cradle to cradle design

Cradle-to-cradle design. Source:

Consume less. Live small. Leave no footprint.

A lot of people in vegan/natural living circles strive for these things, and find them noble endeavors. Being the contrarian that I am, I want to challenge that. I don’t want to consume “less”; I want to consume until I am satisfied. I don’t want to live “small”; want to live fully. My footprint may be shallow or deep, depending on how much I weigh, but they’re the inevitable result of being a living being in a living world.

I’m not just trying to be contrarian, though. I want to talk about why “less” is “better”: is it because we as a species recognize an inherent evil inside ourselves that we must keep contained, minimized, so that it cannot hurt others? Is it because we enjoy self-flagellation?

I don’t always take my cues from nature (I crap in a porcelain bowl, for example), but if we look around us, we don’t really see the rest of the universe operating on a “less is better” mantra. In fact, excess and redundancy is everywhere. A tree doesn’t produce “just enough” leaves to catch sunlight: it grows an abundance of leaves so it can capture more sunlight so it can grow more leaves within its capacity. Some of these “excess” leaves become food for herbivores. And when the tree is done with those leaves, they fall and become food for the microorganisms living in the dirt. A lion doesn’t kill the smallest possible animal with the exact amount of calories it needs: he chases and kills the gazelle, eats what he needs from it, and whatever left over is what vultures and other scavengers survive off of. A star doesn’t burn exactly the amount of elements it needs to continue self-sustain…and the excess light and heat makes for a lovely planet like the one we happen to be living on.

I could go on. What I’m saying is, that rather than trying to “minimize” our existence, what if we tried to “optimize” it? What if we lived as freely as we cared to, and the “excess” of our lives fed into the lives of others? What if, rather than seeing our very existence as a threat to nature, we saw ourselves as part of nature, and actually lived within it? What if everything we did was not always as a negative, but as enriching the world around us? Back when I was taking product design classes, I read “Cradle to Cradle,” which kind of got me thinking about this kind of just and equitable living. We can create systems as though our lives move from cradle to grave—a dead end. Or, we can create systems as though our lives move from cradle to cradle, where our footprint becomes the shallow pool for insects to drink from after a rain.