put it:

"One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."

Hence 'subvertising' is fair game I reckon! I'm tired of every surface in public space being used to try and sell me something. Not that I believe I am all that affected by it directly - but if it causes a large number of people to believe in 'consume to be happy' or worse 'consume to be someone' then humanity is being constantly devalued, consumption is having disasterous environmental consequences and the overall knock on effects, the 'marketing externalities' are hideous to contemplate - so indirectly we are all affected.


Anonymous said...

Further to the above and forgive me if I'm repeating myself or stating what may be obvious to others - but something is beginning to crystallise here in terms of principle. The notion of 'True Cost Pricing', i.e, to be honest about the real effects of a product in terms of its raw materials, transportation, honest wages & working conditions, disposal, energy, pollution/co2 etc - this is simply 'the truth', universally minded and seen without distortion. Any deviation from true cost must result in injustice as the poor, the developing world or future generations pick up the bill for the excesses of the blind and the greedy.

Conversely, an economics based upon perpetual 'growth' must at some point inevitably start dealing in illusions. Based on true cost, people would be more or less forced to live simple and sustainable lifestyles. Excesses would be prohibitively expensive. To entice people away from simplicity and contentment and fuel 'growth' entails selling them:

- something artificially cheap whilst obscuring the negative externalities.
- a bunch of ideas, 'lifestyles', 'image' etc

Both of these are based upon deception and illusion whereas true cost would be based upon seeing things as they are and defining cost accordingly.

Maybe this is an oversimplification in terms of how true cost would be practically calculated, but I feel that the basic premise is an obvious philosophical one. We must discriminate between the real and the illusory.


Anonymous said...

I mentioned earlier the Cambridge mathematician James Mackay's 'Without Hot Air' website looking at sustainable energy. For anyone who might be interested there is a video lecture by Mr Mackay covering the same material at:


Anonymous said...

Very nice article on the BBC website arguing the necessity of locally produced food when faced with increasing energy costs:


"Even before its sea voyage, the calorific value of US wheat is only twice the amount of calories expended to produce it. Compare this with cassava production in Tanzania where 23 times the calorific value is gained for each calorie of human energy input."