Growth from trashing the planet was never a clever idea and linear economics has now reached the end of the line. The ‘more is better’ economy does not need to be stimulated to grow nor constrained from growing. It needs to be entirely replaced by ‘positive development’ in which markets work to automatically, systematically make things better both locally and globally. The folly of endless resources extraction, endlessly unmet human needs and endless waste dumping can end. Linear economics can be replaced by ‘circular economics’.
Waste-Free Growth Model
A switch towards waste-free economy would preserve and regenerate material value and natural capital instead of losing it, so growth would work to build the physical basis for more growth. So long as this happens soon enough, there is no end-point; growth that preserves the resources on which it depends may expand with no theoretical limit to the monetary value of final services that can be produced from a given physical resource input.
The future for growth is circular economics where greater economic activity would mean a faster pace of change away from waste-making and towards looking after the world and all its inhabitants.
What is Circular Economy
In a circular economy profits, jobs and growth come not from extracting, moving, shaping, selling and dumping ever more resources, but from the work done and value created by handling resources with sufficient care that ecosystems and total natural resources actually expand, making it possible to meet human needs everywhere.
There would still be unwanted materials to ‘get rid of’ but they would not end up accumulating in ecosystems, they would instead be regenerated as new resources for the Earth and for the economy.
There are no material or non-material human needs that inherently require resources to be lost as wastes in ecosystems. The daunting gulf between the current waste-making economy and tomorrow’s waste-free economy may be reimagined as a vast exciting source of work, jobs and growth.
Making the Switch
The activities needed to switch from linear to circular economics include work on resources, such as doing more with less, cradle to cradle design, doing without accumulating toxins, local recycling and composting everywhere, and reversing the global loss of ecological productivity. Envisage taking the loose ends of the linear economy (extraction and dumping) and joining them together so the new circular economy gains a reliable feedstock of resources.
Abundant energy, arriving free-of-charge from outside the biosphere would provide the thermodynamic input to run circular economics and the potential for regenerating existing accumulations of waste (such as GHG) into new biological and geological resources. Most of the perceived ‘limits of nature’ are limited only by linear economics.
Major Ingredients of Circular Economy
The activities needed to switch to circular economics also include non-technical work to create suitable societal conditions such as inclusiveness, sharing and co-operation. A linear economy, with diminishing resources and prospects, inevitably invites alienation, hoarding and conflict – as if the game is for everyone to grab what they can while it lasts.
A circular economy would not need to sell people things they don’t need so radical shifts of culture are invited, such as social status defined by sharing rather than hoarding. Genuine hope for the future could cut urges to indulge in crime, corruption and cheating. Our innate human values of compassion could expand to include all people and all life, with massive economic benefits that are barely imaginable today.
This is an interesting and informative article. I do agree that we have to shift to a growth model that preserves resources or use them sustainably rather than extracting them as if the supply is endless. I’m wondering, however, whether circular economics can co-exist with capitalism, or do we have to move away from a more capitalist economy to achieve it?
I’d propose harnessing capitalism to get circular economics. The change needed is to include in price tags a cost for the risk of products becoming waste. See http://blindspot.org.uk/third-policy-switch/ for an intro.
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