A line in an old workers’ song goes “Chop some wood, ’twill do you good” (The Preacher and the Slave – the lyrics also gave us the phrase ‘pie in the sky’). The song parodies the hymn “In the sweet by and by”, and the advice to chop some wood is directed at those seen to be exploiting workers without working themselves. Chopping some wood isn’t doing any of us much good these days though.
We’re nearing the end (2014) of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development without seeming to have learned much at all about sustainability. In South Africa housing is still based on Western building plans and materials that leak energy. The symbols of upward mobility that we are all strive for are still the energy-guzzling cars, appliances and electronic media devices that are designed to reach landfill sites within the shortest possible time. We’re no wiser about using energy that is cheaper than electricity, LP gas or paraffin (and mostly unaware of the efforts of hordes of scientists, backyard engineers and not-so-mad inventors striving to create energy-efficient biomass stoves, wonderbags, or human-powered generators and pumps).
On top of everything else, we’re teaching the next generation to strive for the same model of capitalism that has caused the current malaise of Europe (and most of the world’s waste), where much of the production of the few who still work is focussed on making useful but non-essential things to sell to the parts of the world that need food and shelter more. If capitalism is the apex of progress, it’s the apex of a mountain of misdirected resources and wasted energy. Are we really that stupid?
Seems the other Great Bearded One was right (if slightly unkind) when he said: ‘The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people’ (Karl Marx). To see the product of the mind of one wonderfully useful person, google ‘belonio’. There’s still hope for the world.