Replacing Energy by Countless Jobs or Activities
Moving from endless growth to endless jobs, since we have no other choices
Paul Hawken wrote in his famous book The Ecology of Commerce: “[…] we have to look at how our present economic system consistently rewards short-term exploitation while penalizing long-term restoration, and then eliminate the ill-placed incentives that allow small sectors of the population to benefit at the expense of the whole.” He went on by saying: “we have no economic vision of what a country or world could be like that is both reducing its impact and material possessions while actually increasing work and job security.” And, “We need to imagine a life where having less is more satisfying, more interesting, and more secure.”
“Economist Kenneth Boulding described this economy many years ago, one in which an affluent life “will have to be combined with a curious parsimony… every grain of sand will have to be treasured, and the waste and profligacy of our own day will seem so horrible that our descendants will hardly be able to bear to think about us.”
From the Fake to the Real Economy
Our economic model has been based on the fake belief that we can grow endlessly without any proper understanding of the costs incurred to the environment. Up to this day we believe that the economic is separated from the environmental, and, on top of this, our artificial world is disconnecting us completely with the realities in which we live in.
In graphs on economic growth, we are only being told about the “good story” — here the blue arrow — of the economic prosperity. In economic books, we have never come across the hidden growth of the environmental depletion — here in red.
It is about time to include them both. This new economic model is called the Circular Economy, and is widely described as being restorative and regenerative by design. Yet, there is a tendency of over-looking at what we want to achieve with the Circular Economy: a real decoupling of our pressure on resources from advancing the humans (not the growth).
Our Rooms for Innovation
We have finally come to realize that our world is finite. The Circular Economy is helping us understand the way we should align ourselves and our businesses with natural cycles. Re-designing our system giving equitable chances — so that we can all thrive — could therefore be also possible.
The Circular Economy is our best path towards well-being, yet, as long as it is properly designed, as several paradigm shifts are required. Changing the relation between the environment and the economy is great, but the need to change ourselves while embedding humans within that model is even greater. This is well explained in the recent research called “Circular Economy Rebound” (Zinc & Geyer, 2017) where a potential solution to avoid rebound is to address social needs over economic ones.
We have built an economic model which has been highly destructive to our planet. What we call the Technosphere (technical goods circulating in our economy), based on fossils, is at the origin of most damages made to the Earth. Fixing the cracks will not be easy. One way to achieve this could be to look at where highest stocks of resources are.
There are two such stocks:
- The stock of BioSphere — this is our endless and biggest source of innovations. This is a self-regenerated eco-systemic metabolism that helps us understand ways to create abundance of flows;
- The stock of Humans — we are numerous and growing fast, yet, we tend to overlook our own potential;
This is our opportunity to rethink our model by digging in the right places: where rooms for innovation could be unlimited.
Abundance = Biosphere + Humans
Our Technosphere (as depicted in the “Butterfly Diagram” of The Ellen MacArthur Foundation) depends on elements. They are our “Limited Resources”. They are to be preserved and their quality maintained at the highest value possible. Our primary focus here is to reduce energy, unleash access (over ownership) and maintain the value high.
Our Biosphere follows natural cycles. It is our “Disappearing Resources”. Yet, we can all learn from the way nature regenerates itself so that we aim at developing all aspects of our life according to the abundance of flows. Our primary focus here should be about mimicking those cycles.
Us, Humans. We represent here the “Abundant Resources”. According to Walter R. Stahel, we are highly versatile and represent an endless source of energy. This very fragile stock of resources needs to keep education, knowledge and skills as high as possible at all times.
Although highly valuable, there is no dedicated sphere about “us”.
A Marshall Plan with Sizable Consideration
We need a Marshall Plan where rewards would be the re-abondance of environmental services and the re-investment in human capital. The decision making process — also called “the Golden Rule” — would be to first rebuild the Natural Capital, then focus on the Human Capital prior to look at solutions in the Re-manufactured Capital.
Preserving and rebuilding our Biosphere is our common priority number one. The only time we should pronounce the word “growth” is for the Biosphere, no other sphere. Yet, protecting both, the Technosphere and the Biosphere, requires us to question our role in-between these two.
How are we going to best preserve them without changing our relations with them?
The Human Capital needs to be used adequately to rebuild the Biosphere and maintain the Technosphere, so that we could address our needs for advancement in a clever manner. By disseminating the Human Capital into both, we could change the equation, i.e. in reconsidering our relation with nature and the “real” role of the economy (back to its original definition of providence and carefulness).
For instance, jumping straight into the Technosphere by believing that technologies are our best choice, might not be wise. Replacing humans by robots, considered far more efficient, is not very effective. Humans could instead power robots assisting them thanks to our endless stock of energy. That is efficient and effective, therefore innovative. This could be our best way to reduce energy, one of the top priority.
The Adapted Butterfly Diagram
There is a need to integrate human flows as part of this diagram to understand whether we are creating value in the both spheres. The original approach of the diagram was to explain ways to move from a linear economy (the central spine) to create feedback loops. Integrating humans in it (thanks to the Humansphere) only helps us see our potential role(s) in an advanced circular scenario while preserving a balance between all spheres.
On one hand, our relation with the Biosphere should evolve. The Adaptation Strategy — whereby we see ourselves as endless energy and endless resources — is our approach. Inspired by the famous example of the ants: they weight more than all humans on the planet, yet they build our ecosystems every day. Why not us? Why not developing a strategy where we would recreate and expand the Biosphere?
The feedback loop from the Biosphere is about providing us with better living conditions and better food (the Evolving Strategy).
On the other hand, humans should be considered endless energy and services to enhance the value of the Technosphere (the Valorisation Strategy). Here, we would considered ourselves as a highly skilled and knowledgeable stock of resources. Repairing goods and solving problems collaboratively could be efficiently and effectively done by us.
The feedback loop from the Technosphere provides us with accesses to a world of experiences (the Advancement or Development Strategy). Redesigned with less energy and less primary resources, this sphere would be advancing us towards “real” progress.
Being Restorative Beings
There are two main business model from the Humansphere:
- Humans-as-Resources: this is our Input Model. We are nature. As part of it, we will define adaptable strategies rebuilding the Biosphere using our energy and our matter;
- Humans-as-Services: this is our Output Model. We are power. Using our endless energy to provide services that would care for the Technosphere is our best option to avoid a Circular rebound;
Examples abound in both models. Here are just some of them that could help us think forward and innovate even further:
Dycle (Humans-as-Matter): young families in Berlin are provided with free bio-compostable diapers for their newly born babies in exchange of the babies’ input. Collected in a central service point, this human-based solution is used to prepare a rich black humus that would help grow fruit trees. By creating a new loop, Dycle provides diapers and generates its benefits from selling fruits.
Permaculture (Humans-as-Ecosystem-Builders): the famous permaculture film-maker John D. Liu has proven throughout many years of filming that we can rebuild large ecosystems (dry mountains, deserts, etc.) with the understanding of how systems work. His movies show deserts and mountains in Ethiopia, China and Jordan turned into lush forests with their water cycles being rebuilt.
The Maoxian Ladies (Humans-replacing-Bees): in the Sichuan Region of China, bees have disappeared. Carefully using their endless energy, the Maoxian ladies are hand-pollinating fruit trees by carrying the pollen into each flower in the trees. While finding a way to rebuild the community of bees in the region, they are replacing the functions once assumed by the bees, ensuring the continuum of our system.
Senegalese Mangroves (Humans-protecting-Fishes): known as the largest mangroves in the world, villagers in Senegal have for the past ten years decided to act on the disappearing mangroves, protecting the population of fishes so that their reproduction process is occurring. By rebuilding the mangroves, villagers will ensure their access for food in the coming years while reducing the unbalance of their ecosystem.
Mercedes-Benz (Humans-assisting-Robots): earlier this year, humans returned to the manufacturing plant of Sindelfingen, Germany, as robots could not keep up with the high level of customisation required with S-Class cars. Highly versatile and adaptable instantly, workers are now assisting robots so that a better service is delivered providing both efficiency (robots & humans) and effectiveness (humans).
Suame Car Repair Cluster (Humans-extending-Life-Use): for years, Ghanaian had to use second-hand cars shipped from Europe with no or a limited amount of spare parts. Humans’ imaginative strategies have been applied organically. Growing into a cluster of now nearly 12,000 businesses employing 200,000 people, the Suame car cluster shows how adaptative and innovative people have been to ensure cars stay in a functioning state in the streets of Accra the longest time possible (from 10 to over 30 years).
Hand Repaired Goods (Humans-as-Service): last year, Sweden was the first country to pass a law that would give preference to human-based activities of fixing and repairing consumer goods. The VAT tax dropped from 25% to 12%, a great starting point to unleash the power of labour to service most goods in Sweden so that they last longer.
Removing tax on businesses is a desired move, and one expects other countries to follow. Removing or reducing drastically tax on labour is even more important.
A Future of Endless Jobs or Activities
This is what aims to achieve the Ex’Tax Project(Value Extracted Tax). First initiated by Eckart Wintzen (1939–2008), Ex’tax is the proposal to bring tax on natural resource use up and tax on labour down. “This creates incentives to save natural resources. It also makes services more affordable and boosts manpower, craftsmanship and creativity.” In the Ex’Tax report, estimates have been calculated to make this proposal a viable one for Governments, for businesses, for us the potential employees, for the people, and more especially for the planet.
Ex’Tax is our first step towards the full implementation of a desired Humansphere unleashing our energies, our powers and endless innovation.
Let us now look at the generic estimates of the number of jobs created by tons of goods:
Source: Rreuse.org 2015
In an incineration-based economy, we create one job for every 10,000 tons of goods;
In a landfill-based economy, we create six jobs per 10,000 tons of goods;
In a recycling-based one, 36 jobs;
In a service-based model, i.e. an early stage Circular Economy scenario, 296 jobs could be created!;
And now let us add our human-based business models:
In an advanced scenario where Ex’Tax is implemented (Humans-as-Service model), how many more jobs could therefore be invented? 200 more? 400 more per 10,000 tons of goods?
In a very advanced scenario where Humans-as-Resource model rebuilds nature, how many more endless jobs or activities could we be creating?
A distributed economy based on highly versatile services can only be inclusive of its people. This new paradigm has to reward what is desired so to benefit from 1% to 100% of us.
Surprisingly, it is doable. What are we waiting for?