I don’t know how much of our national wealth has been squandered in the past several years year seeking first to obscure a host of looming crises and then to apply a few useless bandages to stanch the bleeding of activities whose basic flaws left them well beyond repair or recovery. My guess, however, is that when historians 100 years hence total up the damage, it will be in the multiple trillions of dollars range, making the bailout figures that our legislators and administrators have owned up to date look like chicken feed.
Even those in charge of most rock-ribbed institutions are having a tough time ignoring the momentous changes taking place in the nation and around the globe. Many question whether it makes sense to throw money and effort into perpetuating systems that are no longer relevant to the emerging situation, yet here we are poised to go back to the well again (and presumably again and again) in the hope that there’s a magic elixir somewhere short of when the bucket hits bedrock.
My concern is not that these infusions of money can’t produce a short-term appearance of recovery, but rather, what then? The list of “spend your way into prosperity” historical success stories is virtually blank, yet here we go again flying into the face of precedent.
Is it any different in the world of waste? I worry how long it will take for the revolution taking place all around us to fully impact our waste systems as well, and for us to realize at a visceral level that not only will our practices be affected, but that the basic assumptions on which we’ve built our present-day programs and systems may no longer apply to the realities of a future coming at us at the speed of heat.
For certain, I don’t know how to read tarot cards, and, even if I did, I couldn’t glean from them how you should prepare for the uncertainties of the future. But what I do know is that now is not the time to look to the past for answers, because they are the waste world’s embodiment of stranded investment.
No, it’s time to embrace the opportunities presented us under the guise of sustainability—approaches that focus firmly on the challenges themselves and then to solutions free from preconditions and agenda of another day and age—that will be our salvation. It is my fervent belief that in following such an approach we will bring about greater environmental and societal benefits than we’ve produced in the past.