Building Quality – not Quantity

Have you ever noticed that your copy machine and printer keep running out paper? If you don’t refill it before each print run, it’s bound to run out in the middle of a tax return. Or is it just that the few tax returns we actually print out are so bulky they practically eat up a ream of paper.

Speaking of running out. I read a rather frightening editorial by Robert Silverberg in the June issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. It was called The Death of Gallium.

Though usually Silverberg’s Reflections column reflects on fascinating literary matters, this time, he’s nothing the dearth
of key elements that are being depleted.

You’ve probably never even heard of gallium. Yet it is a key element in the composition of liquid crystal displays – the one you’re probably looking at right now. Expect element 31 to be depleted by 2017. Expect hafnium (element 72), used in computer chips and nuclear reactor rods to be depleted by 2017. And even ordinary old zinc (element 30) – gone by 2037.

( – the Periodic Table of Elements)

What can we do about things like this?

We don’t have to sacrifice a thing, really.

All we have to do is change the entire direction of our consumerist society. Before marketing really caught on, goods were designed to last. Transportation to shopping venues has historically been arduous and time consuming – until the last century. So people built and developed merchandise that would be used for a lifetime, or generations.

Today, manufacturers are building things with half-life almost shorter than francium (element 87 – which has a half-life of 22 minutes). Childrens toys are made to break in a few uses. It’s so deliberate that it even has a name – “planned obsolescence”.Cars are replaced every 3-5 years. (Why, mine is still doing

fine after 14 years – just needs a paint job from sitting outside in the California smog.)

Even my precious paper books and newspapers, eat up resources like crazy. Are we planting trees fast enough to replace the ones we cut down? (Which is one of the reasons my new book is being distributed as an e-book rather than a paperback.)

Sure, we recycle. What, about a third or less of the goods we produce? Don’t forget, recycling uses resources and energy, too. Even recycling is environmentally costly.

So here we are are – wasting precious quotidien resources. Why? Just so manufacturers can stay in business and produce things that break?

Sure, now that this practice is established, it will turn the economy upside-down if we built quality instead of quantity.
But as human beings, we would not be poorer for it.

In fact, our lives are enriched by the increased quality – and our pocketbooks depleted more slowly.