Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Parallel Learning: Assignment 2c- HOME

Parallel Learning Assignment 2c: The film, HOME

I recently watched the film, HOME, by the homeproject, as part of an ongoing parallel learning project for my industrial design studio at UNSW.

Earlier this semester, a friend had actually recommended HOME to me, though at the time I had no idea what it was or what it was about.  Even upon sitting down this week and watching it, moments before starting it I still had no idea what it was about.  I'm especially glad that I hadn't searched for information about it beforehand, because the immensely beautiful (and simultaneously sickening) images and ideas that are presented in the film are stunning.  I had no idea what to expect and I was captivated from start to finish.

Most captivating to me in the film is the framework of the story, which moves us from the miraculous and mysterious origins of life on earth, to the brilliant genius that humankind stands as in its various achievements and uses of unprecedented tools such as oil, to the horrific beacon that humanity has become in shaping the world for its own selfish gain and survival, to the hopeful people that we should all become, looking for ways to counteract what we have done and do what needs to be done to preserve earth and its many miracles of life.  As these transitions in the framework happen very gradually, the shifts in portrayal of human beings are somewhat subtle and suddenly I realized that the subject matter in the film had shifted from beautiful landscapes and harmony between man and nature to human beings as endlessly multiplying gas-guzzlers who are intent on destroying everything in their path for their own gain.  The stark contrast between the beauty of earth untainted by man's hands and the world we live in today--one increasingly designed by man to utilize the earth at earth's expense--made me wonder how this situation every got so far along in the first place.  In the past 50 years, according to the film, human beings have changed the earth more than they have in all the 200,000 years of human history that came before it.  50 years has merited so much innovation and progress, and yet so much pollution, ease of life and subsequent overpopulation, and draining of non-renewable resources.  All my life, I can remember Presidential speeches in the U.S. which heavily focused on these problems, and on the need for development and use of renewable energies in order to save the planet, the environment, and so many of its species.  Clearly these topics have been on our minds in society for decades, and yet we've been leaning in the same negative directions, sticking to old models, not making many purposeful changes at all.  Is it just that it's such a difficult situation and an insurmountable problem that no one wants to step forward and attempt to tackle it?  My impression in society is that everyone knows the road we're headed down, but no one wants to be the one to put their foot forward, because (for the time being, as long as fossil fuels are still accessible) doing the right thing is synonymous with the inconvenient thing.  I realize that for designers to make serious changes to our societal models, they have to stop saying to themselves that "someone will figure something out" and instead make some personal sacrifices and say, "I've got to figure this out, before it becomes too late."

No one wants to see the day when it IS too late, but not many people seem to want to put forth the serious effort to avoid that day, to turn our direction to a better one.  Why else would people in Saudi Arabia continue to this day to use fossil water aquifers until they are completely dry, then moving to the next until it, too, is dry?  Why else would people in the United States continue to mine for oil and use it to power personal vehicles?  Why else would China continue to build dozens of petrol plants each year, when its national pollution rates are already so high and the warning signs of global warming are already so apparent?  After watching HOME, I'm beginning to believe that people have become so accustomed to their current styles of life that they grasp the status quo as tightly as they can, afraid of change.  Thus, I understand that as designers we must not only find solutions but also find ways to convince people that change is necessary, that without change, we are all heading for "uncertain territory."  We must find reasonable design solutions relating to energy usage that people are willing to accept--solutions that do not require people to sacrifice the lives that they know.

On that note, however, comes the topic of overpopulation in the world that is brought up by HOME.  If indeed we were to find design solutions relating to renewable sources of energy that would maintain our styles of life, what would change?  Perhaps we might save the atmosphere from carbon dioxide and methane emissions, but with so many people (and still rapidly increasing in numbers) the toll on the earth to sustain our species would certainly not decrease dramatically as one might hope.  Overpopulation is just as big of a problem as the use of non-renewable energy sources which pollute the environment.  Thus, I am led to believe that the root of the problem is the way that we live, and designers must focus on finding ways to convince people to change their ways of life to sustainable methods...a much more daunting task than designing any singular product.  Perhaps such a feat would be greatly facilitated not just by products but by product-service systems (PSS), which is what we are beginning to learn about in studio now.

Hearing from HOME that the forests of the Amazon have been reduced by 20% in the last 40 years and that melting layers of the permafrost would release untold amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere, exacerbating the effects of global warming to unpredictable levels, I am indeed very afraid for humankind and for the future of the planet.  Defending and replenishing the atmosphere and the entire biosphere is a global problem, not something that can be selectively approached by individual nations.  As long as any one nation in the world is still following current societal models of daily life, pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, for example, the problems we face will not cease.  But how do you persuade an entire world of people to change how they live, to sacrifice convenience today for a more hopeful existence tomorrow?  I know as a designer that the solutions are before us, that it IS possible for our species to change the road we're on, but I realize that it will not just be the job of research and development, politicians, and our leaders--EVERYONE has to be committed to the effort, lest the stragglers counteract productive measures.

At times I find it difficult not to be pessimistic about this issue, as it is such a large problem to attempt to tackle; but with so many people and so many heads to put together, surely we can become larger than the problem itself.  HOME gives me hope that we can change, though I know it will never be easy.

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