Monday, September 27, 2010

A Worldview That Resonates With Me

From The Guardian, a fascinating profile of a member of an indigenous tribe who, quite literally, are making a movie in an attempt to save the world: Save the planet – a message from another world
"The first thing that is noticeable to me is that this is still the world," he says. "What's visible is construction, what you have made. This is not something we, the Kogi, are used to seeing. You give precedence to the use of a thing rather than its source. That's the intellectual error. Ultimately, it's all nature." From Jacinto's viewpoint, when we glance at a car we might assess its cost and the status conferred on its driver. We don't recognise it as a clever piece of engineering of resources that once lay inside the earth.

The Kogi are witnessing some of this extraction first hand. Coal mining in the Sierra Nevada has boomed in recent decades (fuelled in part by the demand for cheap foreign coal in post-miners' strike Britain). Over centuries, they survived the wars waged on them by retreating further into the mountains, through dense rainforest and cloud forest dubbed "El Infierno" by settlers. There are still no roads to the Kogi's traditional settlements (Jacinto's home does not exist on official maps), but global capitalism is slowly conquering the Kogi's isolation.
This gets at one of the greatest benefits of having some background in geology.  I can't look at any man-made creation without also considering the natural resources, particularly those that are geological in nature, that went into making it.  I don't think most people ever really stop to look at the stuff around them and wonder where that stuff came from.  I've done this activity with students, but I don't think I have on my blog.  Looking around the room...
Aluminum & linoleum table= bauxite, petroleum + LOTS of energy
Concrete floor= shale, limestone, gravel + LOTS of energy
Paint and Varnish= petroleum products, titanium oxide, pigments
Drywall= paper (=fertilizer- ammonium, potash, phosphorus & insecticides-petroleum + salts) and gypsum
Window Glass= quartz sand + sodium, potassium, calcium oxides +/- boron minerals (not so likely for windows)
Cotton Fabric= fertilizer- ammonium, potash, phosphorus & insecticides-petroleum + salts
Copper wiring, Compact fluorescent lights, fan, clock- copper, iron, mercury, glass, plastic (=petroleum)
...and of course, all the transportation infrastructure and fuel/energy costs to get all this stuff from its point of manufacture to this location.
...and of course, I'm JUST focusing on earth materials, because that's what I know.
...and of course, this is just a cursory skim; I could spend the next day or two looking carefully.

That is a deceptively brilliant comment: "The first thing that is noticeable to me is that this is still the world."  It is still the world.  No matter what we've done to it, no matter how we've processed it to better fit our wants, needs and sensibilities, it's still the world.  I do wish there was a greater awareness of that simple fact.

1 comment:

Cujo359 said...

Engineers tend to think this way, although clearly most of us don't have an extensive background in geology. I certainly couldn't tell you what rocks some modern materials are derived from. I'm not sure how many other folks do, though. Even business people often seem largely unaware of the idea, and they often have to have at least some idea of the processes involved in their own businesses.