Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The life cycle of a product.

We have a tendency these days to divide the world into two parts -- the human part and the natural part.  On the human side, especially here in the United States, and perhaps even more so especially here in Southern California, we are surrounded by products.  We drive our cars.  We sit in our chairs.  We watch our TVs.  We go online on our computers linked up with our wireless modems.  It's a highly complex anthropo-ecosystem that we surround ourselves with.

On the nature side, we tend to think of the scenic beauty of our national and state parks and wildlife preserves.  Of course nature is operating just as vigorously in our lawns, in our gardens, on our city beaches and sea shores. Nature springs to life in this densely humanly populated neighborhood when a family of seven or eight raccoons emerges from their daytime lairs to prowl the environment looking for food.

Of course, the human part of the world is not separate from nature but rather depends on it entirely.  Everything you see surrounding you in your home or office started its life as earth, dirt, soil or mineral. Mix it all together, in the right proportions, and under the right conditions and there you have it, a chair, a TV or a computer.

What happens to your products after you are done with them?  Perhaps they go to the Goodwill of AmVets.  Perhaps they go into your re-cycle bin.  Eventually, however, they all go back and return to the earth, from whence all things come and to which all things return.  Nature is one big cyclical process that builds things up out of soil and then allows them to break down a become soil again, ready to support a new life process.

Some materials run through this transitional process faster and more easily than others.  In the case of a wooden chair built up out of lumber that was harvested, milled, cut, assembled and finished and used all on a single farmstead we can easily follow the process from earth to earth.  In the case of complicated consumer electronic products such as computers we could not possibly hope to trace all the millions of tiny efforts and accumulations that go into creating our final consumer product.  And similarly we cannot imagine the complex processes by which something like a computer breaks back down into re-usable component minerals.

Nevertheless, it is worth meditating on the process by which our products arrive to amuse and sustain us as well as the process of decomposition that awaits them when they are no longer useful to us.  By bringing this process up out of a dark and neglected corner and into the bright light of our center consciousness we can make better choices for ourselves, for our futures and for future generations.

After all there is no human phenomenon -- not war, not pollution, not anything -- that is not driven by the billions of little decisions regarding consumption made on the planet each and every day.  To make a better world, be a better consumer.  And step one of being a better consumer is thinking just a little bit about where things come from and where they go to.

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