Each environmentalist is a materialist.

The curse of knowledge

If somebody would have told me a few years ago that I would be considered as an environmental activist, I would have laughed my head off. And the truth is, I disagree with this separate category. Blindly, I consider my lifestyle being the by-default set-up of what the world needs. Without having had any education in the field of environment or any hippie parent, my journey started pretty simply. I recently started looking at everything around me and was curious to understand: how things are done? Observations ranking from adventurous travel experiences to quiet times in the comfy zone of my home, made me unveil the deep truth behind environmental activists: they see what you often don’t see.

Everything is made of something

Each single item is made of natural resources, one way or the other. These natural resources are very fragile and come from the earth. The IPCC report of the United Nations revealed we have less than 12 years to avoid a climate catastrophe. The reason for that is very simple: we use our earth too much. We use it so much and so fast that it can’t reproduce, regenerate, rebuild. While writing this article, I look around me: each single item was made by extracting natural resources. It takes so much from the ground. I think, “at least we should be thankful”. But… are we?

A new reading grid: what it is made of

Let’s look at a simple material to understand what environmental activists see. Plastic.

The common point between a toothbrush, a shampoo bottle, a t-shirt made of polyester and a Tupperware is that they are all made of plastic. The synonym of plastic is petrochemical. It is produced from petroleum. This yellowish-black liquid is found beneath the Earth’s surface, in very ancient geological formations. You get it through oil drilling. From there, it will be extracted and refined, until its final form, plastic. These geological layers can’t be reformed, as they are often +1000 years old: when it is taken out, it is for good.

Once produced, plastic never disappears. It has an average use time of 12 minutes and yet, it lasts forever. Cyrill Gutsch from Parley for the Oceans therefore calls it a design failure. Behind plastic are some very shocking facts, not only for the planet but for our health, as its leaks toxic substances anytime you touch it. However, an incredible amount of daily items are made of it. A (partial) light at the end of the tunnel is the awareness of the society of plastic bags’ damages and single-use plastic, notably since the European Parliament followed the European Commission’s proposal to eliminate them until 2021. Nevertheless, an incredible quantity of plastic is used in each part of our lives: fashion, furnitures, cosmetics (yes, you may be washing your face and your teeth with micro-plastics), packaging, construction, healthcare, transportations… No matter which industry you will look at, you find plastic having a core usable function.

I’ve been annoying my friends and family for years, since I embraced a “plastic-free lifestyle,” as a friend summarized my craze. But the thing is: when I look at plastic, I see layers of geological marvels that got transformed into a toxic substance, unadapted to its use.

Permanent distorsion

Plastic is only one example. If I see brand new wooden tables, I see trees that had to be cut to be transformed into furnitures. If I see my shoes made of leather, I see the skin of the cow. If I see a building, I see the mountains where its rocks were taken from. If I see cow milk, I see the calves being removed (and often killed) from their mothers. If I see eggs, I see ovules of huns. It’s weird, right? It’s weird and without any way back: once you know how things are made, you can’t ignore it. Welcome to the curse of knowledge.

Though, with curse comes enlightment. It made me fall in love with materials design and research, from glass to gold, stainless steal to other weird materials that Seetal Solanki wonderfully described in her book Why Materials Matter.

Manifesting a dream

In 2019, year of wishes for a better planet, my dream has two wings:

  • I wish we all look at objects by seeing what resources they are made of. Wearing the “earth glasses,” we all see beyond the visual aspect of the items to see what mother nature gave up for us to have it.
  • All what we ever need is already produced somewhere, underused. I dream of a redesigned system with efficient circulation of goods. Second-hand supermarkets and organic second-hand fashion store are high on my wishlist to see flourishing in our cities.

Sent out to the universe!