When we talk about the green economy, it does not mean we are speaking of something that is good vs. something bad. Instead, we speak about an economy where we use and reuse all resources as if they were our last ones. A green economy is about caring for the health of our very vulnerable ecosystems and natural resources: Letting nature do what is does best, and working with these processes, not derailing, blocking or altering them.
So how do you build the new Eco Economy? Is it possible? Yes it is, and it is beginning to flourish. A great example is the Appliance Recycling Centers of America joint venture with GE. These plants are the beginning of what we can expect a lot of in the coming decades. They recycle and reuse 98% of the materials in old appliances. But what is fantastic is the whole system and how it deconstructs the appliance and then optimizes each piece and part to its best application. The website for Planet911 is very interesting as they are tracking each piece that is recycled and the businesses that are being created and pushing this agenda with great success.
This is a complete rethinking of a process and system. A careful evaluation of the economy and the resources needed bring to light many of the opportunities in the Eco Economy. Most economic theory suggests that there are no finite resources in the long term and scarcity is temporary, as every component has a replacement one. The substitution principal guides most economic models. Now it is becoming clear that it is not so. We cannot replace fisheries, nor key minerals, nor even ore itself, or our tropical forests. Even worse, we cannot undo the massive amount of destruction and contamination of water, soil and air from shale oil and gas or coal mountain top removal or industrial agriculture. These resources are truly irreplaceable. These are natural systems that have prospered, thrived and adapted for the ages and we have the ability to destroy them in a mater of years. Nature is dynamic and adapts to all sorts of shocks and events but not at the speed we are moving.
To keep the Earth’s natural systems we cannot extract a resource, produce something, use it and then throw it out. We need to repurpose and reuse everything. We must make sure nothing is wasted. A byproduct or waste stream from one process becomes the input for another. Systems are intertwined and working with nature in a way that is robust resilient and fault tolerant. Why don’t we do this today? It’s simple: The cost of recycling is higher than extracting, building, producing from scratch or new.
We do not have a true costing of the externalities that exposes the hidden cost to people or to the environment. So lets create a system of cost accounting that includes that of natural systems and resources. This will help us appreciate what we have around us and live harmoniously within our environment.