Sunday, 2 August 2015

Eco Village for Sale!

I am deeply suspicious of anything that has the preposition “eco” attached to it, and am only slightly less wary of its prepositional sibling “green”.

Ever since conservation and environmentally responsible movements started gaining traction, and politicians and lawmakers have been forced to listen (albeit in a desultory and sly sort of way), the machinery of corporate greed has ramped up the language – not to say the actions – of green-washing and eco-punting.
Eco-eating. The table is set for a green lunch.

The sad fact is that there is a belief that if you slap the preposition “eco” in front of any word or phrase that in its unencumbered form actually describes or implies an activity that is likely to be harmful to the natural environment it will somehow mitigate that harm. A particularly ubiquitous favourite is “eco-friendly” which implies a sort of cursory handshake rather than a meaningful and long-lasting relationship. This inaccurate phrase is applied liberally and people fall for this verbal charlatanism.

Incidentally this piece could easily be extended to a discussion about other more serious words and phrases that are also frivolously misused, but this is about particular name calling and such names and phrases need to be put aside for another day lest they muddy the immediate waters, so let’s not talk about . . .

      carbon trading - a strange mechanism for assuaging environmental guilt by using just the same mechanism that created the cause of that guilt – were that guilt to be felt – which of course it isn’t – hence the need to use the same mechanism, which is the greedy pursuit of wealth . . . . .

      sustainability - another loose and easy badge of social conscience which should actually be talked about in terms of grades and layers, instead of misunderstood and poorly defined goals or panacea.

       oh and green accounting, which at a macro scale is a very useful way of applying negative values to GDP for the cost of dealing with pollution and waste disposal, but at a corporate level has been used to green-wash annual reports.

. . .  and return to the eco-wash at hand.

A particularly cynical piece of deliberate corporate miss-use of the eco lie is the eco-village, or in fact almost any style of eco-property development.

Commonly the enticing advertising blurb seeks to persuade you that the proposed development will, far from having an impact on the natural environment actually enhance it. Of course what it is not saying is that the development will be placed in an as yet largely undisturbed environment and will modify and manipulate it in such a way as to provide a sanitized milieu; a faux jungle, a pretend forest, a stretch of re-designed and manufactured savannah grazed by obliging ungulates.

All this will be provided without the irritating inconveniences of the chaotic ebb and flow of natural ecological processes; fire, mud, flood, species population expansion and contraction and so forth. Of course the newly created anthropogenic landscape will now be enhanced by electric light, treated water and artificial reed beds, all in the interests of physical security and health for the new inhabitants of this hitherto pristine environment.
The reality of rural cycles - widespread and sometimes
devastating fires. (High veldt in Swaziland)


The reality of rural cycles - flash floods. (High veldt in
Swaziland)


























Of course the property development industry is not the only one to cynically wave the green eco-flannel in the face of a confused and ill-informed public. Virtually every conceivable product, packaging and service you buy unconvincingly trumpets some sort of eco-advantage.

The problem of course is that the property development industry is very visible and has an awful lot of ground (if you'll excuse the phrase) to make up. Let’s face it building construction activities are visibly so destructive and permanent; yet they are carried out to ensure our secure existence and feed our aspirations for an even more comfortable existence. Where new developments are to be built at the boundaries, or the very heart of “nature” this is of course fertile ground for less than fertile imaginations to sell – what ought to be seen in ethical environmental terms – the fundamentally un-saleable.  Smack in the “eco” preposition and Joe Public buys it - and of course sadly Joe Public (at least those few who can afford it) literally does buy it.

Is all this wrong? Well not necessarily if measured against a myriad of environmental ills such as the plundering of floral, faunal or mineral natural resources and the seemingly irreversible damage to natural systems.  The glaring truth however is that so called eco developments invariably do not protect let alone enhance natural environments. They are located in natural environments and thus modify those environments. Eco should describe something that is at least as good as what was there. In fact a good eco development should be better than what it is modifying or replacing.

Urban environment that could benefit
from some green thought (Moshi,
Tanzania)
Urban environment that could benefit
from some
eco-intelligence
(
Mpumalanga, South Africa)












To give the preposition eco any real meaning in the context of property development I suggest that it should be used in a regenerative, rather than a deceitful sense. The words green or eco should be exclusively reserved for development in already impacted and modified environments rather than in pristine ones.

  • When I see regeneration in desperate inner city urban areas that goes some way towards reinstating at least a part of the originally long lost natural environment I would be happy. 
  • When shattered and squalid urban spaces are populated with indigenous flora and irrigated by harvested water sources then I would support the appellation “green”
  • When hardened urban surfaces are softened to allow the absorption of rain water, shade is provided by the leaves and branches of trees, urban colours are modified to allow for something nearer to natural albedo then inhabitants can derive direct benefits. 
  • When carbon sequestration is a pre-requisite and the precepts of ecological footprints are at least considered for any development then that deserves an “eco” appellation.

Returning to my rude maligning of faux eco villages, how about giving the sales pitchers the phrase – “Broadly Harmonious” to work with.  Let them weave their daft magic around that damning description, and please – next time you see an advert for an eco-development – demand a full and exhaustive explanation!

Here is an untouched environment that is fortunately too high for comfortable living. I cannot imagine anything designed or built by man that could do anything but utterly devastate this. (Kilimanjaro, Tanzania) An extreme point perhaps . . .

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