Fundamental Metrics Must Change
Here are the metrics of Growth Economies. There are two types of indicators you need to be aware of: Leading indicators often change prior to large economic adjustments and, as such, can be used to predict future trends. Lagging indicators, however, reflect the economy’s historical performance and changes to these are only identifiable after an economic trend or pattern has already been established.
Leading Indicators: Stock Market Manufacturing Activity Inventory Levels Retail Sales Building Permits Housing Market Level of New Business Startups
Lagging Indicators: Changes in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Income and Wages Unemployment Rate Consumer Price Index (Inflation) Currency Strength
Interest Rates Corporate Profits Balance of Trade Value of Commodity Substitutes to U.S. Dollar Growth Economy metrics reward behaviors that lead to pollution, poor health, depression and destruction of the biosphere’s ability to support life. First, the United States has the single largest GDP in the world. It must lead the way as it represents the greatest opportunity to reach 70% clean energy by 2030. Second, if you look at the top ten countries by GDP you will see that all except India – and still large parts of western China – are relatively wealthy. The wealthy countries must lead the way. The poor countries do not have the resources for rapid transformation.
There is a good deal of overlap between the list by GDP and the list by level of GHG emissions. Actions taken by the major polluters and largest/most resilient economies can bring the world to 70% clean energy by 2030. The implementation of a Carbon Fee and Dividend policy is the most important step to take in every major economy. Fee and Dividend is based on the Free Market Economics of Milton Friedman. It will immediately increase the cost of carbon, resulting in a decrease in fossil fuel use and emissions. Receiving a $2,000 check for a family of four will be welcomed. Consumers/voters will support an increase to $50/60/70 a ton because their annual dividend checks would increase accordingly. This is why it must be a Fee and not a Tax, so the money goes back to the consumers and voters, not government coffers. This is a wealth redistribution from the largest emitters to the individual citizens that aligns all with the end goal of zero emissions. Every organization of every size, from individuals to the largest multinational corporations will be rewarded or penalized on their carbon footprints. The list of concepts that all citizens should understand will include the cost to nature of agriculture, manufacturing, transportation. Education on all aspects of the Circular Economy and the deadly costs of carbon will be universal.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created in 1933 by FDR to combat unemployment. The CCC was responsible for building many public works projects that are still in use today. This is particularly relevant to today as there is so much work to be done in every country: planting trees, restoring habitats destroyed by pollution and toxic chemicals, cleaning up plastic waste, etc. These projects will put millions of unemployed and underemployed people to work. If these projects were folded into a mandatory two-year national service with the initial purpose of working on all things that will result in habitat restoration and emissions reductions, there would be an alignment that would not only train young people, but would create a society that values cooperation. By 2030, 50% of all cars in the U.S. will be electric vehicles. Subsidize, and therefore accelerate, the movement to ever better battery technology for air travel, municipal buses and trains. Incentivize private industry to support this needed and massive undertaking in every country.
The New Metrics: “Tell me how you measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave.” – Eliyahu M. Goldratt. Moving to a Finite Earth Economy is NOT about ending Capitalism. It is recasting it with an ‘earth first’ and ‘humanity first’ focus. Possible New Metrics are:
The Social Cost of Carbon: The social cost of carbon reflects the global damage of emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accounting for its impact in the form of warming temperatures, more severe storms, rising sea levels, etc. It’s what we should be willing to pay to avoid emitting that one more ton of carbon. In real ways, this is the truest and most important metric relative to living in a carbon fueled economy.
Moving Earth Overshoot Day Back This metric addresses levels of consumption and waste. Earth Overshoot Day (the date in the current year when humanity has used 100% of the resources the planet can regenerate) is now in early August. Ideally it should be after midnight on December 31. By country there is a wide range of national Earth Overshoot Days. Honduras is the only country that is at 12/31. Luxembourg is the earliest at 2/17. Australia, Canada and the U.S. are close together at 3/12, 3/13 and 3/14 respectively. Much of Europe is May and June. China is 6/23 and Brazil is 7/26. The The bigger a country’s economy and the earlier its Overshoot date, the more that country is living beyond its resource means. Those countries must take the most drastic and immediate action.6 To no longer regard declining GDP as a negative phenomenon, we need to evolve to regarding the movement of Earth Overshoot Day back every year as a sign of success.
Percentage of Total Energy that is Fossil Fuels: The rapid conversion away from fossil fuels to all forms of clean, non-polluting energy is crucial. Currently the percentage of global energy that is obtained from fossil fuels is 77%.7 This number is now measured annually. The 2030 goal is no more than 30% of global energy provided by fossil fuels.
Global and National Annual Totals of Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Currently humanity is emitting approximately 37 gigatons of greenhouse gases each year. GHG emissions are invisible. The several millimeter rise in sea level each year is hard to see. It is essential that these top 20 emitting countries lead the way. If the goal is to limit energy from fossil fuels to 30% by 2030, these top 20 countries, currently responsible for 79% of emissions, could get to 10% and the other 175 countries would not have to do anything at all. At the very least, the United States, China and the Eurozone must bear the largest burden as they are the largest three producers of greenhouse gases in the world – currently and historically.
Business Sector Percentages of Total Emissions: Different segments of the economy will experience different degrees of difficulty in reducing their respective emissions totals. The most straightforward position is to move on all sectors at once, keeping the overall goal in focus: lowering GHG emissions every year.
Reduction of CO2 Parts Per Million (PPM) in Atmosphere: As of this writing, the CO2 PPM in earth’s atmosphere has reached the highest number in three million years. It is at 415 PPM. This is the critical issue relative to global warming and hence climate change. Even dramatically reduced annual emissions will add to this PPM number. Resident CO2 continues to accumulate as CO2 stays in the atmosphere for decades and even centuries. We must measure this number on an annual basis with the goal of reducing it to 350 or below by 2030
Energy: The goal is to transition off fossil fuels ASAP. Fossil Fuels. Wind and Solar- Solar and wind currently represent 7% of energy used globally6 and 10% of U.S. energy. Hydroelectric- Hydroelectric power currently supplies 18% of global energy usage. Geothermal- Geothermal currently comprises only 1% of global energy usage. Ocean Energy- It refers to the renewable kinetic energy (i.e. motion) derived from waves and tides. Nuclear- It will be an integral technology on our journey to a Finite Earth Economy by 2030. The arguments for nuclear are rational and based upon hard data and critical need. The arguments against it are based on emotion and misperceptions. Space-Based Solar Power. Energy Storage Technology. Future Sources of Energy: Nuclear Fusion- ITER will be the first fusion device to produce net energy (produces more energy than what was required to generate it). ITER will be the first fusion device to maintain fusion for long periods of time. Agricultural Technologies- The agriculture business sector is the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions and therefore a top priority to change how and where food is grown, and what technologies might help in the lowering of emissions.
Lab-based Meat - The production of meat, particularly beef, comes at a high cost. It is the least efficient way to deliver nutrients to humans. It generates massive amounts of greenhouse gases in its production and transportation. Other undesirable factors of meat production include that animals must be slaughtered, and the antibiotics and growth hormones given to them at factory farms are then consumed by humans. If current meat production processes were replaced with lab-grown meat, it is estimated that 40% less energy would be required, 80% less land would be needed, and 80 to 90% less water would be used.
Transportation Automotive - 100 years ago, society moved from horse and buggy to internal combustion engine. Now we are moving from internal combustion to electric and perhaps hydrogen powered vehicles.
Autonomous Vehicles - The technology is viable, but there will be a lag time before the public, and many legislators, are ready to accept cars without drivers on the open roads. Here are some statistics that may help. 97% of all driving fatalities globally are due to “driver error”. The other major statistic is that in the U.S. the average car is used only 5% of the time. Now, envision a reality where there are autonomous cars constantly on the streets, roads and highways 20 to 22 hours a day (autonomous EVs will drive themselves to a charging station a couple of times a day). They are always available to people who need a lift. This means that by 2030 there could be half as many cars on the road as today. People would still be able to get where they need to be when they need to get there… and they’ll spend a lot less to do so. We don’t need to spend hundreds of billions on light rail or some other costly endeavor. We have the green infrastructure in place: the Interstate Highway system! With half as many cars on the road, traffic will be a non-issue. This will allow governments at all levels to save money on unnecessary infrastructure projects and instead invest in helping citizens transition from a car culture to a shared vehicle culture.
Air Travel - The good news about air travel is that it has roughly an 81% occupancy rate, making it the most efficient in terms of passenger load. The bad news is that air travel accounts for approximately 12% of all GHG emissions. In the past couple of years there has been a nascent development of electric batteries for air travel.
Technological Environmentalism / Fourth Wave of Environmentalism
Drawdown This is the strategic, data driven effort to reduce existing and future GHG emissions by reengineering how we do things and what we can use as intelligent replacements to the current carbon intensive reality of today. It can be used as an umbrella term for any technology or process that reduces carbon emissions (whether at the source or by removing CO2 from the atmosphere).
Carbon Capture This is the process of capturing carbon that is a byproduct of fossil fuel production. It is primarily used in the processing of “clean coal”.48 The current limitation to the growth of its use is that a C02 aftermarket has not fully developed. In addition to reuse, the carbon that is captured can also be sequestered. This technology must be further developed to increase efficiency and to lower cost. Then it must be deployed to every source of fossil fuel production. ASAP.
Sequestration This is the back end of carbon capture. It takes C02 and sequesters it in the earth, deep underground or elsewhere in a fashion that prevents the CO2 from escaping back into the atmosphere.
Carbon Offsets The idea is that if I do not have a carbon neutral footprint, then I can buy or invest in a carbon capture plan to offset my carbon emissions. Paying for the planting of trees is a simple example. A tree can consume up to 48 pounds of C02 per year.49 To improve on that, artificial trees are being produced and sold that can absorb more than 1000 times that. The other option is to invest/buy into one of the above carbon technologies as an offset.
Direct Air Capture Direct air capture scrubs CO2 directly from the ambient air. Removing CO2 to reduce the amount resident in the atmosphere is a major goal.
Atmospheric Cleansing This is a future technology to reduce C02 in higher altitudes of the atmosphere. There has been research done on how the upper atmosphere cleanses itself of pollutants and that it can be a balanced process.
Seawater Capture Seawater capture is akin to direct air capture, except CO2 is extracted from seawater instead of air. By reducing CO2 concentration in the ocean, the water then draws in more carbon from the air to regain balance.
Enhanced Weathering Some minerals naturally react with CO2, turning carbon from a gas into a solid. The process is commonly referred to as “weathering,” and it typically happens very slowly – on a geological timescale.
High Risk Technologies Geoengineering Geoengineering is the creation of massive engineering projects to significantly alter Earth’s atmosphere to offset global warming.
Timelines and Attainable Milestones It is essential to have a global mobilization on all fronts. The top 10 polluting countries must take the lead and must be held accountable by the rest of the world. All metrics set forth in this book – and others that will be adopted – must be accomplished by the suggested timeline above. Daily measurements of all metrics are taken and communicated to all of humanity. Urgency must be internalized in all levels of society. Some nations will move more quickly than others. Citizens will push their political leaders to meet their national commitments.
Design and Redesign We are living in a world primarily designed for a population of 2.5 billion. In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people alive. Today in 2019 there are approximately 7.7 billion! Humanity must redesign its thinking around population. Until recently, population growth was perceived as a good thing.
First, Improving medical science and sanitation has largely extended life expectancy. Second, religions have always wanted to populate the planet with offspring (therefore increasing the number of their “faithful”). Third, an expanding population has a direct correlation to GDP. More people means more consumption, which means more production and a higher GDP
We have to completely redesign the 20th century electrical grid to the more decentralized, distributed energy landscape of this century. We need to redesign all forms of industry, transportation and daily life from being powered by fossil fuels to being powered by clean, non-polluting energy sources. It’s a gargantuan (and exciting) design effort.
Designers and engineers who use the process of whole-systems problem solving consider the relationships among complex systems, instead of focusing on individual parts of systems. This is important because challenges such as climate change represent a set of interconnected issues that can’t be solved in isolation. By taking a big-picture view and considering the whole system, the most important opportunities often arise, and can be incorporated, early in the process. By all means, we should continue to reduce, reuse and recycle; as well as develop sources of clean energy and green technologies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. But those are half measures. In the Finite Earth Economy, we want to continue (and expand) our current quality of life, so we should borrow design and production techniques from Mother Nature.
The collapse of physical retail in the last decade has created countless numbers of vacant big box stores. They can be converted into vertical gardens that have four to six crop yields per year. Intercropping or companion gardening intersperses different varieties of crops and plants that are mutually beneficial to each other.
Staggered planting, whether at indoor vertical farms or intercropped farms, staggers when a crop is planted. Instead of planting an entire field at once, one section is planted every couple of weeks to let the soil rest and lengthen the harvest. Indoor farms can do staggered planting year round. If there’s a glut in the market for a certain crop, the farmer can plant something else.
Urban agriculture is much less mechanized so there’s no need for the cost and debt of large farm machinery. Whole systems problem solving combined with holistic design is at the center of all that we need to do. Biomimicry and Cradle to Cradle design must be further developed, expanded and deployed as central design concepts for a Finite Earth Economy. Agriculture, the leading producer of GHG emissions must be completely redesigned. How we grow, where we grow, what we grow, and what we eat will all be redesigned. Moving to a Finite Earth Economy means completely redesigning the global economy, the biggest systems thinking and holistic design project in history.