Review of 'Circular' (TED Radio Hour)
Pop quiz: What do donuts, oysters, food waste, old plastic, and thrift stores have in common?
As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite podcasts is the TED Radio Hour with Guy Raz. In the podcast, the host takes three to four TED talks, groups them into a theme, does some additional interviews with the speakers, and sprinkles in some audio from the original TED talk.
So, like having a dream within a dream, I'd like to do a blog post reviewing a podcast.
This particular episode is called 'Circular,' and it talks about a few of my favorite topics of curiosity: The environment, sanity in economics, and food production.
Specifically he covers talks that include: Healthy boundaries for economic growth, a better use for our food waste, rebuilding the environment using oysters, up-cycling plastics, and resourcefulness in fashion to help the environment.
To me, it's actually quite impressive that he gathers these five talks around one theme. But the question that recurs is an important one for us to walk away with:
In what ways can we curb the ingrained obsession with 'more' and find the resources we need already right in front of us?
Kate Raworth, who focused on economic growth, looks at a different shape for the economy. Typically economists focus on an upward-trending line, signifying the expansion of the GDP. Raworth, however, suggests a donut:
To meet the needs of all [people on earth] within the means of the planet invites a new shape of progress — no longer this ever-rising line of growth, but a sweet spot for humanity, thriving in the dynamic balance between the foundation and the ceiling.
Kate Raworth's book, "Doughnut Economics," is now on my Amazon wishlist. (Yes, I see the irony about buying more stuff. Ok, I'll look for it at the library first.)
Next, Guy Raz brought to us Tristram Stuart, who looks at the idea of using food waste in a more meaningful way. His biscuit illustration (about the seven-minute marker of this TED talk) is the most memorable, as he discusses the massive amounts of food we discard by growing it only for livestock consumption and the large amounts of food we simply throw away. Guy's observation, as he followed Tristram's argument:
If we could use food waste more efficiently, we wouldn’t have to grow more food.
Tristram's solution: Take the food we throw out, cook it, and serve that to the livestock — specifically chickens and pigs — who are naturally designed to eat our scraps, anyway!
While this is a fascinating idea, I'd be very curious to see how the processing plants run to make this happen (i.e. collecting the food waste, cooking it, and selling it to farmers) — how much leg work is the middle-man doing? He says this is already happening in pockets all around the world. Once this is made clear and it can be efficiently scalable, I think there is real opportunity to reduce over-production in an area that's already over-taxed.
Oysters — yes, oysters — are the next topic. Kate Orff, whose interest is to rebuild the New York waterways so they are once again favorable to marine life, plans to do it with oysters. Since oysters clean the water of nitrogen (which is a major toxin for aquatic life) and since they help build a more multifaceted marine landscape, they are the bedrock for restoring life below the surface.
But most notable was her comment regarding the typical laissez-faire attitude toward how nature regenerates itself.
[We tend to think] nature will just come back by itself. [But] we have altered the chemistry of our water, we have clear-cut forests, we have dammed our rivers, and so on, so it’s not just like we can stop now and think that nature is going to regenerate and go back into some virtuous cycle. We have to actively unmake some of the decisions we have made in the past and literally give these ecosystems a boost and design our way into them being able to get back into this regenerative cycle.
That's a sobering point, and it makes me wonder if there are even small decisions I have made that need to be "actively unmade" to set the places in nature I touch on better standing.
Next, David Katz discussed his Plastic Bank, where he hits the problem of plastic waste by giving plastic a kind of economic value so that the very poor will want to collect it and turn it in for cash rewards. Think collecting aluminum cans on steroids — the economic returns will help pay for food and education, not just the $0.75 in your back pocket for all your pains. I like the idea, and I think it's clever to address the psychology of trash; however, I wonder how and if this one will stick enough to actually curb the production of plastics from the big plants that churn it out.
Finally Guy Raz landed on fashion. For me, this was a bit of a stretch, but it had the fun element to be sure. When designer Jessi Arrington went to her week at the TED Conference, she brought nothing but undies and the confident expectation that she would be able to find all her outfits at nearby local thrift stores. She wasn't disappointed! As she displayed her week's outfits from the TED stage, she made this profound point:
If you believe you're a beautiful person inside and out, there is no look you cannot pull off.
Guy Raz brought her on his podcast with an emphasis on how reusing clothes can help the environment (since, as he states, the dyes used at textile mills is the second-leading cause for polluting clean water). However, in her original TED Talk (this quote wasn't in the podcast), she highlights the secret to avoiding excess to begin with: Being content with who you are.
That one idea actually takes the load off our obsession for more and makes us free to enjoy what we presently have with creativity, gratitude, and generosity.
Sane limits on economic growth is absolutely a place to start in curbing our society's unceasing drive for more. Finding ways to use our waste products more intelligently is absolutely a key for our sustainability within the resources our planet provides. Oysters are indeed great, and we definitely need to take intentional steps to reverse the damage we have done. Plastic banks are one of many ideas needed to help solve the massive problem of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (made almost entirely of plastics and bigger than Texas).
But the truth is none of these causes alone can make us better people. As important as they are, they can't fill us. And, ironically, I believe that the soul of a person must first find contentment before they will address the problems of excess all around us.
Start there. Then take on the world with these brilliant ideas. It will go much better for all of us.