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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cherry Blossom Design and Asking the Right Environmental Questions

INQUIRY - a seeking or request for truth, information, or knowledge; study, scrutiny, exploration. [Inquiry week begins here. Click for this week's Bliss Initiatives.]

Welcome Magic Carpet Riders! Looking for my One World One Heart Giveaway? Click here to go to my open house post and the giveaway! 

Image from Earth 911

Last inquiry week I spent a little time inquiring into what I call "The Big Questions."  The thing that is compelling about questions like does God exist or are we alone in the cosmos is that there are no universally agreed upon answer exists. There are people firmly planted in different camps but so far neither God (Christian beliefs notwithstanding) or ET has stopped by to give us a personal and definitive answer. For some this very fact is all the proof they need not to believe in either thing but I remain open on both counts. The problem with unanswerable questions seems to me that it makes it easy to bleed the same indeterminate thinking into other actually solvable inquiries.

Take for example the current debate on climate change.  Because climate change has little or no impact on us in our day to day living it is very easy to dismiss it as not really tenable. Many of us try to do our bit. We carry reusable bags, recycle our trash, and try to pick "environmentally friendly" options. Operating in our personal bubbles of existence we make our choices and often apply some hopeful magical thinking when forced to make a choice against our personal ideals. The Onion's satiric piece How Bad For the Environment can Throwing Away One Plastic Bottle Be? 30 Million People Wonder explains this beautifully!

In the case of the environment we actually think we KNOW the answers and yet we still can ignore even our personal convictions if we want strawberries out of season [the ones shipped from Chile with a carbon foot print of a billion (slight exaggeration) due to it's journey to my local grocery store look so pretty], like not wearing a sweater in the house [How bad is it to keep the thermostat at 72 degrees?] or left that reusable bag at home [not buying NOW is unthinkable.] I beat myself up constantly for not keeping to my personal ideals. 

My new belief regarding the environment is that we have been asking the wrong sort of questions. I recently read a fascinating book entitled Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. In this book a new vision for sustainability was introduced to me. For the first time I was actually excited about an environmental philosophy. Do not get me wrong, I have always wanted to do the right thing and admire greatly those who live low impact with conviction like No Impact Man . I just could never get excited about depriving myself from all the conveniences our disposable culture avails me, even when it feels like the right thing to do.

In Cradle to Cradle an idea was introduced to me that prolific production could actually be environmentally sound. It isn't human nature to limit creation. Look at all the One World One Heart participants who produce and produce new and different works each year. Imagine if it were required, to be environmentally responsible, for each artist to limit their invention to 3 or 4 pieces of art a year. I don't think it would be possible. It just isn't natural to limit creativity in this way. Imagine however if abundant production actually supported the environment rather then  being detrimental. As an example of this type of extremely plentiful production the metaphor of the cherry tree is introduced.

From Cradle to Cradle: Consider the cherry tree: thousands of blossoms create fruit for birds, humans, and other animals, in order that one pit might eventually fall onto the ground, take root, and grow [...] The tree makes copious blossoms and fruit without depleting its environment. Once they fall on the ground, their materials decompose and break down into nutrients that nourish microorganisms, insects, plants, animals, and soil. Although the tree actually makes more of its product than it needs for its own success in an ecosystem, this abundance has evolved (through millions of years of success and failure or, in business terms, R&D), to serve rich and varied purposes. In fact, the tree’s fecundity nourishes just about everything around it. What might the human built world look like if the cherry tree had produced?”

This book suggests that the questions we should be asking are more along the lines of how do we make cherry blossom like invention the standard for how we make things.  I don't want my activities to be a detriment to the planet but I also don't want to be constrained. Learning how to make things in a prolific and sustainable way certainly seems like the way to go.  I still plan on bringing my reusable bags to the store but will certainly be on the look out for the ways to support new cradle to cradle design.

Next Post: Some BIGGER questions

My 13 bliss virtues: joy, order, creativity, passion, whimsy, serenity, inquiry, community, romance, gratitude, moxie, humility, surprise 


  1. Good point.... In order to really advance, we need to look at things in an entirely new way. We need to be life-affirming and inventive, not just cautious and negative.

  2. Nancy you summed up my entire post in one sentence!!! Thanks for reading. Cheers to life affirming and inventive!

  3. This post nailed me and my magical thinking. As I look around my art room, I realize that I sometimes justify rescuing pieces of discarded items for environmental reasons but, in truth, I think it is more for artistic reasons. It pains me too much to consider that art is hurtful to the planet. Is that magical thinking?

  4. Diana, in your case I think the "rescue" serves both purposes. Any re-use is kinder then creating new in the current production paradigm. Imagine how great it would be if even our discarded trash could nourish instead of hurting the earth?!!! Until then I think claiming some of it for artistic reasons is very environmentally sound!


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Ben Franklin's 13 Virtues

  • 1. TEMPERANCE - Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  • 2. SILENCE - Speak not what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  • 3. ORDER - Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  • 4. RESOLUTION - Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  • 5. FRUGALITY - Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.
  • 6. INDUSTRY - Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  • 7. SINCERITY - Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly.
  • 8. JUSTICE - Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  • 9. MODERATION - Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  • 10. CLEANLINESS - Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths or habitation.
  • 11. TRANQUILITY - Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  • 12. CHASTITY - Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or to the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  • 13. HUMILITY - Imitate Jesus and Socrates.


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