Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Use It Or Lose It

Waste ultimately is created by expending effort and using resources without benefit to you or anyone else, or so that your actions cause harm or death in any timeframe. If you value life, then waste is bad by definition. If you make or acquire something and don't use it to benefit you or others, then to be good you must lose it – convert it into a form that isn't waste, or give it to someone who will use it appropriately.

My New Year's resolution was to reduce waste, personally and in general, embodied by the phrase "use it or lose it." In the worst case, it keeps new waste from being generated; in the best case, it increases the net amount of benefit in the world. Knowing how much discretionary time we have provides a means for determining what we can use, what to lose, and what we shouldn't make or acquire. If the actions we take during our work time create waste, then we need to change what we do for work; and since in most cases what we do for work is traded for things we acquire for personal use, we should find less wasteful ways of acquiring those things, including making them ourselves.

I personally like to read, watch TV and movies, and listen to music. Even more, I like to explore, daydream and assemble thoughts in writing, take photographs, and create music. Obviously I can provide much of my own knowledge and entertainment without acquiring it from others, thus reducing personal waste. Waste can be reduced further by trading what I create with people who don't have those skills (or the desire, resources, or ability to develop them) in exchange for things and experiences I can't or choose not to develop on my own. In that case, I have gained benefit already, and am creating a chance for the effort to accrue further benefit for someone else.

Paradoxically, forcing everything to be subject to trade, as is the trend here in the U.S. and with international trade agreements, promotes the chances of more waste being generated. The reason is that trade, to be profitable, exponentially increases consumption by enabling more people to consume, and each person to do more of it (by increasing the efficiency of converting resources into products). Consumption, as I define it in my research, is the conversion of resources into forms that cannot be used as resources by natural systems over a period of a year (which from an ecological perspective is "waste"). Creating something for your own use is less likely to be as efficient (in the economic sense), and your consumption – including generation of ecological waste – less likely to grow exponentially.

Ideally, each of us would create what we need, and then sell (or otherwise trade) what we can't gain benefit from, either in the process of creation or changes in what defines "benefit" in terms of what we created. We would use the proceeds to buy what we need but can't create on our own. Anything left from transactions would be converted into resources that can be used for other purposes by us or other species.

My personal application of "use it or lose it" is likely to be more practical than ideal, enabled by a simple change in expectations and a process of testing. Anything new that I create, such as a book or music track, will need to be personally satisfying in its creation and its usability, thus achieving a minimum degree of benefit. If possible, it would also preempt consumption of something similar from another source that would provide an equivalent amount of benefit. This would be my minimum acceptable expectation for creating it, and is totally under my control. If in the process I have to learn something, including a new skill, then the benefit of that learning would be factored into my expectation. What I create would be offered to others as a gift (such as this blog post) or for trade (such as a book) if there is a good reason to believe they would benefit from it and if any costs involved in the gifting or trade can be recoverable in either the satisfaction of gifting or the value of what was received in trade (otherwise the cost would be waste, so this assumption will need to be tested).

I plan to give away or trade things I currently own that cannot be expected to provide any future benefit to me (thus "losing" them). Like with new things, the costs should be recoverable as satisfaction or in what was received in trade. Throwing something away is committing it to being waste, and will be avoided if possible, such as by trying to give away or trade its parts (essentially, recycling). For things I've been selling that incur periodic costs (such as distribution of music), I will use testing to find justification for future costs (such as others benefitting from them), and will discontinue them if justification can't be found; otherwise the costs would qualify as waste.

"Use it or lose it" is a good rule to promote as well as to practice, which is why I'm discussing it here. The minimum benefit from doing so is the feeling of developing and shaping potentially meaningful and useful ideas. The greatest benefit would be evidence that I am contributing to my primary value: maximization of life's ability to survive and thrive for as long as possible.

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