Is goat’s hair sustainable?

Who knows and who cares? But this question did come up at a recent event I attended.  The venue where this took place claims to be one of the most sustainable venues in London (I won’t get into whether this is true or not, I haven’t quite had the time to do a full assessment & comparison with other venues…Nor do I want to). Interestingly though, all the carpets at this venue are made from goats’ hairs.

Upon hearing that and having been told that this is a sustainable venue, people tend to simply assume that goat’s hair is a sustainable material. But is it actually sustainable?

This is a happy looking goat.

I don’t actually want to discuss goat’s hair. Instead, the point I want to make is about the need to constantly question our assumptions, and not just take things at face value. Which I believe is something that is far too common today. And something which I believe is crucial in our quest for a sustainable world.

Sustainability is a complex problem. Nothing about it is straight-forward. There are always unintended consequences. No one really has the right answer. Actually, there is no right or wrong answer, there are simply trade-offs to be made.

So while you think that your Toyota Prius is a sustainable ride, this might not actually be the case. Have you thought about where those precious metals that are used to make hybrid engines are coming from? Or how energy-intensive the manufacturing process of your Prius is compared to that of other cars? Or that maybe buying a used car might actually better than buying a new car because it prevents extracting more resources from the planet? I’m not really advocating that your Prius is or isn’t green, all I’m saying is you should think about it and question those assumptions. (If you are actually worried about your Prius, just Google it, you’ll find plenty of articles covering the subject and you can make your own opinion on which sustainability metrics really matter to you.)

In another chat I recently had with someone I won’t name but who I’m sure will recognise him (or her) self, I was told about algae that produces petrol in ambient conditions, without needing any inputs but sunlight. That’s right – you read correctly: algae that produces petrol, when squeezed, and which can be used in the same combustion engines we have today. How cool is that? Upon hearing this, even I found myself neatly agreeing that we were about solve our fuel problems with this squeezable-petrol-producing-super-algae. But upon further reflection, I started to ask myself what the unintended consequences of this would be: would our beaches become overrun by algae? What about that killer algae I’ve read about recently in the news, would that be an issue? Could you actually scale up fuel-producing algae to produce enough to make a significant contribution to battling climate change? Again, I have no idea. But that’s not really the point.

Questioning ourselves, our assumptions, and the things we are told, is. The counter-argument to constantly questioning everything is that we’ll never actually get anything done – which is a fair point. But to that, I’d say that I’d rather ask questions than jump to conclusions.

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7 responses to “Is goat’s hair sustainable?

  1. There is a team at Edinburgh working on fuel cells that are powered by pee. Not that that is necessarily sustainable either, but it is way cooler than algal blooms. Actually the problem is one of scale (I’m obsessed with scale and time these days) – if you divide total global output by total population you get an equitable distribution of world wealth of about $7,000 per person per year – doesn’t matter whether you endlessly question or jump to conclusions – that’s one badass point to come to terms with.

  2. An interesting point, well made.
    Answering the question: Is it actually sustainable?
    Can be very a complex one.
    Simplest working way I know of to answer this is the 7 generations question:
    “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_generation_sustainability

    What troubles me is that now that being eco friendly is main stream we seem to be going over the same old questions and searching for answers

    Back in 1995 I was at a conference held at the Findhorn community, in Scotland. The conference was called: “Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities”
    Here was born “The Global Ecovillage Network” http://gen.ecovillage.org/

    “GEN offers inspiring examples of how people and communities can live healthy, cooperative, genuinely happy and meaningful lifestyles — beacons of hope that help in the transition to a more sustainable future on Earth. We foster a culture of mutual respect, sharing, inclusiveness, positive intent, and fair energy exchange.”

    My point is that the experiments have been done, the lessons have been learnt.
    These folk have been pioneering sustainable living models by creating them and living in them.
    No longer is it just utopian ideas of a building a green village off grid, city retrofits and more practical real world solution have also been sought tried and found.

    See also
    http://www.cat.org.uk/
    “CAT aims to empower people to live a more sustainable life.”
    A living example and research community in Wales.

    Why then are we going over the same ground making the same mistakes?

    Ans is simple: Economics and politics

    In fact as an engineer and live long environmentalist I have one strong statement to make.

    **We have the technologies and solutions we need in order to solve our environmental issues sustainably without reducing standard of living. The only problems standing in our way are Economic and political.**

    We do not need to spend more money on R&D to find solutions, we have them.
    There is no energy shortage, we live on a ball of lava orbiting a fireball.
    If we do not solve these issues we will be reducing standards of living.
    Power is metered, Water is now metered, what is next, children?

    There need not be any; power shortage, no water shortage, no food shortage…
    Environmentalism is not about sacrifice, it is about preservation and fair usage.
    Do not let the politics and banks turn that into sacrifice and shortage.

    The example I would pick is energy efficient light bulbs, the tech (strip lights) has been in use since the 1950s. Are they sustainable — no – there are issues with production use and disposal, however they are (possibly) step in the right direction which was easy to adopt (ergonomically and politicly). They help reduce consumption by increasing efficiency. However they do not solve the basic issue of our energy production not being sustainable.

    Keep asking the right questions.

    PLUR

    Mark C.

  3. In his book ‘Future Minds’ Richard Watson makes a strong case that the ability to question is a key differentiator between the human brain and ‘digital brains’. Digital brains have huge knowledge and can answer questions but today they typically don’t have the ability to ask questions or indeed to question assumptions. So I would agree with you that questioning is something that we should continue to do and historically it is what has driven innovation

  4. Jules & Rosi, thanks for your comments.
    Jules – I need to find out more about pee powered fuel cells. I wonder how efficient and effective they are.

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