Crew Commentary

The Necessity, Responsibility and Right to Repair

Tim Rumage - Planetary Ethicist


I have three functional and operational VCRs. I understand that this opening statement is not something one could, or should, normally brag about in the world of digital streaming, but the VCRs work. And I have dozens and dozens of VHS recordings that I still enjoy. I will also confess that three of the five TVs in the house have yet to need or require a transformation to digital flat screen device. It’s not that I can’t do those things, I just don’t feel the need to make the change. I mean really, how large, how sharp, how clear, how color improved do I need a commercial about toenail fungus to be?


And upgrading the terminology so that I can be told that I have CVD*, Amblyopia, and Diplopia does not alter the reality of a lifetime of dealing with red/green color blindness, a lazy eye and double vision (without my glasses). I understand the model of continuous improvement in nature. I know that change can happen slowly. I know that change can be massive and quick – like the day the asteroid hit the earth and began the phase out of the dinosaurs, or the moment that we went from a world without Covid to a world which marked time with phrases like, before Covid, during Covid, and after the pandemic.


What annoys me, angers me, and has caused me to stop purchasing certain brands… are forced changes that seem to have no functional value to me. There is a software I have used for over a decade to do my federal taxes. A couple of years ago, the software started to require an update of my computer to the newest version of its operating system. Taxes are annoying on their own. Upgrading the software is a bother. Then finding out that the new operating system means that I can no longer use certain apps and other software is hyper-problematic. I have lost data and files because of issues of non-compatibility. Previously all the programs I used were collaborative. To do my job, I did not need the required upgrade of my operating system. With the upgrade, I lost hours of productivity translating old files into functional files.


It also turned out that between the new tax software and the updated operating system, I could no longer ‘look back’ at previous filings if I had questions. The upgrade had so “improved” everything that I was dependent upon paper printouts to complete the tax filing. To use the current edition of that tax software, I would need to buy a new computer. Not going to happen. I feel that forced obsolescence of technology is a form of consumer abuse.


All the above brings me back to the four VCRs in the garage that are not currently operational.


I suspect that the VCRs could be fixed. I would not be surprised to find that a minor repair would restore those devices to full functionality. But that is not an option. I had a VCR that stopped working while under warranty and was informed by the salesperson that it was simply easier and cheaper to give me a new VCR, than to fix the one I brought into the store.



Common logic suggests that the smart move for me would be to throw the old VCR away. And as I start to think of the VCRs as trash or waste, I get hit with a transcendental mind shift.


By definition waste is1:


  • Verb: use or expend carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose.
  • Adjective: (of a material, substance, or byproduct) eliminated or discarded as no longer useful or required after the completion of a process.
  • Noun: an act or instance of using or expending something carelessly, extravagantly or to no purpose.
  • Noun: material that is not wanted; the unusable remains or byproducts of something.


And the material that comprises the VCR are none of those things. The VCR is made up of the primary raw materials of Planet Earth. It is a collection of atoms and molecules currently configured as metals, ceramics, wires, chemicals, circuits, and plastics into the shape of a VCR.


Why would we want to waste such finite and important entities? Why would we not want to reuse those ingredients?


By definition repair means2:


  • Transitive verb; to restore to a sound and healthy state: renew.


Do we realize how silly it sounds to say we can fix a house, but cannot repair a VCR? Or that we can fix a car but cannot repair a printer? Is this really the logical model for a prosperous future?


Humans are currently deeply entrenched in a linear economy in which resources are converted to waste through commerce. Nature, the environment, and the planet run on a circular/cyclical, no waste, resource economy. One of these models has worked brilliantly for 3.7 billion years, if not longer. The other model supports waste, pollution, global income disparity, the depletion and degradation of the resource base, and the collapse of communities and civilizations. One of these models will survive us. The other model is us until we decide that thriving and existing is more beneficial than the restricted and limited distribution of short-term financial gains.


The right to repair is a recognition that modeling our societies and economies on the fundamental process of how Nature operates is the strongest foundation we can create to have a verdant and viable future.


“Don’t waste. Don’t waste Anything. Don’t waste Electricity. Don’t waste Food. Don’t waste Water. Treat the natural world as though it’s precious, which it is. Don’t squander those bits that we have control of.” – Sir David Attenborough


Our future will be determined by our willingness, ability and commitment to support, protect, repair, renew and regenerate the natural environment upon which our lives depend.


*Color Vision Deficiency

1 https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=waste+defined&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

2 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/repair