If you follow politics, then you know Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but maybe you haven’t heard of Jeremy Rifkin. Rifkin is an American author, theorist, advisor, and activist on subjects including economics, technology, and society. Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal is a page directly out of Rifkin’s book. Now, when I say a page, I mean just that, a single page. Rifkin’s far-reaching theories for structuring our economy and society for the future are outlandish and beyond belief for many. As idealistic as his theories may be, they are brilliant, seemingly unreachable, but incredibly brilliant.
I studied business in college and for my entire adult life have pondered the idiocy that is our economy. One does not have to be a business student to understand the relationship between finite resources and our current economic aspirations that are limitless in their pursuit of growth. Growth is not sustainable as an imperative. Growth in any viable form must be a perfect balance of inputs and outputs. This is one of the most challenging problems for us to solve, but it is not impossible.
As an example think about responsible government spending. Any new program must be accompanied by full payment. There is nothing extra, and there is no shortfall. The way our modern manufacturing systems work are the polar opposite. We use a massive amount of energy to produce what we make. The manufacturing process uses large quantities of inputs that are not replenishable. Finally, the end products chemistry has changed in such a way that it is not easily recoverable. Recoverable either into a biodegradable form or a recyclable form.
This is why I always look to nature as the guide book for everything. Nutrition, growth, death, stress, systems, cooperation, destruction, even economics or education, and so many other areas as well. Nature appears to have the answers to all of our most complex questions. The future of our existence lies in our ability to understand, and in many ways to mimic nature.
Think about the perfect manufacturing system that nature has created. An Apple for example. The inputs are the seed, water, sunlight, fertilizer (Organic), and don’t forget the bees. Notice, all inputs are recoverable, or biodegradable, and are available in an almost inexhaustible supply. The output has countless uses and possible forms it can take. Also, the end product is completely biodegradable. This is the example that nature gives us, a perfect closed system manufacturing process. All we have to do is duplicate it. It can not be more challenging than landing on the moon, though it may be close. Our business as usual attitude about manufacturing practices may be the most significant hurdle we face.
Rifkin and AOC, have got me excited, I see nothing but storm clouds on the horizon, but it feels good to see people who understand the basics at least. What Rifkin proposes in “The Third Industrial Revolution” is nothing short of revolutionary. Decentralization of the internet and much proprietary information, a vertically integrated power system, and a complete overhaul of our power grid into a smart eco-grid. If that does not sound ambitious enough for you, it is the tip of the iceberg. AOC, God love her, is bringing the theoretical ideas of Rifkin to the public consciousness, and making them more concrete ideas for the general American public to understand. Meanwhile, Rifkin is working with multiple governments around the world, including China, and Germany, in addition to various companies and intergovernmental agencies.
Many of us know that our economy is broken because it’s not working for everyone or everything. Millions are left behind, either unable to find suitable work or working in conditions that amount to modern day slavery. Autonomous slavery, whipped by continued poverty, lack of time, and lack of opportunity. Additionally, the environment is left to fend for itself. Something I assure you it can do, however not without violent disruption to our planet as we know it.
We want to have an economic system that is stable, and we want an environment that is predictable to a certain degree as well, but how? Sustainability, recoverability, efficient use of inputs, the efficiency of production, use of renewable resources, and the use of renewables over non-renewables. Additional focus on these areas will spur, research, and free up capital that’s lost through the inefficiency of our current production processes. All of these assumptions are echoed in Rifkin’s theories, including our need to create a new economic paradigm that is enmeshed with nature, sustainability, and neuro-network style planning. Neuro style meaning systems that resemble the neuro-network in our brains. Internet, and power systems that have the ability to move in all directions, not just from the top down orientation that we are currently used to. This type of design decreases susceptibility to failure, as well as sets the stage for vertical and not horizontal integration.
The Green New Deal is a great start, it is the conversation that we need to be having. Nevermind that we should have had this conversation ten or fifteen years ago, we are having it now. But a discussion is not active, and we need less talk and more movement.
Lets recap. Our economy is based solely on the consumption of finite resources that we are depleting in record time. It is an economy that’s almost entirely fueled by a limited resource, fossil fuels, which is also the primary input in most of our products. This unsustainable system, driven by consumerism and growth, also happens to be very inefficient. Inefficient in the way that it depletes available resources, uses large amounts of energy during the manufacturing process, and the output of products that create waste as opposed to recoverable, or biodegradable materials.
As I said, the Green New Deal is a great start, but it is a very long road to building a truly sustainable economy. I will address it in another post, but I didn’t speak to the impact this type of economy will have on peoples lives. I follow minimalism, and the fact is, many of us want too much. We have been conditioned to want too much. Many proponents wrongly believe we can build an economy that is as productive as our current economy today. I disagree. The mandate of recoverability on manufactured goods would make this problematic by itself.
When we build the next economy, it will mimic nature. Our natural world does not produce things just because. Also, there are a set of inexhaustible resources available in nature, and this is what it uses to manufacture its natural goods for us. The natural world is not cannibalistic by nature. This is counterproductive, in the same way, it is to economies. Nature is perpetually sustainable in one form or another. Its power to perpetuate itself arises from its inexhaustible power sources and inputs. If we wish to build an economy or a society that can endure it must have an equal supply of the same. A renewable power source that is not easily exhaustible, as well as the sole use of inputs that are 100% recoverable. Both of these goals can be accomplished. The alternative is a disaster.