Midas was a king who had it all. He considered himself a happy man and believed that the source of his happiness was provided by gold. Nothing would make him happier than to spend his days counting his golden coins, adorning his body with golden objects, and taking the occasional dip into a bath full of gold. But that’s the thing with stuff and happiness. It’s the false belief in the equation that more stuff will lead to more happiness. And so the story goes; after being granted one wish by Dionysus, the nature god of fruitfulness and vegetation, the king Midas responded; I hope that everything I touch becomes gold. After the initial overwhelming sense of joy and triumph, frighten, hungry, alone, and desperate, the king prayed to Dionysus to take that “curse” from him.
We are the continuance of the Midas dynasty. Our wish to Dionysus was granted; everything we touch becomes stuff. For the first time in Earth’s history, human-made objects are about to outweigh living things.
This means that the pressure on the biological and the technical metabolism, which nature has to break down materials into nutrients, is way over Earth’s capacity. It also means that we are going beyond the boundaries in which, within our industries, the material flow can be managed in ways and scales that could be absorbed by the natural cycles. But the main burden comes from adding time to the equation, which makes the technical materials, often synthetic or mineral, particularly hard to ‘digest.’ An apple core takes about one month to break down within the biological metabolism. On the other hand, a plastic bottle takes 450 years to pass through the technical metabolism. And then again, it never entirely does because the plastic doesn’t biodegrade. It only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic, called “microplastics.”
So while reading that scientists are warning that the weight of human-made objects will likely exceed that of living things by the end of the year, one should start praying to Dionysus to take the “curse” from us. Instead of hoping for a last-minute miracle where science comes up with a way to speed up the Earth’s digestion or invents some massive 3D printer that could use all the material excess that we produce to print out a new planet, we should slow down. We need a global movement to place mindful consumption, effective production, and active hope in the center of our relationship with nature. This comes through promoting pro-environmental behavior, eco-effective economy, and a redefinition of purpose that places meaningful human relations and not stuff as the primary source of happiness. It comes from putting an end to the Midas dynasty.