Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Sustainability Economics

Came across this interesting article by Robert U. Ayres (Ecol. Econ. 67: 281-310), which presents an assessment of where we stand on "sustainability economics." It's from 2008. In the somewhat academic lingo, one might recognize concepts that have been popularized in the few years since. I picked the following passages, but to better appreciate these endpoints you're encouraged to read the whole thing.

On Paul Gilding's The Great Disruption (p. 293):
" there a plausible scenario that could get us to a reasonable approximation of the zero-emissions world within a couple of generations? I believe there is such a scenario, viz. the solar hydrogen-plus-conservation economy, although the short name does not give sufficient emphasis to the equally important future roles of wind, tidal power, biomass, photovoltaic (PV) electricity, materials recycling, ultra-light electric vehicles, and possibly nuclear electricity. Nor does it give sufficient emphasis to the shift from “throw-away product orientation” to “lifetime service orientation” (IPS) in the manufacturing sector. Another name for the scenario could be “the spaceship economy”. However it is named, I believe this scenario is inevitable in the long run, if the world does not explode into resource wars and anarchy." And: "My core argument is that this combination of technological potential and demonstrated demand (reflecting a societal need) could trigger an industrial revolution of the first magnitude. Surprisingly, perhaps, none of the standard energy-economic forecasting models predict such a burst of creative activity" (my emphasis). A bit before: "There are no physical laws standing in the way. The major barriers are indifference, initial costs and vested interests."
On the Circular Economy (p.291):
"In the ultimate spaceship (or circular) economy the material cycle would have to be closed, or nearly so. On the other hand, such an economy must be extremely energy-(exergy)-intensive. Are there enough non-polluting sources of energy? The answer is probably ‘yes’ at least in the long run."

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