Building a world of
resilient communities.

MAIN LIST

 

Want not waste

The cries for a weekly waste collection as a human right give us a fine opportunity to introduce a classic green economy discussion into our bus-stop conversations. Waste is an obsolete concept: the future is one without waste where materials will circulate through our economy rather than entering as raw materials at one end and being dumped into landfill at the other.

This conception of the economy as circular is due to Kenneth Boulding, a leading figure in the development of a green approach to economics (and has now been picked up by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, where much detail can be found). Kenneth Boulding was born in Liverpool, UK in 1910 and studied at Oxford, Harvard and Chicago; he taught economics at Michigan and Boulder, Colorado. He began his career in fairly conventional economic vein, and achieved an impressive academic reputation for publishing and teaching. However, after the war he changed tack, attempting to fuse biology and economics in the book Evolutionary Economics published in 1944. This was the first attempt to synthesise the scientific aspects of economics and ecology and thus an important precursor to green economics.

As an early proponent of the need to move towards a non-growth or ‘steady state’ economy, Boulding used the contrasted images of the cowboy and the spaceman to explore our attitude to our environment. The cowboy, who finds his apotheosis in American capitalism, is always pushing outwards, expanding his available resources, finding ever new frontiers to exploit. The spaceman, by contrast, is forced to recognize the limits of what he has brought on his small ship:

‘Earth has become a single spaceship, without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for pollution, and in which, therefore, man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system which is capable of continuous reproduction of materials even though it cannot escape having inputs of energy.’

This image provides a stark illustration of two of the key principles of green economics: the importance of the circular flow of materials around the planet and the need to handle wastes positively. It is an interesting ironic development of this contrast that, with the NASA project to put a human being on the surface of Mars now itself using up a large quantity of earth’s resources, the cowboy will meet the astronaut at the final frontier: space.

Boulding was also critical of the straight-line thinking inherent in mainstream economics; this he described as ‘a linear economy . . . which extracts fossil fuels and ores at one end and transforms them into commodities and ultimately into waste products which are spewed out the other end into pollutable reservoirs’. This way of organising an economy was, he declared, ‘inherently suicidal’. His alternative was a prototype for the spaceship earth which he thought he had identified in the traditional village economy of Asia. Rather than a linear form this had a circularity built in—‘a high-level cyclical economy’. This was written nearly forty years ago and laid the groundwork for the closed-loop economy and the principles of permaculture that are now being translated into practical policy in calls for a zero-waste economy.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Sign up for regular Resilience bulletins direct to your email.

Take action!  

Find out more about Community Resilience. See our COMMUNITIES page
Start your own projects. See our RESOURCES page.
Help build resilience. DONATE NOW.

 

This is a community site and the discussion is moderated. The rules in brief: no personal abuse and no climate denial. Complete Guidelines.

Tags:  

Alternatives to Capitalism

It is said that capitalism believes in competition but hates competitors. …

Own a Home in Just Four Years? This Co-Op Program Keeps Workers in the Neighborhood

Alex Cedeño quit renting two years ago. Now, he has just two years …

Co-operatives Need to Confront Climate Chaos

The challenges for 2015 are the same ones we've failed as a movement to find …

Making Sense of the Sudden Market Plunge

The global deflationary wave we have been tracking since last fall is …

Back to the Future for Work

What if we’re slowly, or not so slowly, giving up on the idea of work?

Why Is Market Fundamentalism So Tenacious?

One of the great economists of the twentieth century had the misfortune of …

“Don’t Owe. Won’t Pay.” Everything You’ve Been Told About Debt Is Wrong

The legitimacy of a given social order rests on the legitimacy of its debts.