This is kind of a continuation, by other means, of the musings I offered in my earlier post on “native wisdom” and “Native Modernity.” At the beginning of March, 2017, I gave a half-hour lecture, complete with PowerPoint slides, to a group of about twenty Master’s students from the University of Lausanne, where I work here in Switzerland. The context was an interfaculty course on “Global Warming and Societal Change” (conducted jointly with the University of Lancaster) in which a colleague and I were to teach one session on homo economicus and the overcoming of “petro-anthropology.” You may wonder what those words have to do with permacircularity. Read on and I trust you’ll get some useful pointers.
The French engineer François Grosse, currently the CEO of the urbanism consultancy ForCity, whose quantitative analysis of recycling underlies the contents of my most visited and quoted post up to now, is doing me the honor and the pleasure of contributing this blog’s first guest post. He delineates the rationale for what he calls “quasi-circular growth,” based on his understanding of why (a) recycling might well be useless in the long run in a growing economy but why (b) a de-growth — or negative growth — economy isn’t the answer. Ultimately, he calls for a deeper cultural overhaul of our entrenched habits if we are going to usher in a permacircular society.
This weekend the Swiss people exercised their democratic sovereignty to say “Yes” or “No” to a very important popular initiative, labeled “Green Economy.” Its full name was “For a sustainable economy based on an efficient use of resources.” This initiative was initially spearheaded by the Green party. In essence, it proposed a gradual reduction in the country’s ecological footprint to one planet, down from about 3.5, over the next 35 years. The final verdict was “No,” with a rejection of the initiative by 63.5% against versus 36.5% in favor. (If you need to brush up on what popular initiatives mean in Swiss direct democracy, click here.) Only the canton of Geneva said “Yes,” by a relatively short majority of 52%. Among all other cantons, the highest “No” rate of 78% was observed in the central canton of Schwyz; the lowest “No” vote was around 53% and came about in Basel-City and in Vaud.
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.
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.
For my first post-welcome post, I’d like to offer comments on a few significant quotes from stuff I’ve read. This might help to sharpen the contrast between the circular growth economy I do not advocate and the permacircular economy I do advocate.
One of the main think tanks spearheading a totally mainstream approach to generalized cyclical metabolisms is the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, located in the UK. They publish lavish documents in full color and count many of the world’s largest industrial and financial multinationals among their members.