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Concrete and plastic

Concrete, Plastic, the Environment and Human Happiness

There is virtually no end to man’s ingenuity. In the past 100 years, science and technology has taken us far into space, has brought every place in the world so close that almost everywhere can be reached within 24 hours or so, has fashioned communications tools that allow ideas to spread almost at the speed of light.

Concrete and plastic are two such inventions that have, literally, changed the world, have transformed our experience of the world.

The first concrete high-rise building was constructed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1904, before perhaps the most recognisable concrete structure, the Hoover Dam, was built in the mid-1930s.

Between the 1930s and 1960s, the development of synthetic plastics — among them polystyrene, polyethylene, polyester, and the trade name Nylon — overhauled virtually everything about the world we live in.

This blog not about the environmental effects of these constructs. (For that, see “Concrete: The Most Destructive Material on Earth” (Guardian)”,  and “We Made Plastic. We Depend On It. Now We’re Drowning In It.” (National Geographic))

This blog is about the barrier they present to human groundedness.

Being grounded is, I suggest, a core ingredient in human happiness.

From the benefits of plant-based food to green exercise (defined as exercising in natural environment) to James Lovelock’s controversial / compelling Gaia hypothesis to the simple merits of just going barefoot on bare ground, a connection with the ground beneath us is, I firmly believe, fundamental to restoring calm, finding peace of mind and ultimately living a happy life.

For so many of us, particularly in the increasingly urbanised, commuter-belt world of western civilisation, a connection with the ground beneath us is less common and more precious than it’s ever been.

A quick walk in a city park at lunchtime is much better than nothing, but it’s no comparison to three hours in the wilderness at the weekend.

Our time outdoors, our stolen evenings on the beach at sunset, our weekend trip to a precariously underfunded national park — often we treat all this as a luxury, a nice moment after the essential parts of our days and weeks are taken care of.

But what if we choose instead to look at these moments not as occasional luxuries but as some of the most essential moments in our lives, and all the other day to day responsibilities can slot in around them?

Time spent outdoors, away from the concrete and plastic and exposed to the ground beneath our feet, is a small investment we can cash in for the rest of our lives.


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