The relaxing of the laws around the use and production of marijuana should be seen as an exciting opportunity – not just for those who use the plant medicinally or recreationally, but even more so for the South African economy and ecology.
Hemp is a net-positive plant, meaning it draws more carbon out of the environment than its cultivation, harvesting, processing and distribution emits. What’s more, it achieves this in a single growing season lasting 120 days and uses half the amount of water compared to similar crops.
So, why does this matter? Closing the loop on where our stuff comes from and what happens to it when we are finished with it is essential if we are going to curtail our impact on the environment.
Lithosphere vs Biosphere
The living world that surrounds us is what we call the biosphere; an ecosystem that rapidly changes, adjusts, adapts and regenerates. Below that thin layer of organic crust is the lithosphere; material that has been formed over millions of years. For instance, all gold on earth was formed in the heart of a dying star. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. The same is true of all of the metals, oils, sands and stones upon which we have grown dependent.
Although there are ancient components of the biosphere that we must protect, materials sourced from the biosphere are infinitely more sustainable than those for which we are drilling and mining. Our consumption methods need to move away from the lithosphere and towards the biosphere.
Many designers are beginning to move past the “cradle-to-grave” methodology that the recycling movement nudged them towards, and are now embracing a “cradle-to-cradle” philosophy that suggests that everything we produce should, at the end of its life-cycle, be repurposed in a beneficial, zero-impact way. Although these products may not be readily available yet, especially here in South Africa, we should be pushing our producers and youth who are moving into design and production to embrace this ethos.
Just Buy Less
Whilst the two consumption changes described above will help, they are not the full answer. In his recent article for The Guardian, We Won’t Save The Earth With A Better Kind Of Disposable Coffee Cup, George Monbiot explains that “the problem is pursuing, on the one planet known to harbour life, a four-planet lifestyle. Regardless of what we consume, the sheer volume of consumption is overwhelming the earth’s living systems.”
Matter matters. If we are serious about creating a sustainable future for ourselves on this planet, we need to fundamentally change the way we see and use “stuff”.
*Through his company, Blue Baobab Projects, Sebastian Brogan is designing and building homes and offices that utilise sustainable methods and materials. He is also developing educational workshops to engage with local students about cradle-to-cradle design practices.
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