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Tristan

(1)

Your article is brilliant as always, and sums it all up : Growth is not sustainable. Boundless continuous growth is impossible in an finite and bounded world and must stop sooner or later. Whether in chosen and planned ways, or out of resource depletion, ecologic annihilation and scarcity wars, is up to us to choose, and circular economy pleas just fool us if they don't tackle the growth issue.

I would suggest for those interested to read about François Roddier, should he some day be translated in other languages. He discusses the issue of thermodynamic and entropy in very different aspects of physics, biology, human history and information society. Each time the structures more able to dissipate energy impose themselves to the detriment of the others. It may be the case of galaxies, hurricanes, living cells more adapted to an environment and therefore to thrive until they plunder their resources and disappear or evolve into some more complex or adapted form of life.

The Roman Empire or Capitalism and its techniques as well, impose themselves to everything, provided its stability is based on continuous expansion. You can not plunder twice a village's gold or an oil field, you have to go further to pay your soldiers or lure investors.

Now we could consider the hypothesis of a growthless private means of production system. Or if you prefer a "steady state économy" as classical economists were fearing and J.S. Mill was wishing. Piketty explained us in his best seller that capitalism with a rentabily rate superior to income growth only can create inequality, since a bigger part of the global income is always more invested back in capital.

The issue in which we are with the degrowth claim, is that, once it is admitted and the consistent policies are implemented, nobody would be able to find legitimacy in a system of ownership that creates growing inequality and does not promises plenty and opulence anymore.
That is why the issue of degrowth remain a political taboo even though it is necessary.

Paul Harris

(2)

Well said. You can’t square a circular economy with growth. Simple as that.

Daniel

(3)

I have to say I disagree with much of what is written here. Yes, growth is difficult to reconcile with sustainable outcomes and may be a major flaw in the circular economy, but try convincing society to cut down or reduce use, and they will flat out reject it. 100% circularity is of course also impossible, but many of the other aims of circular economy are actually on extending lifetimes of our stocks to reduce consumption of resources, be they buildings, electronics or other.

The first priority of fairphone is that the resources used are conflict-free and re-use not recycling. Normally the approach is to say resources in stocks accumulate, then also leave stocks again at some point in the future - this does not have to be in 1-2years as implied, but can also be 100-200 years timescale. Particularly on building we need longer lasting structures to reduce resource use.

The circularity gap report shows how far we are from a circular economy - at the moment they estimate that just 9.1% of resources are cycled worldwide. Even if we manage to get this up to just 20%, would this not be a positive outcome? The point is not that we can't get 100% circularity, rather that it highlights where our current systems waste on such a massive scale today.

Circular economy communicates these system failures. Take eg mobility: a car is driven 5% of the time, it's efficiency of fuel to movement is maybe 20% and you transport one human with 2 tons of steel. This supposedly efficient production chain represents something like 2% efficiency at doing the task of moving humans. Not only this, but we waste 50% of the space in our cities with roads. So far CE is the only convincing vision where you can also get producers on side politically to change their processes - and they are the ones you ultimately have to convince to stop producing if you follow a 'stop growth' approach.

In the future we will need to aim not just for 100% renewable energy, but abundant renewable energy. Again a pipe dream, but reach it and then you can start to implement recycling processes which currently are unfeasible from an environmental point of view. In fact I don't see the 20% of fossil fuels usage as a dent in the argumentation of circular economy, I see it as another very good reason why we have to stop using fossil fuels.

Jamie

(4)

I find this a most negative article which basically says: 'We are doomed - doomed...' I would also quote Goethe: 'Whatever you can do, or dream you can do.....begin it. Boldness has genius, power & magic in it.'

Unless we start, most likely individually, to look at our 'growth' economy and try and come up with solutions, again individually, then a solution or answers will start to happen. Knocking holes in any effort to come up with alternatives is not the answer.

In my lifetime, 66 years, the population has grown from approx. 2 B to now nearly 8 B - one answer to solve the food supply issue is for 1/2 the worlds (Overweight.) population to eat 1/2 of what they are presently eating......

ijk_ijk

(5)

"Circular economy" is just another word to try to maintain the same old vision of perpetual growth. Just propaganda.
Only stupid and interested people can count on propaganda slogans.

You are too much soft and kind about these criminal uses of the language. These new words come from people who live in a very rich part of the world, may be big companies or universities and they don't have any idea how to live without cars and credit cards...

http://ravennapensa.blogspot.com/2018/03/economia-circolare.html

Kostas

(6)

Very nice article once again. I recommend to use the previous method of referencing by putting the reference number in the point in the text it wants to explain. It makes it easier for someone to go to a specific source to validate a point.

David Bourguignon

(7)

"That’s why solar panels, wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries are not recycled, but landfilled or incinerated."

This assertion seems sketchy, to say the least. Eg. there has been recent progress on the solar panels' side: https://www.pv-magazine.com/2018/10/16/high-yield-recycling-of-pv-modules-demonstrated-by-eu-team/

There could be also recent advances regarding the two others. Why not mentioning them? By stating upfront that recycling is currently difficult, you are right. But considering it will always stay so, is dubious, especially if it becomes an economic opportunity (as it is the case for PV panels).

Amit Baum

(8)

Although human indiference to our planet's destruction, I wouldn't rule out completely this new mantra. People and industries need general guidelines to follow, and the governments should shape these as best as they can to improve constantly.

After my 2nd master degree in sustainability and numerous sustainability projects, I realized that the best way for me to approach this terrifying and massive global problem is by just trying my best to implement all of the theoretical knowledge that I acquired in this field in changing consumption patterns.

My partner and I left both our jobs and opened DeliKaktus Café ( http://www.delikaktus.de ), a sustainable vegan restaurant and bakery that offers all its food also for take-away with a deposit system. We thrive to minimize waste in the food production and the packaging, and our costumers love the food and the idea in whole. If we would manage to prove that at least the food industry could be 10 folds more efficient and maybe also sustainable, that would be at least a life achievement for us.

eric

(9)

That's why, on recycle symbols, it says Reduce first. Demand overwhelms sustainability. Just remember folks, Reduce Reuse Recycle.

RKP

(10)

Taking most things to their literal extreme (as this article does) makes them laughable (or cryable). Circular economy is a goal and the value is in the journey, not the unattainable ultimate. The comments to this article are quite good, if a bit obscure and hard to read. (I think Tristan means "Piketty explained to us ... that capitalism with a rentability (profit) rate [higher than] income growth can only create inequality, since a bigger part of the global income is always invested (by the rich) back into capital (to make them richer).') Assume we can find a way out of the inequality trap (a separate question). Then a circular economy, where resources are recycled and 'infinite' solar and wind and/or nuclear energy is added sustainably becomes at least a reasonable target. 'Growth' does not have to be in size. The electronics industry is a beautiful example of how a huge amount of growth in jobs and profits and perceived human value has come while actually decreasing the aggregate physical size of computers, phones and TVs.

Danno

(11)

"A product thus becomes a service, which is believed to encourage businesses to improve the lifespan and recyclability of their products."

The push to remove the concept of ownership, thereby undermining consumer law, is one of the prime motivating forces from the Corporate Collective, against society. Personal possession is a keystone to a healthy market, IMO - to have someone else own your necessities, is to introduce serfdom back into our world.

You may only purchase the right to use the King's possessions...

Tara

(12)

I really enjoyed this article. I have issues with the idea of the circular economy because of the energy used to transport and collect materials. I live in a rural part of Canada, any materials to be recycled and or processed have to be transported to a recycling or waste depot or site, through local governments. The likelihood of individual companies wanting to have anything to do with rural pick-ups or collection is very remote.
If we look at transitioning to services such as light rather than a light bulb for example, I think the price of everything will just go up and up. This transition has been made for many software packages and with annual fees the costs have gone up considerably for some software.
The same goes for wastes that could be recycled. I have been involved in building demolition projects where everything ends up in the local landfill site, almost nothing is recycled. This is because of a lack of facilities to handle specialized wastes, again in rural locations.
Everything is not doom and gloom as some previous comments have suggested. If we look at what we really need, to live a good life, we will find we need a lot less material goods than most of us have now. We are currently trying to fulfill our non material needs with material stuff. We really need more creativity, participation, connection, recreation and freedom. This does not need more stuff.

jol25

(13)

Oblige makers/industries to build final products that you can easily repair or recycle. Plan from scratch the end of life of everything made. This would be a good start... Most of recycle is less energy consuming that building from raw resources.

Daniel

(14)

Dear Friends, where is the low tech mindset? We need to create the corporate circles and reject the ladders! Growth-as-practiced is obviously not the way to go but growth IS natural and desirable. Have you ever heard of a rain forest or coral reef that is too dense, too big or experiencing "bad" growth? Of course not!

I appreciate it is too tempting to pick apart, but why not pick a part? Lets explore what could be in our tiny little part of the whole. We know that ecologically there is no such thing as waste. We understand that "waste" is an individual organismal viewpoint and not a part of the whole-earth view. Some things you eat and some things you excrete and never should the two meet! (I'm channeling my inner Doctors: Seuss and Bronners ;)

What would it take to go full circle? How are you trying? Do you recognize that the circle is the key to balancing our planet?

I love this website and your musings....

Henry

(15)

Daniel - the rainforest or coral reef will grow until they reach a resource limit. They are self-limiting, unlike humans. Our resource limit will not result in an awakening to a beautiful, social world of wooden windmills and a connexion to natural processes, but a dire population contraction and convulsion, if any people survive the transition from advanced capitalism to enforced steady-state frugality, assuming there's a habitable planet.

Endless growth is impossible, and a drastic reduction in material goods and modes of life that insist on them is the only feasible method of approaching this. That is the only 'sustainable development' and relies on the low-tech and person-heavy.

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