Unravelling environmental paradoxes: embracing the sustainability trinity

Weighing up all societal concerns can be exhausting.


My friend’s in the market for a new (to her) car, but she can only drive an automatic. So I tell her a thing I just discovered that everyone else apparently already knew: all electric cars are automatic; all hybrids too.

I know, she says, but do you know electric cars are much worse than petrol cars? Then she goes off about children down lithium mines in Africa, about non-recyclable batteries, about blah-blah-blah, and I zone out. “Hmm,” I say.

ALSO READ: Africa battles to capitalise on mineral resources

Only the day before, I read an article about the biggest lithium mine in the world, an open-cast hole in the butt-end of Australia which produces over half of the planet’s lithium.

All of it is shipped to China for processing – by imported African children? Chinese children? – but the Australians – who definitely aren’t importing foreign kids unless they have medical degrees – are trying to work out how they can process it themselves.

My friend is winding down, going: “It reminds me of back in the ’80s, when we were all told to use plastic bags to save the trees.” Were we? I know we were told to not waste paper.

If we were told to use plastic instead, that was surely a deeply cynical marketing ploy by the petrochemical industry, who make more from virgin plastics than they do from raw oil. I wonder if they funded her purported lithium research? “Hmm,” I say again.

ALSO READ: Taking a stand against single-use plastic has to start somewhere… right?

Then I read an article about how pointless plastic recycling is, how virgin plastic is safer, because every time we recycle plastic it releases even more toxins and micro plastics into the atmosphere, the seas, the glaciers, and the icebergs.

It’s been found in polar bears, in the very bottom of the ocean, in human lungs … “Hmm,” I think to myself – I wonder who funded that research?

Plastic is killing the world, but we mustn’t recycle it because that’s killing the world too? Fossil fuels are killing the world, but we mustn’t use electric vehicles because that’s the killing the world? It’s exhausting; I completely understand why some people don’t even try.

So don’t try: just don’t buy in the first place. The holy trinity of environmentalism are Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Reducing usage is the first tenet; recycling is the very last resort.

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