The waste of life

We at Econation abhor any form of waste, this is especially true when it comes to the waste of life.

There is waste you can see like rubbish washed up on a beach or smoke from a chimney but that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Indeed, the vast majority of waste goes unseen, hidden in plain sight.

Waste is literally built into our culture, it is everywhere. Let’s take a few examples.

If you walk into any city or town centre you will see hundreds of huge office buildings. These buildings are all half empty even when they are full of people and they only have people in them about one third of the time. That is waste.

Many people have a motor car (automobile), an astounding fact is that in the USA there are more vehicles than there are drivers. Most cars are only used a fraction of the time. Many people would only use their car about twice a day for maybe an hour on average. For some it’s more and for some it is less. Cars are convenient when we use them, the rest of the time they are useless waste.

Cars require iron mines, steel foundries, assembly plants, roads, garages, carpark buildings, oil wells, refineries, petrol/gas stations, and so on. This is an incredible overhead for something we use very little. Less than about 3% of the petrol burned in a car’s engine actually moves the driver. The rest is wasted in heat loss and friction and in moving the heavy car itself.

In 1920 the average house size in many countries like Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand was less than half what it is today, just 100 years later. On average, there are also less people living in our houses these days. What do we need all the extra space for? Surely it is just wasted space.

Too much stuff

Forbes magazine reported that the average American woman owns 30 outfits, one for every day of the month. In 1930, that figure was nine. The Telegraph reported research that found that the average British ten-year-old owns 238 toys but only plays with twelve on a daily basis.

These are just a few examples, but the list is seemingly endless. New forms of waste are invented every day, for the simple reason that money can be made from it. This is where the paradox lies. People make money by making waste and we waste the money we make by spending it on things we don’t need, and therefore waste.

None of this would really matter except for two significant problems. 

Firstly, all this waste is unsustainable. In 2017 humans on average demanded 1.75 times the amount of resources the earth can supply on a sustainable basis. In affluent countries resource demand is much higher, for instance, in 2017, resource demand in the USA was 5 times the earth’s renewable supply. We can only use more than the earth can renewably supply by using stocks of natural capital such as soil, forests and fossil fuel deposits. We will bankrupt nature if we don’t stop using natural capital. The fact is we only have one planet, and there is a limit in what it can supply. 

The waste of life

Secondly, waste is a waste of our lives. Time is perhaps any person’s most precious commodity, certainly more precious than material wealth. We only have one life and it isn’t very long. Of course all people must consume enough to maintain well-being, but this is surprisingly little, and any more than that is superfluous waste. The time we waste producing and consuming stuff we don’t actually need, is time we can never get back. The question we must answer is ‘what really matters to me’. If something doesn’t really matter, then it is a waste.

“We only have one life and one planet to live on, we need to look after both of them.”
– Michael Lockhart, Founder of Econation

Two of of the most common regrets that people have on their deathbeds is that they wished they hadn’t worked so much and they wished they had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.

Do you want to say on your deathbed that you wished you hadn’t wasted so much of your life on things that didn’t really matter? Or do you want to say that you only did what really mattered?