Glimpses of permacircular America

Hello folks, I’m sorry it’s been so long since the last post. The summer came and went, and now school has started again, the daily rhythm has kicked in anew, and I’m realizing that more than two months have elapsed since I last posted anything. That’s actually strange because I have such a lot to report on!

Earlier this summer, my partner Agnieszka and I were in the western USA for most of July. We had our base camp in Los Angeles — one of the US’s least sustainable cities, or so it seems. It’s such a culture shock when you’re coming over from Europe, even for people  who, like us, have lived or grown up in the States. The expression “car culture” really comes into its own there. Most Americans, not so much by deliberate choice as by systemic necessity made gradually into a cultural value, use their automobiles in much the same way the average Swiss citizen uses their shoes.

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The three levels of the permacircularity project

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not — I repeat: not — saying that repairing, re-using, re-manufacturing, and recycling are useless in and of themselves. If I were saying that, I would be going against my own deepest convictions as I see them embodied in the everyday practices of some of the people I admire most: the ecovillage dwellers who joyfully move towards a sufficiency mindset and remain within it, the permaculture geniuses who create tomorrow’s food, mobility and lodging utopias and implement them today, the “zero-waste” downshifters who devote their energy and creativity to living without treading heavily on the soil and the water, the voluntary simplicity advocates who patiently seek better, cleaner ways of consuming — and, yes, the industrial and agronomic engineers who spend all their efforts dealing with waste reduction and devising cleaner production solutions.

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One engineer’s deeper wisdom: François Grosse and the (re)discovery of the permacircular mindset

Reading the previous post you may have thought: Okay, so permacircularity is about circularity and permanence — about recycling, reusing, re-manufacturing, repairing, and reducing — but what does it consist in? Isn’t it some sort of neo-primitivist pipe dream? Do we really need to reduce? Why have zero or near-zero growth? Surely engineers nowadays are aware of the problems and have figured out ways for our economies to keep growing at the rates we need to have jobs and well-being, while constantly reducing our deleterious impacts on the biosphere?

Well, the answer is: No, they haven’t. In fact they can’t.

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Eco-modernists, please stop spacing out

From a permacircular perspective, what matters most is this: We need to find a way for every inhabitant of the earth — whose numbers are, for the moment at least, still growing — to have access to the same level of well-being and self-realization. And we have to do it while remaining constantly within the limits of the biosphere. This implies, among other things, that as world population grows (and sorry, but yes, how fast and by how much it grows does matter) resource use, technological progress and frugality have to be combined in order to honor the right of every single human being — as well as the beings of all other living species — to have access to an equitable share of world wealth.

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Welcome to Permacircular Horizons

Okay — it’s not the sexiest of blog titles. Nevertheless, it says exactly what I mean, so I’ll keep it. “Permacircularity” is a concept I’ve coined with my colleague Dominique Bourg. He and I both do research at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

What does it mean? The expression is a composite of “permaculture” and “circular economy”. In a nutshell, I use it to designate a genuinely circular economy — one that not only insists on a generalized  cyclical metabolism of the economy, but also on a culture of permanence: a deep questioning of the principle of economic growth.

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