The Circular Revolution
In the sixteenth century, the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus made a profound discovery: the sun, not the earth, was at the centre of the known universe. At the time, many denounced Copernicus’s insight as heresy against established Christian doctrine; eventually, of course, the Copernican Revolution paved the way toward a new, scientific worldview and enhanced human prosperity. Today, the world needs a similar paradigm shift. But this time, it is the prevailing economic model that must be transformed. By 2030, the global middle class will total nearly five billion people, all of whom will expect the same kinds of opportunities and comforts that wealthy populations have long enjoyed. This will put increasing strain on the environment and deplete the world’s stock of resources.
The problem is that the world has long maintained a myopic focus on producing and consuming goods as cheaply as possible. The result is a linear economy based on the rapid use, disposal, and replacement of goods.
Sustaining the current model would require unlimited, easily accessible resources and infinite space for waste – something that clearly is not possible. Indeed, the consequences of our disposable economy – skyrocketing CO2 emissions, unmanageable waste streams, and the increasing difficulty of extracting resources, to name a few – are already apparent.
To find a sustainable alternative, one need only look to nature, where nothing is wasted. Forests, for example, are completely efficient systems, with species’ lifecycles occurring in perfect harmony with the seasons. This underpins levels of resilience and longevity that economic systems should strive to emulate.
Just as ecosystems reuse everything in an efficient and purposeful cycle, a “circular” economic system would ensure that products were designed to be part of a value network, within which the reuse and refurbishment of products, components, and materials would ensure the continual...
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