When the house I live in was built, Leonardo da Vinci was a young man with the Mona Lisa still in his future, and Michelangelo was a toddler. The first part of our house, a small fortified tower in rural France, was built in 1478. When the stones were laid for the tower, Christopher Columbus hadn’t yet set sail for the Americas. What would become the dominant Western culture of colonialism, and later, capitalism, hadn’t yet gotten underway.
When the second part of the house was built, a hundred years later, the world was already a different place.
This pile of stones has been, as far as I know, continuously inhabited through several historical eras, from Louis XIV’s Sun King moment, to the French Revolution, through Industrialization and the two great wars on European soil during the 20th century.
It’s hard to imagine all the history around the world that has taken place in the amount of time this human construction has been a home for generation after generation of people, not to mention the various animals that take up residence in various hidden corners.
This place was built to last, and as long as it’s maintained, there’s no reason it shouldn’t last another couple of centuries, at least.
I wonder sometimes about the people who built the tower back in 1478, and whether they could have even conceived of the world in which their construction now stands. Even if this place were to fall down at some point, which it no doubt will, the stones and the wood will simply become a part of another house, or the landscape.
Over the past 50 years, we’ve been building another kind of construction that lasts. Depending on its exposure to the elements, it can last anywhere from 40 to an estimated 450 years to deteriorate. Maybe even 1000 years.
But it doesn’t provide a home, or shelter, and it’s not meant to be provide utility for more than one or two uses.
It’s part of a dominant culture that has been well underway since the 1950s, the culture of disposability.
Picture where we are now, and try to imagine the world and our society 450 years from now. Picture that plastic sack, or that plastic bottle, or that plastic wrapping you just threw away. Once it’s not being used, it becomes a part of a cycle of garbage that does little good and a lot of damage.
There’s every likelihood that, like our stone house, those items will last 450 years.
One thing I can predict is that, if we haven’t figured out how to solve our plastic problem, people will still be wondering what possessed us to generate so much plastic for such short-term use.