Sustainability. Straight in there. Said it. Not really a crowd-pleaser of an intro...the mere utterance of the word usually incites a long, world-weary (oh the irony!) and sustained (yup, that did just happen) sigh. Eyes glaze over while brain cogs go into overdrive, surreptitiously trying to convince themselves that the circle of life is nothing more than an Elton John tune for the Lion King.
But even if you're not a fan of emotional cartoon lions, the circle of life is real. We're in it. We're doing it! Look Mummy, no hands! And if we break the circle, it wont be a circle any more. Seems logical: no circle, no life, no good. So how do we keep the circle complete? We need to put back what we take out, keep the balance, live sustainably and act as a collective. Because once we've zoomed out enough to see everyone in the world, we can't see ourselves - there is no individual. Hmmmm there's definitely more to all of this than emotive chord changes, sorry Elton. Confusingly, some people do seem to care about sustainability, but are only trying to sustain themselves - they want to be immortal, but won't consider where this will happen. And it turns out egocentric sustainability (if you will) is big business.
Never say forever
Apparently dying is a little too risky when you're trying to live forever. These days we're all about not getting old in the first place - ignoring the circle of life and the inevitability of decay and rejuvenation - and just going for rejuvenation. Again and again and again. Research into a 'new youth drug' called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which can apparently reverse the ageing process, is currently sending waves of excitement around the Peter Pan panacea pushers of the world who, believe it or not, don't actually live in Never-Never land. Or how about some extra Human Growth Hormone? The elixir of life! How convenient. And, serendipitously, this one is now available in a 'delicious concentrate' you can drink. Because living forever has to taste good...
What lies beneath
But what if you can't actually live forever? Perish the thought. Still, you could always make it look like you're going to. We'll do anything to make our skin lie about what lies beneath. The search for youth is old - this isn't a new phenomenon. Back in The Olden Days (the early 1900s) some skin creams even contained radium. One company, Radior, apparently described their product as providing 'An ever-flowing Fountain of Youth'. Which was fine, except the fountain was deadly.
With the power of carcinogenic hindsight this seems ridiculous, but even though current 'age defying' beauty treatments aren't quite as toxic, they're still pretty far fetched. Stop at nothing to minimise those crows' feet, because god forbid you should look like you had some fun once upon a time and then smiled. From sheep placenta facials to the brilliantly named 'Uguisu No Fun' (that's nightingale poo facials for Geishas...of course), to actually genuinely paying good money to have snail goo on your face, the list goes on longer than immortality itself.
The search for the image of eternal youth isn't just skin deep. For those in favour of more invasive, visceral procedures there is, of course, plastic surgery. From Botox to facelifts (up by 13% in the UK during 2013), and fillers to implants, more and more of us are trying to override the inevitability of time. It's strange to think that some of us aren't even biodegradable anymore. The excellent and highly scientific claim that the only survivors of an apocalypse would be cockroaches and Cher, needs to be amended to 'cockroaches, Cher and an assortment of non-biodegradable lady lumps and man mounds'. Gross. And meanwhile, the world's eye bags are getting bigger and its skin is losing its sheen of vitality. We are the world's radium cream.
Want your mind to be immortal rather than your face? Then maybe get into politics. Many politicians seem convinced that even if they can't live forever, their policies could. Yet amidst the petty squabbles, fights over who's conker shattered first, and salty tears when someone takes a tumble during a game of kiss chase, most politicians seem to have very little regard for where their proposed world domination can take place in the future.
Sorry, Mr Whippy
Here's an analogy. Egocentric sustainability is a bit like decorating an ice cream gateau. You've got hundreds and thousands...that weird chocolate sauce that goes hard...silver balls, wafers...the lot. You're excited about serving it later, but your freezer is broken. Momentarily, you have the best ice cream in the world - Mr Whippy is keening in his van. But your pride and joy starts to melt...because of that freezer that you knew was breaking...the one you were in denial about...the one you hoped someone else would take a look at. And now the freezer has packed up entirely and all the food inside it is melting too. The memory of how it once tasted won't keep you going. It won't sustain you. But all around the world people are decorating ice creams even though they know their freezer is on the blink. Actually we may have to stop with the dessert parallels here. Bye ice cream analogy. Thanks for all your help.
With the world becoming more decrepit and natural resources running dangerously low, a youthful glow or petty political policies - vain efforts at egocentric sustainability - will matter less and less. It's hard to imagine anyone ever greeting a climate change-induced natural disaster with indifference because they have the radiant complexion of a teenager. Kim Kardashian's computer-generated-face-of-airbrushed-eternity won't seem so newsworthy when we have no fertile soil left. Despite her best intentions, Jordan's pneumatic wabs won't appear so critical in apocalyptic floods (confusingly they're not buoyant - just scary). And our next Prime Minster may ooze trails of victorious smug slime but they, and nearly every other playground squabbler, will become even more ineffective when we have to compete with each other for the very resources that they exhausted.
We are nature: there's no separation between 'us' and 'the world'. And we can't make ourselves beautiful unless we have somewhere beautiful to live. We can't win an election unless we have somewhere to be elected to. This isn't to say don't decorate your ice cream (who knows, Kim may be an eco warrior after all) - but think about how long you can keep it for. Age is inevitable. Death is inevitable. The demise of the world because of the human ego is not. Yet. Hopefully.
Have a think. And in the mean time, your ice cream is melting. Go fix the fucking freezer.
Photo by E.P