It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Recycling as Theater

I am, as ever, unsure what to do about the blogroll.

Should the tech blogs I follow be on there? Maybe they aren't interesting to my readers, but they are interesting to me. Regardless, those are the blogs I follow. Take it or leave it.

Anyway as I've mentioned here once already I consider Ian Bicking a man to watch. He's got a bachelor's degree from the University of No-Place, but he's easily one of the smartest people I've ever encountered and I've learned a great deal from him. His cleverness is more mathematical than technical in flavor. I don't even know if he's had any calculus, but has an amazing knack for finding the right abstraction that pays off in his work as well as in his writings.

(It really peeves me how little appreciation the academic sector has of how smart and insightful software professionals are, and how much the scientific community has to learn from them. That's another story though. Ian himself gets plenty of attention from the people who matter to him, and this is my gripe, not his.)

Usually Ian writes about software, but here's an entry from him about recycling as theater that In It readers might find interesting. Best line:
People actually get angry when recycling programs restrict the plastics they will take. It doesn’t occur to them that some plastics are simply garbage. They are worthless, and moving them around in special recycling containers just wastes everyone’s time. They are angry because they want to pretend they aren’t being wasteful. They aren’t getting enough environmental theater.

4 comments:

David B. Benson said...

Who was it that first said "everything has to go somewhere"?

Marion Delgado said...

sorry i meant ACM above and I got on their list through AAS. And I should acknowledge you mean academics respecting them. (IF academics don't - good. Great, even. Again, they're the most overpraised segment I can imagine). Also, Ian's fundamentally wrong and the angry people are fundamentally right - he's only situationally correct, and his attitude sucks, not theirs. Its taking WAY too long to change from making non-recyclable plastics to recyclable plastics - their anger is valid. We still burn petroleum instead of reserving it for plastics, there are still unreasonable restrictions on hemp, the mainstream media are rampant liars in whatever direction feathers someone's nest at any given time, etc.

the bottom line is, our unscientific prostration before the Market God is still failing us, big time.

Michael Tobis said...

Marion I don't see the previous post to which you refer, so there's context missing.

I do think the academic sector is allergic to the idea of skills transfer from the commercial sector, so much so that it is sadly funny.

As to whether everything should be made with its ultimate disposal in mind, I would agree in principle.

But 1) we have bigger fish to fry right now and shouldn't waste our outrage on landfills, airfills and oceanfills being much more dangerous at this point. And 2) I agree with Ian that people do not successfully distinguish between productive efforts for the environment and symbolic ones. And 3) it is not the responsibility of the city to recycle things that cannot be recycled, so I agree with him that if you direct your anger toward the recycling folks when you are holding a nonrecyclable item you are wasting your breath.

Recycling is for the most part a distraction and, lacking sufficient incentives on the demand side, to some extent a swindle. Fixing this is difficult and under present circumstances a deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic sort of maneuver. 100% recycling of solids and business as usual on gaseous wastes will be vastly worse than the other way around. Yet some people will drive fifty miles to recycle a few pieces of cardboard.

Hank Roberts said...

I tell my neighbors over and over, plastic that's nonrecyclable is the same thing as carbon sequestration -- landfill it, keep it from choking a seabird or turtle, and you've done as well as you can short of not buying it at all.