February ’22: Cyclic Economies
Note: this is part of a monthly series which is also a newsletter, if you’d prefer that. There is also a semi-daily one where I vomit links and quips and notes and non-sequitur. And it costs money. Caveat emptor definitely applies.
A theme over the next decade or more will be the impact of late-stage capitalism on the planet. Which sounds like *”hey, did you know water is wet?”* but bear with me. Thanks to the ubiquity of information, we know the primary source of global warming is industrial growth. Sure, there are other sources, but focusing on those sources is a *little* myopic considering the rest of the nightmarish problems that we face.
Any proposed solution to global warming needs to account for the core problem. And that problem is frenzied growth. While that frenzied growth has radically increased the quality of life worldwide in the span of a generation, the cost has been horrific.
So the solution isn’t to stop the growth. Instead, we must look to sustainable growth and, to fuel that growth, sustainable energy production. Without energy, there is no growth. And without sustainable energy, there can be no sustainable growth.
We need to rationally examine the realities of sustainable energy instead of catastrophizing fossil fuel usage. The fact is those glaciers are coming apart and the weather’s only getting weirder, whether we like it or not. And we waste time by screaming about the problem instead of trying to find it’s solution.
In addition to sustainable energy, we need to reduce the inefficiencies in the current system. One avenue of this might be in the cyclic economy space. The term gets tossed around a lot and what it actually means can be a matter of interpretation and context. Some people see it as ‘refillable bottles’, while others see it as more aggressive recycling.
For me, the cyclic economy is about using every last bit of a thing. You don’t just eat the bacon and toss out the rest of the pig. That would earn a serious beating from the farmer who raised that pig. To avoid said beating, you want to use ‘everything but the squeal’. We need to reexamine what we waste and how we waste it.
The thing is that some forms of waste are a very modern conceit. Fast fashion, for example, could not exist without mechanized production and a global underclass of labor. Back when we were just small villages, even human waste wasn’t dumped into the river. It was used in leatherworks and as fertilizer.
The answer to both questions is the same: inertia.
The roadblocks to a cyclic economy can be found in the current state of things. While it would be fashionable to simply point the finger at a moribund oligarchy and say, “Behold! The villain revealed!”, they are simply the side effect of iterated choices that start from cooperation.
The problem is that the inefficient have avoided the consequences of their own failures. There was a time when causing earthquakes would have resulted in swift sanctions and possibly the eradication of an industry. These days its a fact of life in Texas. Some of these inept industries are so integrated into the fabric of governance that no one suggests withholding their subsidies and allowing them to fail. Regardless of their actions against the very populace that is being governed.
If we had truly adhered to the concepts of capitalism, the weak companies should have failed and the strong should have thrived. Instead, the entire system is thrashing about, fighting the future tooth and nail.
Regardless of the inertia, a non-fossil fuel based economy is inevitable. What will push fossil fuels out of bed are the geopolitical complications. One need only look at the Nord 2 pipeline to see why dependence on fossil fuels is an unacceptable risk to sovereignty. And there’s nothing as sweet sounding to a nationalist as, “we don’t have to rely on anyone else”. As myopic as that may be in a global society, it’s an urge you cannot ignore and one that will support the transition.
So, we look for treasure in the trash, knowing that as the years spool out ahead of us, we will eventually run out of the resources we are currently using. Soon enough, we will have to learn how to use everything we currently waste.