Wednesday Open Thread: Problem Solving in Real Time (with free example)
It's Day 339 of the Year 2018 CE
So, December 5, 2018 - for my reference if nothing else.
By some quirk of fate it is Repeal Day celebrating the solution of a host of self-inflicted problems and troubles caused by the misguided puritanical banning of alcoholic beverages. It is also World Soil Day, raising awareness of a small host of interrelated problems still needing to be solved and International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development hinting at one approach to working on those and other problems. This makes it an auspicious time to follow up my essay on the need to not actively be part of "the problem", to eschew doing harm, or wrong, or bad stuff. In that essay, entitled "First do no Harm", I concluded that
Thus, all of us should be dedicated to "first do no harm", even indirectly, as an action maxim. Long before trying to ascertain how to maximize the total good, we need to stop abetting the bad. "Don't fuck it up!" is, after all, an instinctive motto.
I then linked to a little ditty by Katie Goodman in which, in response to a world that is fucked up, she elicits the idea that we should become "unfuckers" of that same world.
Just as it may be argued that those not part of the solution are part of the problem, so too could one contend that those not part of the problem are, at least in many cases, part of the solution. Thus, "do no harm" can become a real part of addressing problems of certain types and classes. It is also primo ethical behavior, I mean, really, doing harm is not good behavior and it is not a good thing. In addition, abstention from wrongdoing can merge into some affirmative problem solving as well, because the boundary isn't at all always clear. I thought today I might illustrate a potentially workable method for working toward unfucking things in a half ways organized manner. The first step is to pick a problem. I hope everybody realizes that most of the world's problems are really collections of related and sometimes mutually reinforcing problems, problem trees that, though distinct, often are cross-linked as well. Worse, or maybe better yet, each problem will generally have many parts, and this is a good thing. Our task is to find a problem that has a part that can be cured or at least ameliorated by some personal behavior modification and then work on making that modification.
It needs to be noted that this process is iterative. If you have picked something that you manage to solve in one fell swoop, and do so, then clearly you need to find yet another problem to work on. More likely is that you will make some changes and take some actions that will mean that you are no longer helping to cause the problem, and which you will continue to take, and still move on to yet another problem as those behavioral changes become routine and habitual. By way of analogy, we aren't so often simply changing a tire, one and done, as we are resolving to keep all the tires at the proper pressure, requiring regular periodic pressure checks and adjustments. In either case, once we have it nailed, it is time to look for something else we can work on. So, by way of example I decided to focus on plastic pollution. This is an enormous problem ranging from the Pacific Gyre (https://www.theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/ ) to the still unfinished problem of microbeads (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/obama-microbead-ban-fail_us_57432a7... ) to a host of other problems such as described in a recent 3 part series in Scientific American. ( https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-has-a-hidden-plastic-pr... , https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/from-fish-to-humans-a-micropl... , https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/solving-microplastic-pollutio... ) So what can each of us as individuals do about that. For one thing, we can decide not to be part of the problem. Leading off, we can read those articles to get a better of the magnitude and nature of the problem and some of the causes of some of the parts of the problem. We can review those causes for things where we are a factor, things that we do that exacerbate some parts of the problem, and then try to stop doing whatever it is that we are doing to worsen things or contribute to the status quo.
So let's cheat for a little. Lets go directly to the issue of single use plastics, use once and then pollute and kill forever. Bad things in a myriad of shapes, types and forms that damn near all of us use and probably use to excess. By that use, even if we try to recycle them, we contribute to the problem. Attempting to do no harm means we should attempt to quit using them, or to minimize such use. The more you think about doing so, the more you realize all of the vast number of types of single use plastic out there and how much of it you can do without. The classic Reduce, Re-use, Recycle needs to be expanded to include replace and avoid as adjuncts to reduce and there must be a major refocus on re-use rather than recycle until we get the technology and processing plants to make it a reality. That will probably require government action, which, means that it will never get done in the US. There is no clear, direct, near term market based solution to the recycling problem, and in the US, that means that there is no solution at all.
Cola, soda and pop bottles can sometimes be replaced with metal cans or glass bottles, but, frankly, the stuff is toxic and the production is an environmental disaster, so why not wean yourself away from them. Should you wind up with some, there are instructable you-tubes demonstrating conversions of the tops into upside down hanging planters, and the bottoms into plastic string.
Bottled water can be replaced by refillable reusable hikers or backpackers water bottles which come in both metal and plastic. If your tap water sucks, there are tons of other options such as refilling from reusable gallon bottles which are in turn refilled at water dispensers, such as those outside and inside of many stores these days. We sometimes carry a gallon or two from home when on trips in the car to places where we aren't sure about the water and then refill them as need be,
Somewhere between sugar-pop and water is bottled tea or iced coffee, which can be made at home and carried in reusable water bottles or food storage bottles.
Replace single use bags with reusable ones. This is obvious and you probably already do, though you might forget to take them along now and then. Allow me to suggest Chico Bags (TM) - made of recycled plastic bottles and such, they are stuffable into built in pockets and easy to carry at all times. ( https://www.chicobag.com/ ) They come in a ton of shapes and sizes including reusable snack bags for carrying single servings of snack stuff bought in bulk. Take them everywhere and use them for everything, clothing stores, shoe stores, school supplies, medications, etc. Should you wind up with single use plastic bags, from veggie or grocery purchases, or loaves of bread, save them. They can be used for anything which you would ordinarily put into a bag, baggie or plastic wrap. We keep a stash on the kitchen counter. A lot of bread and other dough recipes tell you place the dough in a (lightly greased) bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Nope, stuff it in a plastic bag and tuck the loose ends under the bottom instead. Got some leftovers in a bowl or dish that you'd ordinarily cover with wrap? Stuff it in a plastic bag and tuck the ends under instead. Except for freezing, stuff that goes in baggies can go in bags which are then folded over a few times (or wrapped a few times) to seal/close. Even for freezing, some recycled bags, closed by twist ties and or blue tape will work.
Look for bread in paper bags, which can then be recycled, assuming that you don't already make your own bread. Otherwise, save the bags.
There are vast hordes of stuff sold in single serving plastic packages which can be bought in bulk and repackaged for single serving in bags you've saved from other purchases (re-use), or some of the various chico-bag options.
Buy cheese, sliced cheese, lunch meats and such from the deli counter and provide your own re-used and reusable bags.
Buy bulk instead of pre-packaged and bring your own bags to put it in wherever possible. This includes hardware items too.
So, that's some ways we can stop being part of that particular part of the problem, to the extent that we actually are. That's not remotely a complete list, but it's a start. There are more, and we can discover and share them, and that is part of the job of ceasing to be part of the problem aka being an unfucker. That in totality, however, is only a small part of the problem. Assuming we did all that and more, what else? Well, there's plastic wrap. A lot of stuff gets wrapped that could instead be put into re-useable plastic bags, including plastic bags that held bread or other purchased goods which are re-used as general purpose plastic bags. Often plastic wrap is used to cover bowls of stuff, some large enough that they could be covered repeatedly with a shower cap which could be washed for re-use. There are even companies that sell various sized washable covers made along the same pattern as shower caps, "covermate" (tm) is one such. Alternatively, most such things can be stuffed into a recycled single-use bag and sealed by tucking the ends under, using a twist tie, or the like.
A lot of what's out there isn't single use stuff, but stuff designed for many other longer term uses that finally wore out, got lost, or wasn't really all that durable to start with. often these are storage containers for which the lids broke. That is solvable as above under plastic wrap, and otherwise as well. Again, one needs to look for and find ways to do without some of that stuff. Glass jars (including re-used and recycled ones) can replace plastic storage solutions. So can glass or ceramic bowls in various shapes and sizes. If they need lids, some come with lids, unfortunately made of rubber or plastic, and there are other solutions such as plastic bags and the "covermate" type lids mentioned above. A lot of plastic stuff that cracks or breaks can be repaired using products like "Bondic" (tm) and "Sugru" (tm), though one needs to consider cost-benefit trade-offs in a lot of those types of cases.
In short, there are many actions we can take, or behavioral changes that we can make to reduce the extent to which we are part of some parts of the plastic waste and trash pollution problem without even thinking too hard about it or unduly inconveniencing ourselves. In similar fashion we can attack other parts of that same problem, or seek parts of other problems that may be amenable to the same sort of approach. The main thing is not to do harm to the extent that we may avoid so doing. There is a vast panoply of problems, sub-problems and parts thereof awaiting our examination in the search for changes we can make in order to eschew wrong-doing. All we have to do is to decide to minimize the harm we do, and to get to work on finding ways to do so. Then, as an additional good deed, we can share those solutions.
(Image: IMG_20170115_173921033 by Mike Linksvayer -- public domain)
OK, it's an open thread, so go for it ...