Circular Economy and the Green Transition

Circular economy: paradigm shift or paradigm drift?

“Your paradigm is so intrinsic to your mental process that you are hardly aware of its existence, until you try to communicate with someone a different paradigm.” Donella Meadows

Circular economy and green transition have become green buzzwords, however the majority of people in most countries are not sure what it means and how this concept affects, or improves their lives. If tangible examples of circular model(s) and their economic and social transactions and gains are visible to the community, this is likely to attract a great number of people supporting this workable concept. Given the current economic model and the social conditions resulting from it, circular economy cannot alone bring everyone on board towards green transition.

The question of what we focus on first, economic growth or sustainability, is increasingly answered by our climate becoming more precarious, and it is not a case of whether countries will or will not keep developing, but what shape their development takes.

So what is circular thinking?

Unless we look to ongoing improvement and the next best hypothesis is being sorted and being looked at in depth with an open mind, limited circular thinking, or going round in circles is a clear possibility. Various psychology books highlight this phenomenon. The concept of “circular wheel” is an interesting biological reality in the life of ants. When groups of ants separate from their colony, they can form a large circle and move around it. As they try to find their way back, they all follow the ants in front, sometimes for days. This goes on over extended periods of time until some ants break the circle.

How does circular thinking affect human brain circuitry?

Humans can certainly learn from this example that nature models aren’t perfect, and it pays to think for oneself, independent of any group. Frequently questioning the pre-conceived, we have always done it like this form of thinking. If the group does this together as a group, as well as thinking independently, and then together with the group, the result is consistently better. This all makes the group increasingly smart.

If we compare thinking to the way the ants are, then it is unlikely that a few will break away individually, as they follow what the others do. An independent thinker who is free from such bias-influence can break up the broken record syndrome of a group, going around in intellectual circles, sometimes by accident. Or, by thinking outside the box, or how Edward De Bono puts it: through “lateral thinking”, and find and show a clear way forward where previously there wasn’t any.

Circular thinking traps and the societal barriers to regenerative progress

There are many thinking traps that we can get stuck in. “Circular wheel” of depression, for instance. When people don’t feel confident socially, they don’t go out. They don’t go out, so they don’t mix with people or get fresh air. Consequently, they feel depressed and less confident, so on and so forth.

The homeless can find themselves trapped in a circle as well; they don’t have an address, so they can’t get a job, they can’t find a job, so they can’t get an address and so on.

Circular thinking driving the climate events and go-slow

There is another significant “circular wheel” thinking process that is playing out all the time, and this is how we have been looking at environment issues. Imagine this scenario at the betting shop, with bookmakers accepting hundreds of bets on horses. Gamblers all betting on this horse and that horse, reducing their bets and upping the stakes, accordingly. But what they don’t realise, and what didn’t occur to them, is that the racetrack hasn’t been built yet!

This has been a comparable scenario for the last 20 years, or so, with climate change summits. The entire world has been going around in circles trying to agree on targets, opposing the targets, demanding more, arguing over how much and by when. It has occurred to few that targets are only the most useful if we have a means in which to meet them.

The whole world with its tens of millions of people has been going around in circles within the climate change paradigm; simply by changing the emphasis from how much to how could we provide better answers?

This article is the work of the Earthvoice editor, Kinga Monica. She is available for consulting on practical instigation of the concept, sustainability and ecotourism consulting, internationally.

To read more on this topic, follow me on Medium.


A Big Strategy: In times of Crisis. A Model to Help Regenerate The Environment, Community And Sustainable Economy. Published in 2012.

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