Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Some philosophy and culture behind ESD

When I first began working in this industry, what I most did was learning. Everything I did was new, my background was not of one related to the environment, and though I knew quite a bit of related to water management, mainly because on a ship you often find yourself with water rationing and restrictions and the main source of water being desalination, this was definitely not the sort of water management I was used to.

Among the things that struck me was how this was in fact a very young field, from every aspect. Even in my blog header I put " ESD is a relatively new concept in the human conscience.", I wrote that when I first set up the blog and I was thinking to myself: "what do I put here??". I had since thought of changing that to: making a "new" concept in the "western" human conscience... this is possibly more accurate.

Western cultures were more centred on themselves rather than the environment, one talks of an anthropocentric world, true, however but this was supposed to have begun in the renaissance, what of the theocentric world? Well in my opinion, this was also a previous version of a anthropocentric view, where man again placed God at the centre of the universe, and remember that in the Christian tradition man was made in "our image (God's), in our likeness," and then goes on to say "so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." (Genesis 1:26-27) of God, thus again he puts himself in the centre of the world. Well what has religion and the bible got to do with ESD? Well at the same time, not much and quite a bit. I am not making a religious discussion of this, but rather a cultural one, and this is certainly relevant, because it is the culture that we live in, that is obviously affected and affects the environment.

Why did I suggest the "western" aspect, why because the bible is, we could say for present practical purposes a western document, though more eastern in its origin, and it was the judeo-christian tradition that affected the western culture and for the better part of several centuries, and was the culture that came to dominate the planet, in more ways than one. Now that is obviously changing.

What of other cultures, may be eastern ones, or southern ones, to give or maybe invent some names. I would say that in these cases we see a situation where maybe possibly that was a "better" cohabitation with the environment, however I would argue that this was not necessarily purposeful. One of the great myths that always frustrates me is that how "original inhabitants" where supposed to have lived in closer harmony with nature, however around the world there are innumerable cases of mass extinction once humans arrive, in New Zealand for example with large flightless birds and marsupials, with similar situations in Australia, in Easter Island or Rapa Nui with flora being wiped out, to name a few cases. I would say then, yes, it is something new in the human conscience. No one gets "off the hook", for every story of how "original inhabitants" took care of the land, we can name several of how they did not. The idea is not to point fingers though, we are all universally to blame.

I find, and cannot but think, that again through what we see today, is not really an expression of that we are in fact prioritizing the environment, for the sake of the environment, once again we are doing it for ourselves, for the self preservation of the human species.

Another thing that I invariably find wherever I travel around the world, no matter how fantastic the solutions I propose are for the environment, if they are not economically viable, then they are more than quickly discarded.

At the end of the day, and Environmentally Sustainable Design, still has to be more cost effective than a "traditional" one or it has no place the environment, only very few exceptions exist to this situation, for example tax or government incentives, and even then they are related to economics once again.

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