Closed-loop economy

Should you squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle or from the end?
Post Reply
iopsi
Posts: 30
Joined: Fri Nov 16, 2018 3:30 pm

Closed-loop economy

Post by iopsi » Sat Dec 08, 2018 12:12 pm

Do you think we will ever reach a "closed-loop", sustainable, technological society that is more robust than the natural ecosystem (and thus nearly independent from it)?

With things like nuclear fusion, widespread renewable energy sources, advanced greenhouses, genetic engineering, robotics, etc.. it isn't an impossibility.

For example there are companies that have huge, climate controlled, greenhouses with hydroponic production of food. So they are already independent from soil and external climate, but still rely on external nutrients (which as far as i know are not sustainably produced, phosphorus is extracted from mines for example), water and fossil fuels energy. Tho there is also a company (sundrop) that produces all its energy with solar and uses ocean salt water (don't know if there are others like this).
So it's already technologically possible to have industrial-food production that is almost sustainable and independent from the natural ecosystem or limited resources, except for the nutrients.
Cover that side with other sustainable, ecosystem-independent processess, and you have technologically closed the loop.

The great advantage of that is, that a technologically based "closed-loop" is entirely under the control of humans. Not on more or less uncontrollable natural phenomenona.

So, do you think humanity can reach this stage for the economy at large?
And bonus question: do you think that the free market is enough/the best way to reach this point? Or the hand of the government/a central planner is needed?

Share your thoughts!

Scott 2
Posts: 1090
Joined: Sun Feb 12, 2012 10:34 pm

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by Scott 2 » Sat Dec 08, 2018 12:23 pm

I think human nature makes any utopia impossible. After all, if I figure out how to take your robot, then I have two robots. I'll be twice as good as my neighbor with one, and infinitely better than you with zero.

Jason
Posts: 1540
Joined: Mon Jan 30, 2017 8:37 am

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by Jason » Sat Dec 08, 2018 12:38 pm

Are the loops made in China?

User avatar
Sclass
Posts: 1438
Joined: Tue Jul 10, 2012 5:15 pm

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by Sclass » Sat Dec 08, 2018 11:14 pm

No. Because reasons...the biggest is our feedback loop is positive not negative. Negative feedback self regulates while positive feedback reinforces the input and runs away. People are rewarded for doing the wrong thing, which leads to more wrong doing.

It’s all good till the amplifier blows up...or a fuse pops. Perhaps climate change and population crash will be our circuit breaker.

tonyedgecombe
Posts: 137
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2012 2:11 pm
Location: Oxford, UK
Contact:

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by tonyedgecombe » Sun Dec 09, 2018 4:11 am

I'm not so gloomy as that because it actually takes a concerted marketing/PR effort to keep us doing the wrong thing, it isn't the natural state.

User avatar
Sclass
Posts: 1438
Joined: Tue Jul 10, 2012 5:15 pm

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by Sclass » Sun Dec 09, 2018 8:40 am

tonyedgecombe wrote:
Sun Dec 09, 2018 4:11 am
I'm not so gloomy as that because it actually takes a concerted marketing/PR effort to keep us doing the wrong thing, it isn't the natural state.
I think you misunderstood me. Those receiving the concerted marketing PR effort are not those being rewarded.

User avatar
7Wannabe5
Posts: 4156
Joined: Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:03 am

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Sun Dec 09, 2018 8:48 am

No, because every human body is a natural eco-system containing thousands of species. Every human shelter, no matter how superficially "sterile" contains many more thousands of species. Our digestive and immune systems will not function outside of complex interaction with complex environment. Robust isolationism is ultimately fragile rigidity.

iopsi
Posts: 30
Joined: Fri Nov 16, 2018 3:30 pm

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by iopsi » Sun Dec 09, 2018 1:24 pm

Sclass wrote:
Sat Dec 08, 2018 11:14 pm
People are rewarded for doing the wrong thing, which leads to more wrong doing.

It’s all good till the amplifier blows up...or a fuse pops. Perhaps climate change and population crash will be our circuit breaker.
In a way yes, market failures are proof of that. But doesn't this tend to correct itself? Even tho it is possible to reach a point of no return before the "correction" gets any traction.
7Wannabe5 wrote:
Sun Dec 09, 2018 8:48 am
Robust isolationism is ultimately fragile rigidity.
But doesn't climate change itself prove that the natural ecosystem (optimal for us) is also ultimately rigid and fragile?
For example biointensive agriculture seems a robust sustainable method for food production. Yet, if it is dependent on volatile (especially today) climate conditions, is it really that robust? Maybe a technological solution with greenhouses, soil-less nutrient solutions, etc is better.

User avatar
7Wannabe5
Posts: 4156
Joined: Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:03 am

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Sun Dec 09, 2018 6:12 pm

@iopsi:

Well, a clean, cheap, virtually unlimited supply of energy would open up a great many options. However, there would still be limits, because useful energy would still degrade to heat which would have to be ventilated or otherwise disposed of outside of system boundary. Also, even if you imagine a future technologically advanced enough that, for instance, micro-robots could mine for minute particles of phosphorus, the information processing necessary to make these robots functional would also create a great deal of waste heat that would need to be ventilated.

All living beings and systems composed of living beings can only exist by process which simultaneously creates order and degraded waste in due proportion.

User avatar
vexed87
Posts: 1367
Joined: Fri Feb 20, 2015 8:02 am
Location: Yorkshire, UK

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by vexed87 » Mon Dec 10, 2018 7:56 am

The problem with closed loop economies is they cannot conveniently import energy in concentrated forms like oil or gas. There is no unlimited, too cheap to meter source of energy. If we are getting serious and truly closing the loops without exhausting finite resources, we have to make do with what the sun makes available to us in any one year, that is after the self-sustaining systems of nature have taken their share. If we exceed that measure for for too long, among other things, we exhaust wood fuel supply, degrade the soils, destroy species' habitat and we ultimately suffer Malthusian collapse.

Under that rule set, industrial scale agriculture and manufacturing goes out the window. Instead, we will be relying on human and animal labour for most work, and all the limitations that brings about. People often forget that technology only allows us to leverage already available energy, not create it. So the sophistication of civilisation in terms of complex technology available to us depends on the amount of energy per capita. Of course, resources don’t have to be equally shared, so some can exploit more energy than others, as is happening now. But things can only get so skewed before the social contract is deemed broken, and the peasants rise up (gilets jaunes/yellow vests anyone?). There has to be enough available energy to leverage technology, including manufacturing, maintaining, and training people willing to apply it. Otherwise, technology is about as much use as a Tesla with no paved roads or charging sockets.

In order to answer OPs question in any sensible way, we have to establish energy availability per capita. Once we have that, we have a decent starting point discuss what is practicably possible. If we exclude oil, gas and coal energy inputs, our society starts to look an awful lot like the iron age Europe again, only with 150x more mouths to feed. The great technological societies that formed during the iron age were not truly closed loop and suffered the same fate as our own when they opened their own Pandora's box of growth.

I think OP will be disappointed with what the dark ages looked like from a technological point of view, and that’s likely where humanity is headed, but that’s not to say we won’t to get to keep some cool gizmos, and relics from our current age, providing people are prepared to put in the work preserving the knowledge. For example, I don’t think germ theory, or the scientific method are going anywhere any time soon. Knowledge like that and how to use it is too widely dispersed, unlike higher more complex technologies, which is understood only by a few gatekeepers. Decentralised, easy to construct technologies will proliferate widely, centralised, grid dependant technologies won't stand much chance.

iopsi
Posts: 30
Joined: Fri Nov 16, 2018 3:30 pm

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by iopsi » Mon Dec 10, 2018 1:26 pm

7Wannabe5 wrote:
Sun Dec 09, 2018 6:12 pm
@iopsi:

Well, a clean, cheap, virtually unlimited supply of energy would open up a great many options. However, there would still be limits, because useful energy would still degrade to heat which would have to be ventilated or otherwise disposed of outside of system boundary. Also, even if you imagine a future technologically advanced enough that, for instance, micro-robots could mine for minute particles of phosphorus, the information processing necessary to make these robots functional would also create a great deal of waste heat that would need to be ventilated.

All living beings and systems composed of living beings can only exist by process which simultaneously creates order and degraded waste in due proportion.
Yes entropy wins at the end, with that i agree. True 100% sustanability is unreachable.

This thread is more about whether in the future we can reach a "technological ecosystem" that is much more resilient, controllable and favourable for us (than the "natural ecosystem").
Tho of course as you mentioned this can't be 100% reached since we are organic beings and thus require various bacteria etc..

Right now by using natural processess we can reach much greater sustainability and robustness, with biointensive agriculture, permaculture etc (at least as long as climate change doesn't make those non-viable i guess?).
But i think technology has a greater potential if taken to certain hypothetical levels (nuclear fusion for example would change everything).

This question about natural vs technological has always bugged me. Since i (and i guess many on this forum) try to be very frugal not only for financial reasons but also for ethical reasons, but what if my aim is misplaced? I mean, what if the real moral choice would be to work towards that potential technological future, instead of living a life with low carbon foot-print more in line with nature?
vexed87 wrote:
Mon Dec 10, 2018 7:56 am
The problem with closed loop economies is they cannot conveniently import energy in concentrated forms like oil or gas. There is no unlimited, too cheap to meter source of energy. If we are getting serious and truly closing the loops without exhausting finite resources, we have to make do with what the sun makes available to us in any one year, that is after the self-sustaining systems of nature have taken their share. If we exceed that measure for for too long, among other things, we exhaust wood fuel supply, degrade the soils, destroy species' habitat and we ultimately suffer Malthusian collapse.
Couldn't nuclear fusion break this dependence on the sun? Or do you think that is impossible?

About knowledge, if i remember correctly the last nobel on economics was exactly about endogenous growth on economic regions caused by creation and accumulation of knowledge. It's an interesting point and is very correlated with decentralized technologies.
There is a nice project called Open Source Ecology, about making a bunch of open source hardware technologies (ceb press, tractors, cnc machine, 3d printer etc) that should be capable of giving industrial-level production to small communities.

User avatar
vexed87
Posts: 1367
Joined: Fri Feb 20, 2015 8:02 am
Location: Yorkshire, UK

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by vexed87 » Tue Dec 11, 2018 5:43 am

iopsi wrote:
Mon Dec 10, 2018 1:26 pm
This thread is more about whether in the future we can reach a "technological ecosystem" that is much more resilient, controllable and favourable for us (than the "natural ecosystem").
Some would argue that it's homo sapiens recent preference to dominate, domesticate, homogenise and control nature that got us into this mess in the first place, and further intensification of that behaviour would serve to degrade the foundations of life on which we rely even further. See John Zerzan for some well thought out arguments on that. A great anti-civ writer imo, although he does take his perspective to extremes at times applying a little too much credence to the issues, nevertheless it's an interesting philosophy, and helped me shift my perspective on the role of tech in my own life and civilisation as a whole.
iopsi wrote:
Mon Dec 10, 2018 1:26 pm
Couldn't nuclear fusion break this dependence on the sun? Or do you think that is impossible?
Disclaimer, I am no expert, but some of the great thinkers to whom I defer the question would have me believe it's not practicably possible. Theoretically, for use in thought experiments yes, but within the timescale we require to avert collapse, on the scale we need to replace fossil fuels and at a price we can afford to pay? Nope. Here's the thing. We already have a great big fusion reactor in the sky, and it sends us nearly limitless energy year round. We just haven't worked out how to use it efficiently yet, other civilisations were much better at it than us, if we focused our minds, we could do better still than civilisations of past. See any good permaculture design book for thoughts on that.
iopsi wrote:
Mon Dec 10, 2018 1:26 pm
About knowledge, if i remember correctly the last nobel on economics was exactly about endogenous growth on economic regions caused by creation and accumulation of knowledge. It's an interesting point and is very correlated with decentralized technologies.
There is a nice project called Open Source Ecology, about making a bunch of open source hardware technologies (ceb press, tractors, cnc machine, 3d printer etc) that should be capable of giving industrial-level production to small communities.
These are very interesting projects, and yes I agree small scale industrial production will happen as it always has. JMG suggests that ethanol powered tractors may well utilised in agriculture in locations where ethanol has a positive EROEI. Elsewhere, it will never make sense. Application of tech will very much be limited by the local skills and capital. For reasons covered extensively, heavy stuff cannot be transported far without great cost (inefficient use of transport energy), so the comparative advantage of tech in locales will be regional for the most part. Tech that makes sense in a fossil fuel economy won't necessarily be sensible to pursue widely throughout a closed loop economy.

iopsi
Posts: 30
Joined: Fri Nov 16, 2018 3:30 pm

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by iopsi » Wed Dec 12, 2018 4:22 pm

vexed87 wrote:
Tue Dec 11, 2018 5:43 am
Some would argue that it's homo sapiens recent preference to dominate, domesticate, homogenise and control nature that got us into this mess in the first place, and further intensification of that behaviour would serve to degrade the foundations of life on which we rely even further. See John Zerzan for some well thought out arguments on that. A great anti-civ writer imo, although he does take his perspective to extremes at times applying a little too much credence to the issues, nevertheless it's an interesting philosophy, and helped me shift my perspective on the role of tech in my own life and civilisation as a whole.
Yes, for now, that is true. The hunter & gatherer system may be proven to have been the superior one, compared to our based on agriculture and industrialization, if we will not be able to respond effectively to climate change and resource depletion. Though i hope not!
I'll be sure to check John Zerzan.

User avatar
Sclass
Posts: 1438
Joined: Tue Jul 10, 2012 5:15 pm

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by Sclass » Wed Dec 12, 2018 10:20 pm

iopsi wrote:
Sun Dec 09, 2018 1:24 pm
In a way yes, market failures are proof of that. But doesn't this tend to correct itself? Even tho it is possible to reach a point of no return before the "correction" gets any traction.
Tell that to a Japanese citizen older than forty. :lol:

Sometimes things get sorted out. Sometimes things get bigger and worse. Depends on the nature of the closed loop system.

In finance, people are rewarded for runaway growth that feeds on itself. A business plan that claims a self limiting control on future growth that is controlled by growth rate isn’t going to get investment.

I hope we don’t blast ourselves back to the dark ages. But that is correction of sorts. A major extinction caused by a crash of resources just like bacteria in a Petri dish. Not pretty but closed loop. The feedback is positive up to the point it isn’t.

Campitor
Posts: 559
Joined: Thu Aug 20, 2015 11:49 am

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by Campitor » Fri Dec 14, 2018 12:13 pm

How Circular is the Circular Economy?

The low efficiency of the recycling process is, on its own, enough to take the ground from under the concept of the circular economy: the loss of resources during the recycling process always needs to be compensated with more over-extraction of the planet’s resources. Recycling processes will improve, but recycling is always a trade-off between maximum material recovery and minimum energy use.....

....As energy is transferred or transformed, its quality diminishes (second law of thermodynamics). For example, it’s impossible to operate one car or one power plant with the excess heat from another. Consequently, there will always be a need to mine new fossil fuels. Besides, recycling materials also requires energy, both through the recycling process and the transportation of recycled and to-be-recycled materials.

To this, the supporters of the circular economy have a response: we will shift to 100% renewable energy. But this doesn’t make the circle round: to build and maintain renewable energy plants and accompanied infrastructures, we also need resources (both energy and materials). What’s more, technology to harvest and store renewable energy relies on difficult-to-recycle materials. That’s why solar panels, wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries are not recycled, but landfilled or incinerated....

...Growth makes a circular economy impossible, even if all raw materials were recycled and all recycling was 100% efficient. The amount of used material that can be recycled will always be smaller than the material needed for growth. To compensate for that, we have to continuously extract more resources....

...A more responsible use of resources is of course an excellent idea. But to achieve that, recycling and re-use alone aren’t enough. Since 71% of all resources cannot be recycled or re-used (44% of which are energy sources and 27% of which are added to existing stocks), you can only really get better numbers by reducing total use.

User avatar
TheWanderingScholar
Posts: 528
Joined: Thu Dec 30, 2010 12:04 am

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by TheWanderingScholar » Fri Dec 14, 2018 1:00 pm

There is a reason why Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle is used in that order.

User avatar
7Wannabe5
Posts: 4156
Joined: Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:03 am

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Fri Dec 14, 2018 3:48 pm

TheWanderingScholar wrote:There is a reason why Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle is used in that order.
Exception being home-grown zucchini.

@iopsi:

In "Green Wizardry", John Michael Greer writes about 3 different possible approaches to the Eco-Technic Future. He refers to them as Down Home Funk, Retrofit, and New Alchemy. Down Home Fun approximates Back to the Land/ Back to the Past. Retrofit is about working where you find yourself now with materials at hand and current waste streams, and New Alchemy is more futuristic and innovative, like what you are considering. I think some personal combination of all 3 approaches would likely be most resilient and fun :D

iopsi
Posts: 30
Joined: Fri Nov 16, 2018 3:30 pm

Re: Closed-loop economy

Post by iopsi » Sat Dec 15, 2018 5:32 pm

Campitor wrote:
Fri Dec 14, 2018 12:13 pm
How Circular is the Circular Economy?
Interesting article and website, lost a few hours on it yesterday and today ahah.
Agree with what it says, i think that there is either extreme technological development (nuclear fusion, asteroid mining, various kinds of advanced engineering, etc) or that consumption levels will have to (whether we want it or not) decrease substantially (and the human population too). Tho it is unclear if this kind of technological development is possible or practically reachable in the first place.
The kind of "soft" technological and green economy suggested on the mainstream is incapable of sustaining current consumption levels.


@7Wannabe5
Yes that's also something to consider. Maybe certain fields will experience extreme advances (genetic engineering, computer science?), while others remain more or less static (current renewable energy tech?) and while others still downgrade to more "primitive"/natural levels (agriculture?). Not necessarily a bad thing.

Post Reply