There is no such thing as a Growth Economy without waste. We are not “saving the planet”, we are saving ourselves from ourselves. Facing climate change and slowing global warming is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. Climate Change is happening NOW. We must start by standing in forgiveness. We must forgive ourselves as we were all born into a Growth Economy/fossil fuel reality. We didn’t have any real choice. We do now and we must make the right one.
The planet doesn’t need saving. It is simply adapting to the warming that humans have created. We need to save ourselves from ourselves. Reduce our use of fossil fuels as fast as possible. At the same time, reduce all levels of consumption. Since 1950, the Parts Per Million (PPM) of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by over 60% to its highest level in at least 400,000 years! The problem is that humanity is consuming more than Earth can regenerate. As of the writing of this book, humanity consumes at the level of 1.7 Earths per year. The developed economies are now moving from an ownership paradigm to one of rental/access. Tools defined the Agricultural Age. Machines defined the Industrial Age. Technology defined the Information Age. Consciousness will define the Shift Age.
By 2030, we need to: move to 70% renewable and alternative energies globally, reduce atmospheric CO2 from 420 parts per million to 315 ppm, cut the current 37 gigatons of annual CO2 emissions by at least 50%. As a futurist, I have stated that we left the Information Age and entered the Shift Age. Ranging roughly from 2005 to 2030, this is when much of human reality shifts to the new, future reality.
Growth Economy: Every reader of this book has lived his or her life in a Growth Economy. For most of history, humans have lived in growth economies. Think about how the economic health of any developed country is measured. All the metrics concentrate on growth, expansion and output. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is an output. We measure the success of a nation’s economy by how much growth has occurred in its GDP. Our current form of Capitalism does not take into account the value of natural capital.
The Circular Economy: It espouses an economy that was to replace the produce, use and discard paradigm with a closed loop system that produced, used and then reused or reprocessed. The result would be lower consumption.
Finite Earth Economy: In a Finite Earth Economy, Earth comes first. All economic, material and energy issues attend to the needs of the planet first… then humanity’s needs. More wealth was created in the last 100 years than in all of human history. The Industrial Age delivered labor-saving technologies and spread new wealth around the globe. Three dynamics transformed this scenario.
The first is that, starting in 1950, there was a population explosion unprecedented in the history of mankind. The global population in 1950 was 2.5 billion and today it is 7.7 billion, a three-fold increase in just 70 years. The replacement rate for any population to maintain equilibrium is 2.1 children per woman of child-bearing age. In the age of climate change, lowering population growth is a major moral issue for all humanity.
The second dynamic was that, post-WWII, the United States (especially Hollywood and Madison Ave.) did a wonderful job marketing “the American Dream and the American Way of Life” around the world. If everyone on Earth lived at the American standard of living, humanity would need five Earths worth of resources to maintain equilibrium.
The third dynamic was the ever-ascending level of consumption in America. Consumption of stuff has increased geometrically since the mid-20th century.
The fourth and perhaps most significant dynamic has occurred in the last 30 years. While we were adding numbers to the total population of Earth, simultaneously people all over the world were moving up the socio-economic ladder. Hundreds of millions of people entered the middle class for the first time. Growth Economies have been the economic models throughout all history. Growth Economies, powered by fossil fuels and with an outcome of ever-increasing consumption, are the key drivers of global warming and climate change.
The combination of unprecedented economic growth, wealth creation and population expansion has accelerated consumption and resulted in unacceptable levels of waste and greenhouse gas emissions. To save ourselves from ourselves, we must move away from Growth Economies. We can no longer live on a finite planet operating in an economic model that is based upon infinite growth. Our planetary spaceship has limited resources and we must work within them to avoid aborting the mission.
The Circular Economy: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” – a popular phrase from Earth Day 1970. Here is Wikipedia’s definition of a Circular Economy: “A circular economy is an economic system aimed at minimizing waste and making the most of resources. This regenerative approach is in contrast to the traditional linear economy, which has a 'take, make, dispose' model of production. In a circular system resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing, and narrowing energy and material loops; this can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and upcycling.
Proponents of the circular economy suggest that a sustainable world does not mean a drop in the quality of life for consumers and can be achieved without loss of revenue or extra costs for manufacturers. The argument is that circular business models can be as profitable as linear models, allowing us to keep enjoying similar products and services. To achieve models that are economically and environmentally sustainable, the circular economy focuses on areas such as design thinking, systems thinking, product life extension, and recycling.” If only the Circular Economy had been more widely integrated after Earth Day 1970! Here we are 50 years later and only 9% of the global economy is Circular.
In moving to a Finite Earth Economy, we will adopt a Circular Economy reality along the way. It addresses the following issues: decreasing consumption and waste, designing products to last and to be fed back into the production cycle, ending the practices of disposability and fast fashion, and evolving past the conditioned response that something bought new is better than something bought used. In both Circular and Finite Earth Economies, “used” is a positive term. Used means that something can be purchased without causing depletion of Finite Earth resources. “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – R. Buckminster Fuller
Humans are the only species that creates “waste”. The Finite Earth Economy (FEE) places Earth first. That is the call to action for moving to a FEE: Earth First! Tax laws and codes at all levels of government will focus on the carbon footprint of all entities. For example, a corporation that is carbon neutral will receive a significant tax deduction. If a corporation reduces its carbon footprint at least 10% from year to year, they will receive a tax incentive. These new carbon footprint-related taxes will also apply to individuals, families and businesses of all sizes. Any entity that promotes itself as being green must be 100% carbon neutral, or they will be fined.
It would replace fast fashion with slow fashion. Instead of new “styles” every year, it will be fashionable to buy or make the most durable, high quality clothing and other products. The best designed pieces will be repairable, and at their end of life will be easily fed back into the production cycle to create a new piece. There are several macro-trends that are currently happening that align with the Finite Earth Economy:
The Sharing Economy – Share what you own and what others own. Share almost anything such as cars, extra rooms, tools, books, kitchen utensils… anything that is only used occasionally.
Moving from Ownership to Rental – This has already happened with content streaming services.
The Sufficiency Movement – This is a spiritual and consciousness concept being adopted by many. It’s a knowing that there is enough for all and there’s no need to scramble and fight. “There is a sufficiency in the world for man's need but not for man's greed.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Simplifying – Is living happily with less. There’s a freedom and stress reduction that comes with downsizing… with eliminating the stuff we don’t need and creating space.
Preferring Used over New – Other than food, beverages, personal products and medicines, think used first. This will ultimately creep into the social mores of societies.
Now in 2019 there are three loose paths to 2100. They are: Catastrophic, Risky and Best Probable.
Catastrophic: Business as usual with a gradual move away from fossil fuels over time is no longer an option. Current forecasts, if we don’t take drastic action now, put the rise in temperature at 3 to 7 degrees Celsius. "Most of the planetary surface would be functionally uninhabitable. Agriculture would cease to exist everywhere, apart for the polar and sub-polar regions. The oceans would stratify and become oxygen-deficient, which would cause a mass extinction. It's pretty much equivalent to a massive meteorite striking the planet, in terms of the overall impacts." – Mark Lynas, “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet”
Risky: We focus our energies on demonstrations, protests, and the signing of Accords as meaningful action. Slowly chipping away at the Carbon Combustion Complex, or assuming market forces will fix the problem, won’t work. This approach is too slow and takes too long. We almost assuredly will pass more tipping points that trigger runaway global warming that will take a century or more to constrain. The result will be massive suffering for man and most other species.
Best Probable Future: We must move to a Finite Earth Economy as fast and completely as possible. We accept the current reality of a 1degree Celsius warming of the surface of the planet and strive to keep that below 1.5 degrees. This path allows humanity to enjoy a thriving, evolved civilization by the end of the Earth Century. “If the success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do... How would I be? What would I do?” – R. Buckminster Fuller
We are ready. Are you? Are you ready to make huge changes in your life and your business for the sake of humanity and countless other species on the planet?
“Only in economics is endless expansion seen as a virtue. In biology, it is called cancer.” – David Pilling