Taking Pride in our F-Ups

By: Kano Watanabe; Milton Academy

          Green technology is the talk of the town these days. Lately, I feel like all I’m doing is double tapping instagram posts from @greenmatters about sustainable “breakthroughs” like Google’s floating solar farm and California’s electric highway. I used to repost facebook articles about the new windmill farm in Texas and get super excited every time I passed by a green roof. The more I think about green technology, however, I find myself questioning if we should really be celebrating it as much as we do.

          Earlier this fall, I traveled to NYC to visit a friend who was working on a hydroponic farm. For those who don’t know what hydroponics is, it’s a new way of farming that uses mineral nutrient solutions and water to grow food in insulated containers; the whole point of hydroponics is to grow food without soil. Hydroponics is spreading rapidly in large cities like New York and Boston, urban environments with unstable seasons and a lack of space for agriculture. I stepped into a shipping container which was altered to carry hundreds of vertical plant holders and ultraviolet lights. 

          One of the first things I noticed was the strange size of the plants. Having grown up in Hawaii with a garden in my backyard that was always overflowing with three-foot kale plants, I was surprised at the dwarf-like shape of the kale plants in the hydroponic farm. What was frustrating about this observation was that I didn’t know what caused the plants to look so constrained. Was it the size of the container? The spacing between the seedlings? The vertical growing method? Or was it the lack of soil? Everything about how the plants were growing felt unnatural and restrained. Soon, I also began to feel claustrophobic. How could these plants grow as they were naturally designed if they were stripped from their natural growing environment?

          What bothers me most about green technology and renewable energy sources is the pride and excitement around it. People seem to believe that sustainable innovation is new and cool, when in reality all we are doing is patting ourselves on the back for fixing up just a little bit of the catastrophe of a mess we have made on this planet. Green tech is a coping mechanism and therefore insufficient solution for the global destruction we have caused. We should not be celebrating the fact that we have been able to figure out a way to grow food without soil. We should be ashamed that we no longer have clean, natural soil and large open spaces to grow organic food. 

          Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the increasing effort to find renewable energy sources and carbon eating green roofs. Solar power is better than coal. But is finding more “innovative” ways of living (in the wake of our mistakes) really better than working hard to return the Earth to how it used to be? We build “sustainable architecture” instead of leaving the Earth alone and growing good food in healthy soil. It is as though we have chosen to comply with a post-pollution lifestyle and given up on repairing the Earth to how it used to be.