No Tech Mag
“The phrase ‘eco fascist’ is a label which is increasingly being applied to the wrong kind of environmentalist: those who offer up a vision of humanity and nature that involves roots, traditions, smallness, simplicity, a return to previous lifeways, or any other kind of challenge to Machine modernity. This in turn is contrasted with the right kind of green: that which is modern, global, progressive and – most importantly of all – friendly to the onward march of the technological society.”
Prevalent narratives of agricultural innovation predict that we are once again on the cusp of a global agricultural revolution. According to these narratives, this so-called fourth agricultural revolution, or agriculture 4.0, is set to transform current agricultural practices around the world at a quick pace, making use of new sophisticated precision technologies. Often used as a rhetorical device, this narrative has a material effect on the trajectories of an inherently political and normative agricultural transition; with funding, other policy instruments, and research attention focusing on the design and development of new precision technologies.
A growing critical social science literature interrogates the promises of revolution. Engagement with new technology is likely to be uneven, with benefits potentially favouring the already powerful and the costs falling hardest on the least powerful. If grand narratives of change remain unchallenged, we risk pursuing innovation trajectories that are exclusionary, failing to achieve responsible innovation. This study utilises a range of methodologies to explore everyday encounters between farmers and technology, with the aim of inspiring further work to compile the microhistories that can help to challenge robust grand narratives of change.
We explore how farmers are engaging with technology in practice and show how these interactions problematise a simple, linear notion of innovation adoption and use. In doing so, we reflect upon the contribution that the study of everyday encounters can make in setting more inclusionary, responsible pathways towards sustainable agriculture.
Read more (open access): Rose, David Christian, et al. “The old, the new, or the old made new? Everyday counter-narratives of the so-called fourth agricultural revolution.” Agriculture and Human Values (2022): 1-17.
Hip Scarves. Image by Marie Verdeil.
Last year my partner stumbled upon a fascinating piece of clothing in a second-hand shop in Donostia, Basque Country. It looks like a miniskirt but is a (unisex) piece of underwear that increases thermal comfort in winter.
The clothing piece comes by different names: hip warmer, hip hugger, hip scarf, waist scarf, back warmer, belly warmer, tummy band, core warmer, warming belt, thermal brace — the list goes on. It is known as a “Haramaki” or “belly wrap” in Japan.
My hip warmers come in different sizes and are made from 69% wool, 22% cotton, and 9% elastodiene. Judging by the packaging design, they date from the 1970s or early 1980s.Thermal comfort
The hip scarf can significantly improve thermal comfort for two reasons. First, it insulates the body’s core, a condition to be comfortable in winter. If the core temperature falls, your body reduces the blood flow to the extremities by vasoconstriction. In extreme cases, this can save your life (at the expense of some fingers or toes), but in daily life, it results in cold hands and feet. The hip warmer keeps your core warm, which increases blood circulation and distributes warmth throughout the body.
Second, the hip warmer covers a part of your body that is otherwise easily exposed to the cold because of movements and body postures. Some modern clothes cover the body from neck to ankles (long dresses, ski suits, baby clothes), but most clothing nowadays consists of an upper part (shirt, sweater, blouse) and an underpart (pants, skirt). Consequently, bending over or stretching out can leave the hips, the belly, and the lower back exposed to the cold. Even if this happens only briefly, the warm air between skin and clothes will escape to the surroundings. The hip scarf prevents this.
Some activities make the hip warmer extra handy. For example, it works great for cyclists to prevent naked lower backs, and it insulates the belly of breastfeeding moms.
Hip Scarves. Image by Marie Verdeil.The advantages of “fragmented” clothing
Hip warmers are related to both arm and leg warmers (or wrist and ankle warmers), which are also examples of “fragmented” clothing — garments that seem to be “incomplete.” I invented the term because I could not find a collective name for these pieces of clothing. The leaflet in the box of my hip scarf also shows knee and elbow warmers for sale.
It may seem odd to wear incomplete pieces of clothing. Why wear elbow, arm, and belly warmers when you can wear an extra layer of “normal” clothes, such as a thick sweater? However, these clothes offer an advantage: they can be put on and taken off quickly without stripping down. Whether or not we feel comfortable depends on many factors, and these are prone to change. The environment (temperature, air movement, humidity), our metabolism (the level of physical activity), and the objects that we are exposed to and in contact with (cold floor, hot cup of tea).
Fragmented clothes allow for adjusting clothing insulation quickly. Putting on or taking off the hip warmer takes no more than 5 seconds: you can step into it and pull it up. That allows for micro-management of the body’s thermal balance. It may be a bit harder when you have wide hips because you need to pull the hip scarf over your head.
In contrast, a layer of thermal underwear can land you in serious trouble when the thermal environment changes. I am speaking out of experience here. My wool thermal underclothing keeps me comfortable in surprisingly low air temperatures. However, when I need to enter a heated indoor space in winter, it becomes a curse rather than a blessing. My body will overheat quickly, and there’s only one way to solve it: strip down to the underpants.On the move
Fragmented clothes are handy while being on the move. A small package can make a big difference. For example, when I cycle to the city, I usually leave in the afternoon when the sun shines. I would quickly overheat with winter clothes. However, I come back after sunset, when it is much colder. In between, I may be in a heated shop but just as well on a frosty bar terrace.
Carrying a hip warmer and a pair of arm warmers, I now need to take fewer clothes. By insulating those body parts most exposed to the cold — on the bike the wind blows right into my jacket sleeves — I need less insulation overall. I don’t have leg or ankle warmers (yet), but they would protect another part of the body exposed to cold on a bicycle.How to wear a hip scarf
You can wear a hip scarf in different ways. You can tuck it into your shirt and pants or skirt so that it remains largely invisible to the outside world, or you can show it off, wearing it above anything else except for your jacket. The second method is the most practical because you can remove the hip warmer quickly. However, these are not the 1980s, so you need a certain level of indifference for fashion. Intermediate solutions are also possible. I sometimes wear the hip scarf under my shirt but over my pants, which looks like I have an extra shirt underneath.
Until recently, the Japanese regarded the “belly warmer” — or “Haramaki” — as out-of-date underwear worn by old men. Traditionally, it was considered a functional piece of clothing, usually hidden under clothes and considered slightly embarrassing. However, in recent years it has become a fashionable item largely thanks to Japanese game designer Itoi Shigesato, who launched a Nintendo-themed collection. His creations invite you to show off. There is talk of a revival of the Haramaki. Indeed they are now also sold under that name in other countries.
Haramaki from Japanese brand Hobonichi.
Haramaki and leg warmers from Japanese brand Hobonichi.
Dr. Gibaud’s Thermal Brace is still for sale and now available in several colors.Pain relief & sports
Dr. Gibaud, the company that made my hip warmers, keeps selling the same product. However, it doesn’t promote it as a fashion article. Dr. Gibaud now promotes hip warmers as a pain relief method. For example, keeping your lower back warm can prevent or relieve the symptoms of lower back pain. A belly warmer can also relieve bladder, kidney, rheumatic and menstrual pains. Nowadays, people often use heat pads to relieve those pains, but hip warmers (and hot water bottles) can do similar things for much less money and waste.
Fragmented clothes are also handy during sports and other physical activities. They keep you warm during and after exercise, which decreases the chance of damage to muscles and ligaments. Leg warmers originated as athletic wear for keeping dancers warm. They only became a fashion hype in the early 1980s through movies like Flashdance and Fame. Finally, hip scarves should not be confused with corsets (which make you look thinner) or support braces (which correct a posture).
Thanks to Adriana Parra.
“Using vertical doors in refrigeration devices is an act against the Nature of Cold Air. Understanding and cooperating with Nature rather than acting against it leads to much better efficiency. My chest fridge (Vestfrost freezer turned into a fridge) consumes about 0.1 kWh a day. This fridge is 10 to 20 times more energy efficient than typical household fridges on the market today.”
“It works only about 2 minutes per hour. At all other times it is perfectly quiet and consumes no power whatsoever. It is obvious that a truly energy efficient fridge does not cost any more money than a mediocre one. It actually costs less. It also has amazing food-preserving performance because temperature fluctuations in its interior are naturally minimized.”
Image: Dr. Tom J. Chalko.
“Comparing the daily energy consumption of various refrigeration devices available on the market reveals that well-designed chest freezers consume less electricity per day than refrigerators of comparable volume, even though freezers maintain much larger interior-exterior temperature difference (their interiors are much cooler). While chest freezers typically have better thermal insulation and larger evaporators than fridges, there is another important reason for their efficiency.”
“Vertical doors in refrigeration devices are inherently inefficient. As soon as we open a vertical fridge door – the cold air escapes, simply because it is heavier than the warmer air in the room. When we open a chest freezer – the cool air stays inside, just because it’s heavy. Any leak or wear in a vertical door seal (no seal is perfect) causes significant loss of refrigerator efficiency. In contrast, even if we leave the chest freezer door wide open, the heavy cool air will still remain inside.”
“The chest-style refrigerator is surprisingly practical and convenient to use. The most frequently used items are placed in top baskets and are very visible and very easily accessible. Baskets slide on top edges of fridge walls so that quick access to deeper sections of the fridge interior is possible without removing any basket.”
Read more and find the manual at Dr. Tom J. Chalko’s website. Thanks to Pablo M.
Melle Smets, Dutch artist and our collaborator at the Human Power Plant, stumbled upon this beautiful fruit wall in Dorrepaal, the Netherlands. By planting fruit trees close to a specially built wall with high thermal mass and southern exposure, a microclimate is created that allows the cultivation of Mediterranean fruits in temperate climates. Previously: Fruit walls: urban farming in the 1600s.
The Ondioline is an electronic musical instrument invented by Georges Jenny in France in the early 1940s and developed through a number of different models until his death in 1975. This versatile and expressive instrument is monophonic, but can produce a remarkable variety of sounds, from simulating orchestral instruments to creating unique and voice-like tones.
In total, around 1200 Ondiolines were built between the mid 1940s and late 1960s, most of them handmade by Jenny himself. The instrument was also offered in “kit” form, where Jenny recommended purchasing the more complex assemblies – such as the keyboard – as complete units. The schematics were made available for amateur engineers to construct their own custom instruments, and they were encouraged to experiment with the amplifier, tone circuits and cabinetry.
Although a number of musicians played Ondiolines in eclectic contexts through the years, the instrument’s main proponent and arguably sole virtuoso was Jean-Jacques Perrey [1929-2016]. After meeting Jenny around 1950, Perrey became the Ondioline’s official demonstrator and traveling salesman, later using the instrument on a number of pioneering electronic pop records. His technique of self-accompanying – playing the piano with his left hand while fluidly changing sounds and soloing on Ondioline with his right hand and knee – was a feat of remarkable musical dexterity.
Since 2016 the musician Gotye has worked to revive interest in the Ondioline through the non-profit Forgotten Futures and with an ensemble called Ondioline Orchestra that performs tributes to Jean-Jacques Perrey’s music. Forgotten Futures is dedicated to the recovery of Jenny’s under-recognized work, the recreation of critical Ondioline spare parts, and the dissemination of information that will ensure the functionality and accessibility of these remarkable instruments for future generations.
Read, see & listen:
- Kris De Decker: can low-tech become the new hi-tech? Radio New Zealand.
- Kris De Decker: “Low Tech: What, Why and How” The Great Simplification.
“There has been a boom in the sale of small-scale off-grid solar products across the Global South over the past decade. A substantial portion of this boom has been driven by international investment in off-grid solar start-up companies, and a formalized off-grid solar sector has been established, with the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association acting as a key representative body.”
“Although this boom has aided in extending electricity access to many energy-poor households and businesses, an emerging concern is the short (three to four years) working life that these off-grid solar products typically have. This has led to a growing issue of solar e-waste. Here we examine how the structure of the off-grid solar sector results in substantial barriers to addressing solar e-waste in the Global South. We consider how practices of repair might contribute to addressing the issue, and set out a research agenda to facilitate new approaches to the issues of solar e-waste.”
Read more: Munro, Paul G., et al. “Towards a repair research agenda for off-grid solar e-waste in the Global South.” Nature Energy (2022): 1-6.
Electrification, digitalization, webification, datafication, personalization, actuation, and marketization
“This theoretical essay argues that the development of so-called ‘smart innovations’ is based on the monotonous application of seven standardized principles: electrification, digitalization, webification, datafication, personalization, actuation, and marketization. When a new smart innovation appears, what has typically occurred was the implementation of these principles to an object or process that, until that moment, had managed to remain unscathed by the smart innovation monoculture. As reactions to this dominant logic, ten major critical arguments against smart innovations have emerged in the academic literature: smart innovations are considered to be superseding, unhealthy, subordinating, exploitative, manipulative, addictive, fragile, colonial, labyrinthine, and both ecologically and socially unsustainable.”
“To a certain extent adopting the traits of a manifesto, this essay aims to challenge the monoculture of smart innovations by means of proposing the development of a charter potentially capable of promoting change on two fronts. First, facilitating technologists to develop truly creative ideas that are not based on the application of the monotonous principles of smart innovation. Second, challenging technologists to develop new ideas and concepts that are effectively beyond the above-mentioned ten criticisms. This is a highly relevant area for citizen-driven, political, and academic activism, as smart innovations, despite their conceptual weaknesses and patent negative consequences, surprisingly continue to be preferred beneficiaries for funding in contemporary policy-making and academic research circles.”
Read more: Ferreira, António. “Seven Principles and Ten Criticisms: Towards a Charter for the Analysis, Transformation and Contestation of Smart Innovations.” Sustainability 14.19 (2022): 12713.
Via Roel Roscam Abbing.
“This paper investigated a windmill in Nehbandan which is an example of architectural heritage. Harnessing natural energy and using local materials such as stone, wood and adobe, the residents were able to create environmentally friendly structures. In this paper, one of these windmills that is still standing in Nehbandan was selected from a chain of windmills. Then, based on architectural survey, interviewing with millers and sketching, the dimensions of architectural elements and mechanical components were obtained and the windmill was modelled.”
“The results reveal that there is a close relation between architectural features and mechanical components. The orientation of this windmill toward prevailing wind, the correct placement of walls in three faces and creating a hole named Darvazeh in the third wall to direct the wind into the Parkhaneh are architectural features which provide the kinetic energy of the wind to move the mechanical components. The stepped form of the surrounding walls prevents erosion of mechanical components and as a result increases the durability of the windmill.”
Zarrabi, M., Valibeig, N. 3D modelling of an Asbad (Persian windmill): a link between vernacular architecture and mechanical system with a focus on Nehbandan windmill. Herit Sci 9, 108 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40494-021-00587-0
Jelle Seegers set out to design a production line that drastically lowers our footprint, using nothing but the sun, wind, or muscle power as its energy source. The ‘Solar Metal Smelter’ is his pièce the résistance: this huge magnifying glass creates a powerful focal point that, on a sunny day, makes metal melt. Cast in a sand mould, the hot substance is transformed into machine parts for a foot-driven grinder in an off-grid practice.
- Low-tech at the University. [Kairos] The challenge of low-tech is not to juxtapose harmless « soft » alternatives to industrial technologies, as this would only create a new niche market for « responsible consumers ». It is a question of replacing, as much as possible, the industrial productions by artisanal productions, adapted to the direct environment of their user, selected, understandable, repairable, adaptable and durable.
- Why the past 10 years of American life have been uniquely stupid. [The Atlantic] “The main problem with social media is not that some people post fake or toxic stuff; it’s that fake and outrage-inducing content can now attain a level of reach and influence that was not possible before 2009.”
- Stuck Between Climate Doom and Denial. [The New Atlantis] The incredibly fascinating, important, and nuanced issue of climate change has become an online team sport between the good guys (your side) and the bad guys (the other side).
- The Unabomber and the origins of anti-tech radicalism. [Journal of Political Ideologies]. “As today’s most infamous anti-tech radical, and as the one with the most detailed blueprint for a revolution, Kaczynski may well become the ‘Marx’ of anti-tech.”
- The Degrowth conundrum. [Resilience] “Only when the right ideas and values become predominant can structural change towards simpler lifestyles and systems take place. These conditions show the fundamental mistake built into the standard socialist assumption that the good society must have highly centralised state control. And it shows that the standard socialist strategy of taking control of the state is also fundamentally mistaken.”
- Ecological Civilisation: Beyond Consumerism and the Growth Economy – Free Course. “This video series will be grappling with the problems of consumerism and the growth economy; envisioning alternative, post-carbon ways of life; and considering what action can be taken, both personally and politically, to help build an ecological civilisation.”
- Why we need the apocalypse. [Unherd] In modern terms, “apocalypse” has come to mean “the cataclysmic end of everything”. But this is a long way from the ancient Greek understanding: to uncover, to disclose or lay bare. From this perspective, apocalypse isn’t the end of the world. Or at least, not just the end of the world. Rather, it’s the end of a worldview: discoveries that mean a previous way of looking at things is no longer tenable.
- Monbiotic Man. [The Land] “Simon Fairlie assesses the farm-free future for humanity spelled out in George Monbiot’s latest book ‘Regenesis’.”
- Beyond rescue ecomodernism: the case for agrarian localism restated. [Small farm future] “Given the present world historical moment of profound crisis that the modernist myth of progress has generated and cannot tackle, it surprises me how powerfully it still animates almost all mainstream responses to the crisis.”
- Should we be trying to create a circular urine economy? [Ars technica] “Urine diversion could solve a lot of the environmental problems that plague overwhelmed wastewater treatment systems, but it’s a whole different way of thinking.”
- How To Deflate An SUV Tyre. [Tyre Extinguishers]. “Because governments and politicians have failed to protect us from this danger, we must protect ourselves.”
- Useless Car.
- Silicon Valley’s Push Into Transportation Has Been a Miserable Failure. [Gizmodo] The titans of tech brought plenty of disruption to our broken transportation system but delivered little in the way of innovation.
- The global warming reduction potential of night trains. [Back on Track] “Back-on-Track, a European network of night train initiatives, has examined air passenger numbers in the EU in 2019 to see which air connections could be replaced by night train connections.”
- The attack on rail. [Compact Magazine]. “Disorder, war, and general chaos have conspired to prevent what ought to have been the global triumph of the railway.”
- Chronotrains. This map shows you how far you can travel from each station in Europe in less than 5 hours.
- Orbis. ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity.
- Fuck Off Google.
- After self-hosting my email for twenty-three years I have thrown in the towel. The oligopoly has won. [Carlos Fenollosa]
- FreedomBox. FreedomBox is a private server for non-experts: it lets you install and configure server applications with only a few clicks. It runs on cheap hardware of your choice, uses your internet connection and power, and is under your control.
- Old age isn’t a modern phenomenon – many people lived long enough to grow old in the olden days, too. [The Conversation] It’s incorrect to view long lives as a remarkable and unique characteristic of the “modern” era.
- The Healing Power of “Bello”. [Craftsmanship Quarterly] How an intentional community in Italy uses craftsmanship—and a sense of family—to holistically rehabilitate people who are suffering from drug addiction.
- The making and knowing project. “The Making and Knowing Project is a research and pedagogical initiative in the Center for Science and Society at Columbia University that explores the intersections between artistic making and scientific knowing. Today these realms are regarded as separate, yet in the earliest phases of the Scientific Revolution, nature was investigated primarily by skilled artisans by means of continuous and methodical experimentation in the making of objects – the time when “making” was “knowing.””
Method to create a simple bike trolley, using up-cycled materials. Easily fixated to every bike (adult size). Holes on the board help attach any kind of cargo. It’s made out of wood and simple hand tools, no welding required. Dimensions are detailed and can easily be adapted to the material available.
I tried to create a trolley, which can replace the car to go to the market / grocery shopping. No need to transport heavy cargo, but big objects (cardboard boxes, crates, wood, etc.) – Therefore it needs to be easily adaptable, with the option to fix a crate on the board. + Priority goes to second-hand materials!
“This research indicates the technical capabilities of using a 40 cm2 Fresnel lens to heat, melt and vitrify a variety of materials and suggests future applications of this technology including the ability to digitise the process. This material processing technique offers an alternative to heat matter and is significant in geographical locations with ample sunlight, offering a cost-effective option to traditional heating methods and allows directional heating, which local craftspeople can exploit to their creative advantage.”
“A Fresnel lens was proven to be an accessible and affordable tool to heat and melt materials reaching temperatures over 1200 degrees C using
natural sunlight as the energy source. Building on the literature, this solar craft process was proven to melt sand, a variety of glass, metals and burn wood and fabric in a controlled manner.”
“The results from this research reintroduce ancient craft methods and build on the techniques discussed and developed in the works of Kayser (2018) and Jordan (2014), yet solar enamelling on metal is something not seen before, presenting a new area of practice to expand upon… In the sunniest locations on the planet where solar ovens are already used, this practice could be adopted and automated; solar processing technologies could also be integrated into solar farms to process materials.”
“Moreover, whilst this research explored solar craft in outdoor and greenhouse conditions in Scotland, it is also possible to create a safe indoor workspace designed for solar craft practices in a location with consistent, high intensity sunlight, such as Portugal, where there is an indoor solar laser lab, to increase the reliability of this craft method.”
“This study melted materials between 600 and 1200 degrees C which suggests that it may be easier to alter materials at lower melting points. Developing environmentally safe methods to recycle materials like aluminium and plastics through solar concentration may offer alternatives to a discipline which would benefit from innovative solutions that contribute to sustainable development.”
“Expanding this material research to trial using solar concentration to fire locally-sourced clays, preserving wood with ‘shou sugi ban’, a Japanese technique which charrs wood surfaces with fire, and exploring solar lampwork may hold craft potential.”
Read more (open access): Westland, Karen. “Solar Concentration for Craft Practice and Sustainable Development: Fusing Ancient and Modern Methods.” Journal of Jewellery Research 5 (2022): 18-33.
Previously: The bright future of solar powered factories.
Quoted from: Cloudmoney: Cash, Cards, Crypto and the War for our Wallets, Brett Scott, Vintage Publishing, 2022, ISBN: 9781847925879.
When describing the rise of automated surveillance capitalism, it is easy to point out its various dangers, but something more subtle drives my own discomfort. It is the pervasive feeling of inauthenticity that accompanies it. It is that tremor of emotional conflict a person feels when — in full knowledge of how Amazon is taking over the world — they nevertheless sense the futility of resistance, and find themselves with their finger on the ‘Buy’ button…
We have blindly stumbled into systems that exploit our short-term desires to the detriment of our longer ones, and they break and disrupt our lives if we attempt to pull back from them. Rather than crawling to Utopia, then, large-scale markets crawl towards concentrating production and consumption into pure conglomerations of profit-seeking, represented most acutely by transnational corporations. While the individuals who work within this conglomeration can feel many things, the financial and corporate sector as an institutional complex is unable to ‘feel’ anything except profit, so our systems are running away with us, like a centrifuge spinning ever faster.
It is this which leads to visions of a giant technological ‘Singularity’. Google’s futurist-in-chief Ray Kurzweil tries to put a mystical spin on this by invoking the Enlightenment tradition, which sees history of one long march to human transcendence over nature, alongside a parallel ascendency of mind over body. It begins with a vision of us crouching naked in the prehistoric wilderness. It ends with us ascending into a human-technology hybrid that lives forever, colonises space and regulates an artificial environment at will through AI ‘super-intelligence’, a pure, transcendent, rational mind. Displayed prominently above the washroom urinals at Singularity University is a comic strip based on a sermon given by Kurzweil, which quotes as follows:
Evolution is a spiritual process. Technological evolution is the same as biological evolution. In the future we will become a mix of biological and non-biological intelligence… plugging our brains into the cloud, effectively expanding our neocortex. Becoming closer to God, the ideal. Humans plus AI as one.
Let’s face it. The transcendent spiritual AI cloud Kurzweil and his associates are referring to is the financial-corporate conglomeration… The ‘state-of-mind’ of this conglomeration is… the cold logic of skyscraper-bound legal entities scanning through people for profit opportunities at scale. It is an outlook calibrated to over-value large-scale friction-less efficiency to the detriment of the deeper things we love — unknown wild spaces, peer-to-peer connection, texture, spontaneity and unguided journeys. If corporate capitalism was allowed to fully express itself, it would demand access to our very brainwaves, promoting payment-by-telepathy to access the thoughts of others. This creep of hyperconnected markets into the deepest parts of being is the defining feature of our age.
Brazilian “mini-publisher” Casatrês made a beautiful zine which includes three articles from Low-tech Magazine, translated into Portuguese. It is for sale on their website.
“We are humans and might as well get used to it. So far, remotely done power and glory—as via government, big business, formal education, church—has succeeded to the point where gross profits obscure actual loss. In response to this dilemma and to these losses a realm of intimate, community power is developing—power of communities to conduct their own education, find their own inspiration, shape their own environment, and share their knowledge with others. Practices that aid this process are sought and promoted by the DAMAGED EARTH CATALOG.”
Quoted from: Schmelzer, Matthias, Andrea Vetter, and Aaron Vansintjan. The Future is Degrowth: A Guide to a World Beyond Capitalism. Verso Books, 2022.
These days, with growing interest in degrowth, it seems that almost every other week another humourless columnist for a major newspaper writes a criticism of degrowth. This is to be expected and even, to a certain extent, welcomed: the more those in positions of power rail against degrowth, the more people who might be sympathetic to it, who would otherwise not have heard about it, are exposed to it.
And, indeed, it also fulfils degrowth’s initial goal as a provocation, a conversation starter, a shit-disturber. Yet, usually, these columnists show little understanding of what degrowth means – and so their objections tend to badly miss the mark.
One common misconception is that degrowth is either a proposal for recession, imposed austerity, or that it will necessarily result in economic collapse and social catastrophe. Since economic growth is seen as the only possible way to improve living standards, whenever an economic crisis happens, critics of degrowth will say, often disingenuously, ‘see, this is what happens when you degrow’. And, since our economy depends on economic growth, and economic crisis is catastrophic for many people’s livelihoods, people assume that degrowth would similarly be a catastrophe and lead to full-scale collapse. Both assumptions are, of course, false.
Degrowth is the opposite of recession: recessions are unintentional, while degrowth is planned and intentional; recessions make inequality worse, degrowth seeks to reduce it; recessions typically lead to cuts in public services while degrowth is about de-commodifying essential goods and services; recessions often cause bold policies for sustainability to be abandoned for the sake of restarting growth, while degrowth is explicitly for a rapid and decisive transformation. Hence the slogan of the French décroissance movement: ‘Their recession is not our degrowth’.
Such a transformed, just, and growth-independent economy is the core of the degrowth project. Further, degrowth is explicitly framed to build a system not structurally bent towards crisis. Crises like the 2008 financial crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, the fires engulfing the Amazon, and the past and ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples indicate that growth-driven capitalism already is a catastrophe. More than ever, the choice is between degrowth – a multidimensional set of transformations based on sufficiency, care, and justice – or barbarism. In other words, we talk about degrowth in order to avoid the catastrophe that awaits us and which is already a daily reality in many parts of the world. Degrowth is not the crisis; capitalism is… Degrowth is not against progress; rather, holding on to continuous economic growth undermines real progress.
Schmelzer, Matthias, Andrea Vetter, and Aaron Vansintjan. The Future is Degrowth: A Guide to a World Beyond Capitalism. Verso Books, 2022.
Quoted from: Figge, Frank, et al. “Does the circular economy fuel the throwaway society? The role of opportunity costs for products that lose value over time.” Journal of Cleaner Production (2022): 133207. Image: Horse Power by Stuart Taylor. Credit: JulieMay54 – CC BY-SA 4.0.
Extending the lifetime of products and using resources circularly are two popular strategies to increase the efficiency of resource use. Both strategies are usually assumed to contribute to the eco-efficiency of resource use independently… We find that in a perfectly circular economy, consumers are incentivized to discard their products more quickly than in a perfectly linear economy. A direct consequence of our finding is that extending product use is in direct conflict with closing resource loops in the circular economy… The article highlights the risk that closing resource loops and moving to a more circular economy incentivizes more unsustainable behavior.
This is the first paper to show the link between circular economy and economic obsolescence in an integrated model. Existing research usually considers a longer duration of resource use to be “more” sustainable and thus to be more desirable. We show that a more circular use of resources is negatively related to a longer use of resources. Put differently, this is the first paper to show that a circular use of resources, which is desirable, incentivizes a shorter use of resources, which is undesirable. Policies that aim to optimize both factors in isolation risk being counterproductive: Policies that extend the duration of resource use risk impeding the circular use of resources, and policies that close resource loops risk shortening the duration of resource use.
The circular economy creates a symbiotic relationship between different resource users. As in any symbiotic relationship, the actions of one entity impact other entities. We argue that the more circular resource flows are, the higher the degree of symbiosis between resource users and the more important are the opportunity costs created. A symbiotic relationship between resource users and the opportunity costs this creates also complicate the analysis of decisions of individual resource users. In a perfectly linear economy, the decisions of resource users can be analyzed in isolation. A more efficient resource use on the individual level will always result in a more efficient use of resources on the macro-level. In a perfectly circular economy, however, decisions are impacted by the decisions of other resource users and the decision-making of resource users cannot be analyzed in isolation.
[If] no more virgin resources can be used for production, the relationship between companies and consumers changes. The products that are disposed of by consumers become the source for the provision of natural resources that companies require. Rather than being separate from each other, companies remain the provider of goods, but consumers become the provider of resources for companies by making the resources contained in the products they dispose of available to companies… Using a product for longer means depriving companies of resources for longer… As long as a consumer continues using a product, the resources contained in that product cannot create value somewhere else. Companies, eager to have access to resources, suddenly do not only have an interest in consumers replacing existing products because it allows them to increase their sales but also because it gives them access to the resources they require.
Another negative effect of the shorter use of products is that reusing and recycling but also the more frequent production and distribution of products requires additional resources. Put differently, recycling and reusing products and resources comes at an environmental cost. We do not explicitly consider these costs in our model. However, it is safe to assume that a higher speed of the production–consumption circle will, all other things being equal, also increase the resources needed to keep the circular economy going. This adds to the pressure that a more circular use of resources could exert on the environment unless the resources needed are themselves used circularly, or they are renewable resources.
Figge, Frank, et al. “Does the circular economy fuel the throwaway society? The role of opportunity costs for products that lose value over time.” Journal of Cleaner Production (2022): 133207.
Previously: How circular is the circular economy?