Christian Arnsperger: My colleague Dominique Bourg (also from the University of Lausanne) and myself have just released a new book in French, entitled Ecologie intégrale: Pour une société permacirculaire(translation: Integral Ecology: Toward a Perma-Circular Society), published in Paris by Presses Universitaires de France. It’s the culmination of a two-year effort we engaged in between mid-2014 (when I arrived at Lausanne) and mid-2016 to spell out (a) what sustainability really means and (b) what the social, cultural and political conditions for the emergence of a genuinely sustainable society are. It’s during this period that we published our article, “Vers une économie authentiquement circulaire: Réflexions sur les fondements d’un indicateur de circularité”(“Toward a Genuinely Circular Economy: Reflections on the Foundations of a Circularity Indicator”), in which we first coined the word permacircularité. (In French, we don’t hyphenate it. I’m thinking of soon going over to that spelling convention in English as well – since the related word “permaculture” has no hyphen either.)
Our basic intuition, which we started out by developing in a series of articles, was that a genuinely sustainable society requires a circular and regenerative economy which, as a result, needs to give up growth as it guiding and regulating principle. We adopted the insights discovered by the French engineer François Grosse, who has posted previously on this blog and who contributed a short text to our book. You can see the book’s webpage and order it at https://www.puf.com/content/Ecologie_intégrale.
For English-speaking audiences, I need to add immediately that the way in which we use the word “integral” in our book’s title is rather different from the meaning that word has acquired, in the USA in particular, over the past decade. The philosopher Ken Wilber coined the term “Integral” in a specific sense, meaning an all-encompassing perspective on reality that combines inner and outer perspectives on the individual and the collective. For Wilber, all of reality is constantly mobilizing an “It” dimension (the outer-individual), an “I” perspective (the inner-individual), an “Its” perspective (the outer-collective) and a “We” perspective (the inner-collective). I have worked on, and with, Wilber’s model quite a bit in the past, attempting to apply it to economics in my book Full-Spectrum Economics: Toward an Inclusive and Emancipatory Social Science (Routledge, 2010). Sean Esbjörn-Hargens and Michael E. Zimmerman have attempted to use Wilber’s approach to understand the multiple perspectives on, and facets of, ecological issues, in their book Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World (Shambhala, 2009). In our book, Dominique Bourg and I use the expression “integral ecology” in a rather less ambitious but nevertheless relevant sense, meaning an approach that “consists in considering that ecological and social problems are like the two sides of the same sheet of paper, with inequality linking them indissolubly” (p. 12).
Our integral perspective is therefore mostly socio-political, but it lends central importance to cultural change. A perma-circular economy and society, we argue, is going to require a basic thrust of Western cultures toward forms of chosen frugality or voluntary simplicity. Such forms aren’t new and have existed in all spiritual traditions. Our central contribution to the the debate on ecological transition is that we seek to understand how it could happen within a pluralistic, democratic society of free citizens. Rejecting any notion of ecological dictatorship or environmental authoritarianism, we argue that if the right institutional changes are introduced (a step we assume, probably all too optimistically, to be within the power of most modern democratic societies), a perma-circular world could be attained gradually through the free adoption, by every citizen, of ways of thinking, ways of producing and ways of consuming that have a one-planet ecological footprint.
The main arguments of the book will be familiar to the readers of this blog are familiar with: reduction of material flows, genuine circularity, the need for income support and a new way of creating currency, and the need for a culture of perma-circularity that sees “progress” as something altogether different from the illusions and traps with which techno-optimists and “spaced-out” industrial ecologists have wanted to fool us. Perhaps the main aspect of the book which this blog hasn’t yet developed so much is how to make perma-circularity compatible with a pluralistic democracy.
As we say in French, bonne lecture!
Illustration by Richard Register