Abandoned Island: Survival Hacks

“Abandon ship, abandon ship!! Get on the life-boats, now!” yelled the captain. In the darkness of the night and amidst cyclonic winds, it was not just our ship, but also all our hopes of survival, that were swallowed by the cold black waters of the South Pacific Ocean. Twelve of us on board the ‘Paradise Cruise Liner’ had survived; shivering in shock and despair. Here we were, in a dingy life-boat, amidst crying toddlers and weeping mothers; somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, hoping against hope, for someone to rescue us. As the night dragged its feet through time, we prayed and prayed for help. But all we got was the roar and crash of the surfs. Our cruise had hit an iceberg and capsized leaving us in this situation, utterly drained and exhausted. It was not long until most of us collapsed into deep sleep, albeit involuntarily only to be shaken back to consciousness by loud cheers of “It’s an island! We see an island!!”

As clichéd as it sounds, the above narrative has seen many denouements across movies and literature. In some of these, the protagonists manage to survive just long enough, before being rescued by a search team; while in others, they do the unthinkable and rescue themselves with hand-made rafts (or even sail boats!). Simply put, each story has a happy ending, where the survivors finally leave the island and reach civilization. But just why, have these stories never involved the protagonists desiring to stay back? Are the islands, with their abundant resources, natural beauty and unpolluted air, not tempting enough? Or are the luxuries of modern-day society too convenient to forgo?

The answer, unfortunately, lies somewhere in between, but is not difficult to find. The deep-rooted notion that any human contact with natural resources can lead only to the depletion of the later, is part of the answer. With this logic therefore, any islanders would soon run out of resources and eventually die. Sounds very obvious! But just how was this logic etched into our systems?

To understand this, we have to look back a bit into the seventeenth century. The mid-17th century brought with it the ‘industrial revolution’ that began in Europe and which also planted the seed for most of today’s manufacturing practices. Steam power had taken the world by a storm, helping in ways unimagined earlier, to maximize efficiency and production. However, little or no attention was paid to the nature of products that came out of these manufacturing processes. This hara-kiri-of-sorts, is the root cause of much of our environmental problems today. During all these years we have continued using resources without thinking of ‘reusing’. As a result, we now have a problem of scarcity of resources. Moreover, little thought has been given to tackle the waste that is generated from these industrial processes and products.

Most companies today work on the principle of take, make and waste; which is why there is a growing need to minimize what we take and how much we waste. But with earth’s population slowly reaching 8 billion, even minimizing our plunder will not suffice, eventually. There is therefore a need to bend our straight-line processes and convert them into cyclic ones, where the end product becomes the building block of a new one. One of the techniques, now known as cradle-to-cradle, was suggested by McDonough Braungart in his book, that goes by the same name. It attempts to keep all materials in continuous cycles, both in the technical as well as biological processes. McDonough also observes that, had the industrial revolution taken place in Asia, we would not be staring at such a gigantic problem, in the first place.

Asians traditionally, have always had a decentralized approach to living and resource management. This also ensured that the waste generated was not disposed to a far-off place, but dealt-with within the boundaries of the community space. In India for example, cow dung was used extensively as manure and part of the harvest produced thus, was fed back to the cows, thus creating a cycle.

Combining modern solutions with ancient wisdom is therefore the need of the hour and can go a long way in solving much of the complications in our convenience-hungry society. A better design will however take several years to get recognized. But once implemented, it would be a world where we do not take, but ‘borrow’ things from nature. And only in such a world, can we imagine our protagonists on a deserted island wanting to settle-down forever. In the meanwhile, all we can hope is that we don’t land-up in a situation that compels us to ‘Abandon Ship’.