TUMBY BAY - One of the most perverse inventions of capitalism is planned obsolescence.
This is the idea that an article is manufactured to fall apart and cease to function properly after a certain amount of time.
Annoying for you and good for the manufacturer, who has ensured that users have to purchase a new article to continue to enjoy its convenience.
Planned obsolescence had been around for a while when someone came up with another brilliant idea.
This was to manufacture articles in a way that they are unable to be repaired.
This was largely achieved by making them out of materials not responsive to repair such as specialised plastics and metals.
Or they could be assembled from components that could not be purchased separately.
A final iteration of the idea was to create articles as unique entities using specialised operating technologies.
The business idea here was to later withdrawing the supporting technologies so the new version had to be bought to perform the same functions. Mobile phone users know how this one works.
Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, it was possible to buy articles that would last a lifetime if they were cared for properly and which could be readily repaired if they ceased to work.
I’m old enough to still enjoy the satisfaction that comes with repairing an item rather than throwing it away and buying a new one.
I enjoy this not because I’m mean but because I hate waste.
As such I deplore the throwaway culture that now prevails. I also deplore the idea that perfectly good articles can be discarded and consigned to the rubbish heap simply because they are no longer fashionable or the right shape or colour.
Which brings me to where we are headed with the world’s fascination with so-called green technologies, and in particular the sudden and surprising enthusiasm of the corporate sector for them.
My cynical side suspects this sudden embrace of all things environmentally friendly has a lot more to do with the prospect of selling lots of new stuff rather than a genuine interest in protecting the planet.
Take the case of electric vehicles. It is widely expected that this technology is going to quickly make vehicles powered by fossil fuels obsolete.
At some point in the near future it will become impossible to buy the petrol or diesel to run these vehicles because it will no longer be manufactured.
In other words everyone who wants to drive around will have to buy a new electric vehicle. The manufacturers of such vehicles will make a lot of money.
A similar thing will happen to boats, aeroplanes, engines, generators, heavy machinery and a host of other useful things.
When heavy industry changes the way it makes steel and aluminium and abandons coal and gas, a lot of money will have to be spent on setting up new systems to use new technologies such as green hydrogen.
You may think, so what? At least carbon pollution will be brought under control.
This is good but a lot of the new technologies will require a different suite of natural resources.
Lithium, for instance, will be in high demand for batteries and vast new mines will have to be developed which will have the same potential to damage and pollute the environment as coal mines once had.
“Like many other batteries, the lithium-ion cells that power most electric vehicles rely on raw materials — like cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements — that have been linked to grave environmental and human rights concerns,” the New York Times reported recently.
And, of course, the corporations that develop these new technologies will still be entrenched in the same growth and profit motives.
They will continue to over-produce in the pursuit of profit and continue to promote profligate techniques like obsolescence theory.
We must be wary of these new corporate enthusiasms and the politicians who support them – and often benefit from them through donations and appointments.
What is needed to effect real change is a widespread understanding at grassroots level about the true nature of contemporary business and politics.
This is much harder to achieve where a large proportion of the mainstream media seems quite relaxed about propagating information predisposed to business and ultra-conservative politics.
Nevertheless, people must find ways to understand the truth so they can reject corporate and government mantras about the so-called ‘need’ for growth.
Growth has to be turned from a virtue into a vice.
When that happens, and it will be impossible to achieve without grassroots support, the planet will finally be able to give a sigh of relief.
Let’s hope, if it does, that there are still people living on it.