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THE BLUE ECONOMY

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TOKYO, Jun 21 2010 (IPS) - The world is in need of a new economic model. Who doubts this while the debate on climate change decelerates and the temperature of the earth rises, along with unemployment and poverty levels. We have to search for solutions beyond the obvious and make quantum leaps.

The traditional development models have collapsed. The Planned Economy was never able to efficiently allocate resources. The Market Economy evolved into a system whereby companies pursued economies of scale and unleashed a wave of mergers and acquisitions whereby management leveraged assets to control competitors. When debt became untenable, financial wizards invented sophisticated financial instruments that created assets based on nothing, until that scheme collapsed. The only serious response seemed to be the Green Economy.

The promoters of the Green Economy questioned growth and argued for going beyond money to eradicating hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. Unfortunately, in spite of all the good intentions the Green Economy has not taken off. It requires government to subsidise, companies to accept lower returns, and consumers to pay more. This is only viable in a growth model where unemployment is decreasing. However, this is a tough act to follow when governments are bankrupt, demand drops, consumer confidence dwindles, and the youngest citizens are told there is no work as over a billion people live in poverty.

The time has come to embrace a portfolio of innovations, to move from our romance with nature and our pessimism with industry to a pragmatic redesign of our economy inspired by ecosystems. The time has come to embrace the short-term urgent need for water, food, and health with long-term strategies to build social capital. The time has come to discover solutions that have no unintended consequences, like the increased cost of food due the use of corn as feedstock for both biofuels and bioplastic. Or, the use of palm oil for biodegradable soaps that destroys huge tracks of rainforest and the habitat of the orangutan. In our drive to embrace sustainability we have tolerated collateral damage as if we are fighting terrorism.

Ecosystems provide the inspiration to model new entrepreneurial businesses beyond what we know. We call this the Blue Economy (Paradigm Publications, Taos, New Mexico). Ecosystems cascade nutrients and energy as demonstrated in the astonishing work of George Chan, a sanitary engineer, taking the best of permaculture to a new order of efficiency. In his models implemented in Colombia, Namibia and Fiji, we see that spent biomass becomes the growing medium for mushrooms, spent substrate becomes protein-rich feed for livestock, their bacteria inoculated animal manure generates biogas in a digester, its slurry becomes a nutrient for algae, and its residual water promotes plankton that becomes fish feed and enriches irrigation water. In Brazil, biologist Jorge Alberto Vieira Costa redirects CO2 exhaust from the local coal-fired power station. It provides the nutrients for spirulina algae producing protein-rich food and biofuels. It demonstrates how an excessive polluting by-product (CO2) can be converted to a resource in the retention basin for warm water from the cooling tower.

Ecosystems operate with what is locally available and rely foremost on the laws of physics. Physics is predictable and has no exceptions: warm air rises, cold water drops. Following these principles allows entrepreneurs to reduce or eliminate mined metals, processed chemicals and non-renewable energy.

The mechanisms developed by zebras and termites display more mastery of air and humidity control than any of our existing mechanical and electronic solutions. We see this in the design by architect Anders Nyquist of the Laggarberg School in Sweden, Gaviotas’ field hospital in Colombian Vichada, and the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, where air is continuously and naturally refreshed without the need for pumps, heaters or coolers. This cuts capital costs by exploiting pressure and temperature differentials. As a result, chemical insulation is complemented or even replaced by physics, eliminating the unsustainable use of materials and energy in the process.

The same logic is applied to the generation of electricity. Each year some 40 billion batteries, mined and processed at high environmental cost, end up in landfills. Every ecosystem generates electric currents based on differentials in pressure, pH, and temperature. These micro-currents are sufficient to provide a substitute for billions of -green- batteries which pollute beyond any logic. This has been demonstrated by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute, where they have successfully made the prototype of a cellphone that generates electricity from the temperature difference between phone and body, and converting pressure from our voice into piezo-electricity that provides the power to transmit our voice … as long as we are talking.

Some 100 innovations provide the benchmarks for entrepreneurs to design innovative businesses from the grassroots up. The Blue Economy wishes to expose, not to impose, and offer the depths of science so that a new competitive model can emerge, the sooner the better. Let us not demand more of the Earth. Let us do more with what the Earth provides. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Gunter Pauli is an entrepreneur in business, science, education, and the arts and the author of non-fiction books and fables for children.

 
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