Love Letter - Down To Earth


I don't recycle. I know, I know. Sacrilege. Enough for some reading this to call us quits right here, right now. I respect that. It’s not a point of pride.

It may even be something like what Alice Waters felt, when a put-off friend instructed her to get in a stinky garbage dump she’d thrown out carelessly, mixing foul fish with other spoiled trash. This was Chez Panisse’s early days. Long before not recycling made you a progressive pariah. Alice recalls how she imbibed that lesson about mindless waste through her membranes. She felt every fish bone mixed with bits of plastic and curdled milk cream sinking her skin in its filthy teeth. Another day in the life, our planet smirked back.

The strange thing is I didn’t grow up with much waste. Everything lived another life. That mielie meal or rice sack that came with enough food for a month? Perfectly fine bag. Old toothbrushes became fine-hair combs, socks moonshined as stuffing for doorstops and burned candle wax melted into floor polish. Everything enjoyed a double life, often more useful than the first.

You could call that kind of recycling mentality extreme thrift—a third world problem befitting cash-thin households—creativity in the face of scarcity. Or you could rightly recognize it as our collective future if we are going to survive as a species. Living in Cape Town, in the shadow of Day Zero—the threat of a 3.8 million-person city’s water supply evaporating to zero—will wake up even the greatest climate skeptic.

I’m here to tell you that unless we change, we’re fcd. Ok. We’re probably already fcd, but the water crisis in Cape Town is for sure coming to a city near you. It may smell different—rising seawater levels, Day Zero snowfall or an ice-cream puddle for an arctic cap. But if humanity doesn’t get in the global dumpster dive we’ve turned Earth into and start finding Jesus somewhere in there, we’re all going the way of the dodo.

What’s wrong with the dodo, you ask? Oh, just extinction. Ok. What’s wrong with human extinction, you wonder? Fair question. One we can’t honestly answer without first humbling ourselves, coming back Down To Earth.

Down To Earth begs our humility. We’re not the smartest species here. Climate change proves that. We have a lot to learn from every other life-being currently forced into shacking up with us, the humans, on this here planet Earth.

If we could learn how to be from them, these other life forms—future human survival may be possible and even beautiful. After all, life is for living. No place across space-time and across many multiverses has made it its business to create the perfect hearth-environment for such fragile and finicky creatures as us, the humans. What natural law or human-made force is more creative than that? And what would be more magical (and humble!) than living on a planet Earth nurtured by our colossal collective creativity and mad brain power? Imagine the beauty and wonder of that future world.

I’m not saying me recycling is going to get us there. But I know for sure this promised land will go the way of the dodo unless we shape up and get mindful about how we live and what and why we waste. Recycling the trash is a good start. Reimagining our relationship to the usefulness of waste—creating double lives for our everyday waste, that’s both a harder and far richer task. A task that could lead to the most sublime works of art.