I’ve been giving some serious thought to what kind of economy/society we could have to replace our current model of waste and exploitation that will soon be breaking down. (Please see earlier posts about why and how. In this post I want to focus on what could be next).
I think what we should have is a closed loop economy. This means that it will consist of closed loop systems which produce no waste because every output acts as an input to another system, creating a complex and interconnected web – much like a natural ecosystem. So for example, you would use the inputs of paper, wood, time and energy with a wood-burning stove to get the outputs of heat, light, ambience, smoke and ash. The first three are the desired products – but smoke and ash are not necessarily desired. However to close those loops you would need to find useful things to do with them. Ash could be added to a composting system (heap) to create highly useful compost. Wood smoke could perhaps be used to smoke foodstuffs in the chimney? This is only a basic example, and it would take more effect when applied to some thing like a manufacturing system. Every output is linked to a position where it can be a useful input, not just left in an inappropriate place to be a pollutant. Think of every by-product as an opportunity. Consider the most useful by-product in the world: Oxygen. It’s a side-effect of green plants’ photosynthesis, but does it go to waste? Hell no! Not only do the plants use it themselves in aerobic respiration, it makes the entire animal kingdom possible with this same essential function. I doubt we have any other things that have quite that much potential, but I guess you never know! The general principles of permaculture are highly relevant to this. The main idea is to let nothing go to waste, and to create as many links and relationships as possible.
And it’s not just connections between systems that we want, it’s social connections as well. Communities should be designed for as many positive social links as possible, making them more resilient. Lastly, diversity is paramount. In an ecosystem, the higher the biodiversity is the stronger the ecosystem is. This is the case pretty much across the board… Farms are more productive per acre if they have a wide diversity of crops and products, communities are more interesting and have a larger communal skill set if they have a diverse variety of types of people living in them.
My thinking behind all this is that wouldn’t it be good to base our human socio-ecosystems on natural ecosystems? Nature has had billions of years to get good at design – much longer than us. Natural systems are cohesive, resilient and productive, and are obviously not hugely damaging to the whole planet like ours are. Please don’t confuse this for me saying we should all go back to being hunter-gather-ers or something. I’m all for civilisation! Like, real civilisation, where we create healthy and meaningful lives for everyone in the world (not just the top fraction), where we work with and in harmony with nature and act as stewards for the Earth, where we are bathed in rich and vibrant culture and have made peace among nations – focusing instead on developing our full potential. Civilisation which we are yet to know and enjoy, basically. So yes, I think it would be great to design our human systems to be as similar to wild ecosystems as possible. But of course we’re going to design them to suit our needs. Hopefully, in a way that meets them more fully than what we have now. We are a part of nature, but at the same time we can hardly ignore the fact that we’re different to any other creature, and so obviously have different needs. We need to just take the principles of design from wild nature and adapt them in ways that suit us. Our cities are not going to look quite like forests, although a lot more green spaces wouldn’t go a miss. We should celebrate our place in nature, and then also celebrate what makes us human. I mean, animals haven’t caused climate change, but they do kill each other’s babies on a frequent basis. We don’t go a bundle on that. So let’s take the framework of natural ecosystems, and then build on that with our positive human elements… Empathy, ethics, consciousness, art, music, culture, science, technology, curiosity…
Sooooooo… Your thoughts on my thoughts?