Integrating all stocks and flows, from a genuine symbiotic perspective.
by Alexandre Lemille (2019 update)
An Economy of Stocks and Flows
The circular economy is based on several concepts, two of which — biomimicry and permaculture — indicate that we live in complex yet orderly systems in which all resources and flows must be taken into account.
This economic model also emphasizes the need to park within a livable balance between resilience and efficiency of the systems on which we depend for our survival. Here, the sustainability of these systems is today a top priority.
The circular economy is a model based on the notions of regenerating our natural capital and restoring our reusable and re-manufacturable capital. Contrary to a model based on exploited resource utilization volumes, it is a matter of optimizing these resources and flows, in order to keep them as long as possible in our eco-systemic sphere (economy of system). This model is therefore an approach to better manage the quantity and preserve the quality of these stocks as well as to capture all the flows of all the renewed energies available.
Our Third Stock, a Dynamic Stock
When we inventories of available stocks and flows, we have biological nutrients from the biosphere and technical nutrients from the technosphere (or technical sphere). These are the two stocks favored today in the circular economy model.
The stock from the biosphere is disappearing at a fast pace. Our common priority is to deploy strategies to regenerate it. The aim here is to preserve its foundations and to replicate, in perfect mimicry, the Natural cycles in order to protect it while overcoming the agricultural needs of a world of ten billion inhabitants. The biosphere is by far the most important sphere because vital.
The stock of the technosphere must be preserved and therefore re-evaluated by questioning the way we access it. Here, we must estimate its potential to ensure that it meets the economic needs of the world’s population in a mode of intensive collaboration.
Yet, in designing a truly symbiotic model for the preservation of future generations, we could benefit from the dynamism of a third stock: we humans.
Indeed, it is the only one to develop and regenerate quickly: we will soon go from 7.6 billion to 10 billion people in the twenty-first century. Could this be good news rather than the scary perspective often described? We are not only abundant, but also available immediately in a new goal: to be in charge of the regeneration of our ecosystem.
If we analyze it with a “circular” angle, this one also seems to generate all kinds of energies in a continuous way, namely renewed daily. In order to move away from the current resource-depleted model, we could consider the totality of stocks and flows available in the eco-systemic design of a positive future for all. And this, on the condition that these stocks and flows are based on a notion of renewed abundance in order to bring the level of resilience necessary to the systems on which we depend. In addition, we will need to understand them from an innovative angle allowing real optimization to meet the needs of future generations.
Figure 1: All the Stocks and Flows present on Earth. In a “Circular Economy 2.0”*, we identify all stocks and flows, especially when they are available immediately and in abundance. We need to adapt our life systems to their dynamism and access.
New Human Roles
The accounting of all stocks and flows led to the realization of the graph of the adapted circular economy (Figure 2). When applying “circular thinking” to include humans, points of interaction with the biological sphere on the one hand (in green) and the technological sphere on the other (in blue) appear. Identifying these four intersections allows us to question what our future human roles might be in a model that is not only regenerative and restorative (circular economy) but also inclusive and just (circular economy 2.0*). Are we simply users of services in a new productive-focused model, or can we achieve something more attractive for all of us?
We are Nature. What would you say if we identify new innovative ways to rebuild our biosphere as part of our daily activities? It would require profound changes in our behavior and meaning to life on Earth.
We are Energy. Why not consider ourselves as a privileged source of energy, available locally, at an ambient temperature adapted to the preservation of our biosphere and our technosphere. This perspective would allow us to ask the right questions before looking for other solutions, often technological, and therefore exploitative.
Figure 2: The Circular Humansphere. In the perspective of applying “circular thinking” to humans, they could play two new major roles in the reconstruction of our biosphere and in the revalorisation of our technosphere.
The Circular Humansphere completes the symbiotic vision of all our stocks and our available flows. It gives us additional choices in our truly innovative decisions to put in place.
Examining biological and human stocks initially would alleviate the pressures on the technical and therefore limited.
4 Humansphere Strategies
Based on these two new roles — “we are Nature” and “we are Energy” — four strategies can be identified connecting us with the other two spheres identified as circulars.
The first two strategies focus on our ability to change and therefore to adapt in depth to the two spheres to be preserved:
Figure 3: Adaptation and Valuation Strategies. They consist in understanding our future roles in an economy of system context where humans will play several key roles in the preservation of the two spheres evolving under its impacts, positive or negative.
Adaptation Strategy (‘we are Nature’):
Here, we will seek to understand how humans will adapt to the growth of the biosphere, the only beneficial growth approach since desired. We could be inspired by the model of ants: they weigh more than all 7.6 billion people on the planet, yet rebuild our ecosystem every day. How could we develop a similar strategy merging ourselves to the biological world?
They could of course be the obvious massive collective actions (such as reforestation/ afforestation, regenerative agriculture, urban forests, reconstitution of wetlands and mangroves), but let us think further. And why not study our capacity to replace the disappearing environmental functions (human-assisted pollination, soil regeneration via humusation) until they reappear, and/or the development of new sciences reinforcing the ‘link with life’ by biomimetic (imitation of Natural cycles) and homomimetic (imitation of human cycles) approaches where humans could reconnect with Nature in order to rebuild it daily.
Valorisation Strategy (‘we are Energy’):
In this approach, energies from the biosphere and / or humans are favored. Indeed, to look at it, the renewable energies available also come from humans. Once we eat and sleep, we are energy available, distributed and working at ambient temperature acceptable to the biosphere. In approaches contrary to the productive-based principles of the past, these sources of biological or human energies will be favored in an economy focused on the reduction, repair, maintenance or reconstruction of the components involved in economic processes. A more balanced approach taking into account the human component is preferable to a binary approach between the biological and the technical. It would provide a third source of innovation, but also reduce the pressures on the two circular spheres identified so far, while increasing the resilience of long-term systems in a model that aims to be economically stationary (Bourg, Ansperger, 2016).
The following two strategies measure humanity’s advances towards the preservation of life on Earth on the basis of our deep enough adaptation (Evolution) while ensuring that system circularity aims to optimally respond to real human needs (Advanced3).
Figure 4: Evolution and Advancement3 Strategies. They aim to measure our impacts in order to understand the return loops from biological (adaptation to ecosystems guaranteeing well-being) and technical spheres (advances in human well-being) over human one. They consist in evaluating the remaining distance to be traveled towards a circular and equitable world.
This strategy is intended to help us understand how to maintain “connection with life” on Earth. It represents the feedback loop of the effects we exert on the biological sphere and beyond. Obviously, this is more of a scientific slider on the state of the planet and adaptations to take into account in the preservation of conditions conducive to the lives of all its inhabitants.
We will need to develop and maintain the knowledge necessary for global circularity as well as estimating the distance between our current linear situation and the level of circularity to be achieved in an environmentally secure and socially just world.
Advancement3 Strategy (well-being = adaptation + valorisation):
This strategy consists of measuring the advances of humanity in three dimensions: creating an economic model that generates the well-being of all for all (our unifying global project) through our adaptation to the biosphere sufficiently deep (Adaptation Strategy) plus our ability to protect human value as an essential component to the preservation of the technosphere (valuing humans as available energy). Obviously, to be able to measure positive change across these three dimensions, we will have to change our legislation, our understanding of value, our behavior and decision-making on what will now be vital, the structuring of the costs to be taken into account in order to give preference to what is desired (namely the abundant resources and infinite energies available) and what is to be protected (limited or even endangered resources) or to be avoided (resources or energies putting humanity at risk).
Humans as part of the “Life Equation”
Beyond considering humans as nature and energy, we must integrate three priorities into a vision that is both circular and equitable:
Figure 5: Priorities of the future economic model. This model will need to integrate all environmental, social and economic dimensions into a comprehensive symbiotic approach to regenerate, restore and protect. The first priority is to respond to all human needs through the circularity of systems in a model that eradicates all negative externalities step by step, while avoiding the rebound of consumption thanks to intergenerational governance.
Priority 1: The economy is a “tool” with the sole purpose of meeting the needs of people, not imposing its economic goals on people (K. Polanyi, 1946). Such an economy must be designed in a symbiotic way to meet the needs of all human societies, thanks to the circularity of our systems. This circularity becomes here the means to achieve it, and not an end in itself.
Priority 2: In an economic model where access to services has the advantage over the ownership of objects, the versatility and flexibility of these services would reduce economic barriers in order to integrate the one billion people who are not currently part of our economic system. It is in the very nature of a service that it is not only adaptable to the needs identified but also affordable, as versatile (compared to an economy based on standardized products, and therefore not flexible).
As Kate Pickett & Richard G. Wilkinson’s book “The Spirit Level” shows, businesses are doing better in more equitable societies.
Priority 3: The insertion of the human dimension into the circularity model now allows us to be an integral part of the “equation of life on Earth”, as a vital component of adaptation to the two circular spheres (Figure 2). This vision in complete symbiosis could allow us to evolve towards new perceptions and innovations in our ability to adapt to the ecosystem.
Such a perception of the world we depend on would also lead us to implement strategies that avoid a potential rebound in consumption. Changes in intrinsic behaviors could occur more quickly by integrating the human component into this new paradigm. An avoidance of such a rebound would be by decisions taken over the very-long-term based on the emerging science of “decentering” or “decentration”, as applied by the original tribes of the American continent ever since. “Decentration” is the ability to think of the place of future generations that are not yet born, to preserve life on Earth by deciding as if we were “these generations”.
To date, we have not been able to decide on the survival of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, both in our individual and collective decision making. Developing new capacities for decentralized collective governance that allows the survival of future generations would help us preserve life on this planet.
Such an equitable and circular economic model, also called the “Circular Economy 2.0”*, is built on the recognition that waste, pollution of the environmental dimension, and hence, their equivalents of the social dimension, namely, poverty and inequities, exist only in human societies. They were created on a wrong conception of human life on Earth. This design needs to be readjusted.
According to the NASA-funded model HANDY (2014), humanity will only survive if it resolves two of its major problems: deep social inequality and poor resource management.
By integrating a humansphere, an equitable circular economy could be one of the tools for reaching this environmentally safe and socially just space for human societies proposed by Dr. Kate Raworth, in Doughnut Economics.
Building an economy that is both “equitable” and “circular” seems like a wise choice, especially since equity makes business sense in a truly circular and therefore collaborative future economy.
And all this is achievable.
*The “Circular Economy 2.0” draws its foundations from the circular economy while integrating the social dimension represented here by the Circular Humansphere. In “Circular Economy 2.0” we recognize that not only waste and pollution do not exist in nature and must be designed outside of our systems. To this we add the equivalents of the social dimension, namely poverty and inequities, existing only in human societies. In addition to the three “Safe” Circular Principles oriented towards the preservation of the environment, we add three “Just” Circular Principles, preserving human value and social equity. More information on this model: www.AlexandreLemille.com