Age of Stupid waste

Posted: March 5, 2014 in Modernity & Network Culture

I am thoughtful after this week’s discussions about Biosphere Culture and the ‘Matter’ of waste. I was bought up in a very eco-friendly house. I have grown up with the feeling that I was doing my bit for the environment and I felt good about it. Gay Hawkins in her book, The Ethics of Waste: How We Relate to Rubbish (2006) explores ‘how waste mediates relations to our bodies, prompts various habits and disciplines, and orders relations between the self and the world.’ (p.4). This is true – waste does impact on me, my decisions and my actions. Image

I have never thought of myself as an ostrich, sticking my head in the sand when thinking about environmental issues, yet Pete Posthleswaite’s words suddenly ring out – ‘We could have saved ourselves,’ in the film Age of Stupid, when climate change has had a catastrophic effect on the planet. Linked to this in the film is the irony of Alvin Duvernay being hailed an ‘American hero’ saving over a hundred people after hurricane Katrina – we are then told he works for an oil company, one of the biggest pollutants in the world and a contributor to climate change and consequently, changing weather patterns! There is a thread of denial and guilt that runs through the whole film and there is a similarity here with Hawkins argument – we need to stop feeling guilty if we are to think differently and more positively about our relationship with our waste. We need to stop denying there is a problem and stop feeling guilty about it if we are to solve the problem.

So the simplicity of ‘you’re a recycler or spawn of the devil’ is dismissed by Hawkins, which I think is really positive. If we are to work together as humans to save the planet we have to, as Kim Humphrey (2006) suggests “begin forging a politics of waste that does not rely on ideas of transcendence, on moralism and guilt-tripping, or on a bland version of consciousness raising.” He believes that we must stop fearing waste but understand how we interact with it. The problem with this though is that it will be others (Governments/large companies) here who could dictate how we interact with our rubbish in the future and they have many agendas.


I found clues to a more positive future in Jeremy Rifkin’s book ‘Empathic Civilisation’ (2010). He claims that we are almost ‘hotwired’ to care about not only what happens to us but others too. Is this where the solutions lie? By understanding the cause and effect of waste not only for us but for others, we can begin to build a more sustainable approach to waste and waste management. But are we all starting from the same ‘empathic point’? Waste management is not going to top any agenda when you are starving or homeless. Perhaps the answer is to ensure we are all equal first and then we can all start working together to save the planet.


Hawkins, Gay (2005)The Ethics of Waste: How We Relate to Rubbish, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Humphery, Kim (2007) Australian Humanities Review. Issue 42

Age Of Stupid – Spanner Films (2009)

Rifkin, Jeremy (2010) Empathic Civilisation, Jeremy Rifkin Enterprises

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  1. Gillian Swanson says:

    Try not to use these blogs as a record of your thoughts: when they are submitted as a set of five pieces, they will be evaluated for their academic engagement with issues relating to cultural and media studies. This entry could start with ‘Gay Hawkins…’ for example.

    Also, don’t waste words which don’t demonstrate this engagement and your understanding of the key ideas relating to the topic: this kind of comment doesn’t progress the explanation: ‘ have never thought of myself as an ostrich, sticking my head in the sand when thinking about environmental issues’.

    It’s hard to see an argument that draws sufficiently on the material we’ve been reading for support – you tend to use Hawkins and others as a springboard for thoughts, but you need to work through their argument in a more systematic way: what does she say about how we should think about waste habits, for example? Keep with the argument until you have explained it fully and thoroughly, rather than veering off on another general issue.

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