“It is exceeding hot in the Brazils”
– Robinson Crusoe
The ‘middle station’
Today, the world population is 8 billion. By 2050 it will be 10 billion. Most of this growth will happen in Asia, mainly in China and India, with an appetite for energy, healthcare, food, materials and the inevitable journey towards middle class comforts. Why would we deny them this aspiration? It’s what most of us have strived for. A warm house, food in the fridge, a car or bike, and leisure time to practice mindfulness. If China can introduce the concept of Intellectual Property Rights, then there’s no stopping them.
In the novel Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe, Crusoe’s father gives him “serious and excellent counsel, expostulating very warmly on the middle station in life. A state with the fewest distempers. Moderation, quietness, health and society were the blessings, so men can go smoothly through the world.”
Getting to this ‘middle station’, Asia will need oil and gas, which currently provide 55% of global energy. While the switch to renewables continues, hydrocarbons will play a crucial role for decades. Global energy demand is forecast to grow to mid-century. The Institute of Economic Affairs estimates that this needs $2 trillion investment each year and expects car numbers to double in that time.
What is the circular economy?
A circular economy is an alternative to the traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose). We will keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life. It is about designing goods for re-use – sustainability by design. For example, electrical devices that are easier to repair. The Ellen McArthur Foundation leads the way in defining a circular economy strategy, with research and action programmes – alongside small and large corporations, governments and Non-Governmental Organisations.
Those who complain about the fossil fuel industry forget how the tires on their bicycle wheels are made. We’ll need crude oil and natural gas for another 100 years. Every energy company is now focused on “Energy Transition” towards cleaner fuels and zero emissions, and we’ll need their innovation, and their formidable intellectual and financial muscle to make this happen. A major boost is President-elect Joe Biden re-entering the U.S. into the Paris Climate Agreement, forged in 2015 among 200 nations.
The United Nations Millennium Goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015, was met in 2010. Over the past 100 years, natural resources have enabled humanity to make enormous progress, and have improved people’s quality of life globally. Most things we take for granted – light, heat, transport and technology – rely on natural resources. This is alongside the shift to wind, solar, Electric Vehicles and battery production and storage.
We need to speak more, and act within our sphere of influence. The McDonald’s restaurant chain sends used grease from its fryers for reprocessing into biofuel for its fleet. It will extend its Grease Recovery Units to include oil from mops, towels and cleaning cloths. The German manufacturer Miele will upgrade machines at McDonald’s restaurants, with modern grease filters, silicone seals and lower temperature settings – boosting biofuel production by 20%. Miele has been family-owned since 1899.
While some governments aim for zero emissions by 2050, more progressive states shoot even higher. The Dutch government see their economy being ‘circular’ by 2050. It’s programmes – ‘From Waste to Resource’, Green Growth and Biobased Economy – will handle materials more efficiently.
(Picture: From Linear to Circular Economy, Government of The Netherlands)