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Welcome to “Przekrój”!

In case you’re wondering where you are, and especially since you probably can’t pronounce the name of this website, here’s a little help—“Przekrój” (pronounced “p-SHEH-crooy”) is the oldest society and culture magazine in Poland, now available in English.

“Przekrój” Magazine brings English-speaking readers some of the best journalism from across Central and Eastern Europe, in the fields of wellbeing, art, literature, science, ecology, philosophy, psychology, and more. Take a break from the speed and intensity of the daily news and join us!

Przekrój
In the face of climate catastrophe, we should focus on solutions that allow us to utilize pollution ...
2020-03-10 09:00:00
Mind the climate
Towards a Circular Economy

Currently, our needs exceed the regenerative potential of the Earth by over 70%. Waste is produced on such a scale that it changes the chemical composition of the Earth’s coating and the atmosphere. Soon, we will have depleted natural resources, and by 2080 there will be no fertile soil left. Therefore, we should focus on solutions that will allow us to utilize pollution and transform waste into ecological products.

Read in 3 minutes

For the past 10 years, I have been researching and designing such solutions. I am doing this because pollution is currently the least used resource on Earth. One such project is a city farm that transforms smog particles into fertilizer, produces solar energy and can act as a small power plant. A system of such farms can be placed in the windows or on the roofs of buildings. It is one of the solutions thanks to which cities can be treated on an equal footing with naturally fertile soils.

Increasingly, we also lack metals. Here, plants can help. In my designs of gardens and hydroponic farms, I utilize the natural properties of plants to extract heavy metals and rare earths from contaminated mining sites and waste storage tanks. For example, cabbage can mine lithium, and water hyacinth – copper. Thanks to my research, I know that we can also use carbon dioxide leftover from the burning of fossil fuels to produce concrete, food and energy.

What we should focus on right now is the gradual transition from a linear to circular economy. In such an economy, we will have to limit consumption because everything would be back in circulation. Under such conditions, it would be more energy-efficient to reduce consumption, rather than to reuse and recycle materials. This would also significantly extend the life of the products. For example, our technologically-advanced smartphones are made of metal, glass and plastic. Theoretically, they can exist for hundreds of years. If it wasn’t for planned obsolescence, we would be able to pass them on to our children, and then to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I think that if we rented equipment instead of buying new, it would become important for manufacturers to ensure that their products did not break down or expire. And if they did break – so that the energy balance of the repair would outweigh the balance of recycling – then the materials would have to go back into circulation. If there was a global consumer boycott, then perhaps government support could be obtained. It would seem that this is death for innovation. I suggest, however, that we stop calling getting a slightly better camera each year innovation – only that which can develop like a living organism will be truly innovative.

Even if together we were able to reduce the required amount of energy and natural resources, we would still need a constant, even small, inflow from the outside. There are increasingly more people, which is why demand is constantly increasing. We must be aware that one day, the Earth’s resources will end. But I believe that by then we will be able to obtain these resources from space – by extracting metals from asteroids with the use of microbes, for example. And that we will finally colonize other planets.

But if technology is the source of all problems, perhaps we need to get rid of it? In my opinion, that’s impossible. Technology is the result of our biology and is a natural part of man, just like speech or abstract thinking. It’s a way of adapting to the environment, extending our body. It externalizes our needs, habits and desires. To get rid of it, we would have to get rid of almost everything that is human and deny all our history, hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Technology can destroy or save us. Destroy, if we leave our approach to the economy and natural resources unchanged. Save, if we re-evaluate ourselves and start a new culture of consumption. The economy of one collective organism that consciously adjusts its needs to the possibilities of the environment. Regardless of whether it is Earth, or – in the future – other planets. That is why it is so important that we unite in our efforts for the future.

 

Translated from the Polish by Joanna Figiel

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Published:

Paulina Grabowska

Paulina Grabowska

studied architecture at the Technische Universiteit Delft in the Netherlands and at the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning of the Silesian University of Technology in Gliwice. For over a decade, she has been exploring the possibilities of using waste and pollution as new materials. She runs the NASDRA Conscious Design studio and lectures at the School of Form.