The Rise and Fall of Linear Economy

The Linear Economy - it seemed like the best and most natural idea back in the 1700s. We take resources from nature, modify them to fit our needs, we make massive amounts of something - we name it a “product” - we sell it, consume it, and finally throw it away without looking back. This is the basic platform of our current consumerism-centered linear economic system. The idea was so good, actually, that it continued for over 300 years, driving the entire evolution of technology and raising just about all the numbers one can think of: population, standard of living, medium income, life expectancy, general health, etc.

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All this was good until global economists had a scary realization: the most vital element of the chain, without which the chain itself wouldn’t even exist in the first place - the natural resource! - is not infinite. And worst of all, it might finish sooner than we had ever predicted. Which also translates into “sooner than we have ever had time to think and implement alternatives”.

To a number of people, for a variety of reasons I will not mention here, this realization means nothing. But to the rest of us, to the vast majority, perhaps, and especially to the smart majority, this realization means that the era of an uncontrolled “make-consume-dispose” system is coming to an end.

I will not go into the debate of oil, charcoal, global warming and alternative energy. I am going into a much deeper, dirtier and more dangerous debate: that of garbage.

And brainless consumerism.

“I have no time” is probably the most common sentence I’ve been hearing for the last few years. I hear it every single day, multiple times a day. Especially at work. We are living the rat race.

But what does this mean? It means we are so busy “living” and consuming, that we don’t have time to become aware of what is and isn’t actually necessary to us.

As a species, we have long surpassed the border that linked us to the animal kingdom, in which the “survival of the fittest” law ruled the world. For the last 100 years we have generated as much technology to ensure not only our survival, but also our dramatic evolution and we are slowly but surely reaching out for the stars. Literally.

Yet, here we are, still struggling on a daily basis under some sort of survival-type of pressure and with our overall stress level hitting the roof. Because, well, that’s what we’ve been programmed to do. Every single day we are bombarded with messages that tell us “you are not enough”, “you won’t be satisfied unless you have this and that”, “there is something better, more convenient, which makes your life easier, which makes you happy(-ier) and, see?, you don’t have it yet!”

We are never completely satisfied. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This lack of satisfaction is what drove the evolution of technology and mankind for the last century.

The only problem is… this type of need for evolution needs to stop being applied to every single thing in our lives, and we need to start channeling our global energy and resources towards what is really important for mankind! We need to start a thorough selection, to set up a priority list, and start eliminating all the unnecessary, all the non-value-adding actions from our system. Aka eliminate all the waste.

Here’s the secret, plain and simple:

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You want to live a happy healthy life? Make happy healthy choices. If you find yourself unable to do that, it’s because you accept the existence of bad choices. You can’t resist the big mac? It’s because you accept its existence in the first place. Eliminate the mac from the system and suddenly your problem disappears.

Now, before I get a life threatening phonecall from McDonalds, I’m going to explain how this is related to our theme. The big mac is an example of “waste”, the non-value adding link in the chain. Waste generates problems, because waste is the rusted link in an otherwise strong chain. And we all know that a chain is as strong as its weakest link.

Now. Back to garbage. Yes, it’s a dirty topic (pun intended), but somebody will have to say it: unless we accept that the weakest link in our economy is our garbage, our trash, our waste, we won’t be able to evolve. If we don’t accept we have a trash problem, we will inevitably end up exactly like the opening scene of Wall-E, in which trash engulfed everything and only cockroaches and robots were left as true survivors.

But, fortunately for us, humankind is smarter than that. We now have the amazing technology of saying goodbye to the soon-to-be-obsolete linear economy and welcome, with hope and high expectations, the rise of the *no need for drumrolls* Circular Economy.

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Here’s the short explanation: Linear economy: resources -> manufacturing -> selling -> consuming -> disposing.

If you eliminate the disposing from the system and you connect the consuming with the resources, you get a beautiful and elegant system: the circular system, where everything that you consume becomes the resource of the next cycle.

Add renewable energy and people to the system and you have a sustainable economy. And sustainability is the new law we must follow in order to be happy, constantly, and to ensure the survival and happiness of our future generation as well.

Just a side note for all the ney-sayers who oppose this system by saying “the principle of thermodynamics says that where there is a process, there will always be waste”: well, let me just remind you: nature itself is sustainable to begin with. Until 100 years ago, nature had reached a balanced ecosystem in which there was no non-value. Everything is value in nature and it is part of a wider cycle. We have disrupted this ecosystem/cycle and we are putting our entire existence as a species in peril. If all mankind is gone, nature will not suffer, it is resilient. But we want to live and thrive, correct? Therefore, we need to copy the circle of life - we need to adapt our economy to this natural cycle in order to be able to ensure our own happiness.

Once you have become aware of the necessity of the circular economy, you can’t go back to anything else.

Thus comes the fall of the linear economy. (This article has first appeared in 2017 on https://www.japancreativeenterprise.jp/single-post/2017/07/06/The-Fall-of-the-Linear-Economy )

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