Hi Brian! Thanks for both of your posts on this vitally important issue. My response is essentially “I agree, but”!
China is belatedly but effectively addressing its environmental issues and doesn’t want to be a dumping ground, while the Trump administration’s tarrifs have been imposed under the belief they will increase US employment in steel and aluminium processing. Both of these policies do, of course, support the argument for better and more domestic US recycling. Here in Ireland China’s refusal to accept contaminated waste is already having positive effects on recycling policy. An easy route has been closed so policy-makers are having to deal with their own problems. And of course this can be framed to support movement towards a more circular and sustainable economy… but…
My ‘but’ is that there are many, many groups, organisations, discussion forums and other online and offline venues, networks and places to discuss such a push and framing and promotion. The recycling of steel and aluminium is just one of tens or hundreds of thousands of different ‘battlefronts’ in the vast collision between modern technological humanity and the rest of earth’s biosphere. There’s also the plastic and the bats and the soil and the frogs and the flights and the aquifers and the desert and the climate and the 70,000 different chemicals and the nitrogen… and so on. There are a million different collision points between us and our world, of which the damage and resource depletion caused by aluminium and steel production in one country is just one (or two!).
Of course, you could jump up a level. You could focus on advertising, consumer culture, modern social organisation, the market economy, media, laws, regulations, practices, standards, economic blocs, corporate power, lobbying and political influence, and so on and so on. These and many more factors make up the organisational, social and cultural context within which we all operate - a context that incentivises and even requires participation in a lot of destructive behaviour. Again, there are many thousands of groups, organisations and discussion fora devoted to these issues and factors, most of them focusing on specific countries. To use a computer analogy, if the environmental destruction is the output (along with a lot of good things!), this organisational and cultural context and framework is the operating system.
But (and here’s the real ‘but’ at last!) IMHO Doughnut Economics is different. As I see it, Doughnut Economics is part of the search for a new operating system (actually more than a search, because it has some direction too). Using one country’s imposition of tarrifs on another country to promote more recycling and more effective recycling is great, but changing laws, standards, practices and cultural perceptions on recycling is even better. And while changing the laws, standards, practices and cultural perceptions in one country is brilliant, changing them around the world is better still. And changing them not just for recycling but for all the other hundreds of thousands of collision points between us and nature would be even better.
That’s a pretty big thing to aspire to do, and if it’s not hard enough, there’s a time limit - especially on climate change but also on some other issues, both known and unknown. It may be too late already and we have, at most, a few decades before tipping points take the matter out of our hands and degrade our collective organisational capacity beyond our ability to act (current political dysfunction being a great example of this degradation). My point is that there’s a lot to do, and quickly.
Our hope (or my hope, anyways!) is not to change the behaviour that our system and culture incentivises, or to change the laws, regulations and standards that allow and promote that behaviour, or to even change the politicians that make the laws that allow and promote that behaviour. Our hope, IMHO, is to change the ideas and the perspectives of the politicians that make the laws that allow and promote that behaviour. That is what I think Doughnut Economics is and is working towards, and that is why I am here in this forum.
And so, while I wish you the very very best in your attempts to improve recycling, this is not the reason I am here. I am here to change the way the entire world thinks about economics within the next decade or so and I am looking for discussion, stimulation and collaborators in this effort. It is quixotic mission, ridiculously ambitious and most likely impossible - I know. A ‘Hail Mary Pass’ as you might call it. But from what I can see, it’s the only chance we have.
Incrementalism is vitally important, and the work and exploration in all the many areas of sustainability is the actual reality that will allow us to live good lives within environmental boundaries. But focusing on the bigger or more lofty picture is not arrogance or dismissive of any other genuine effort. IMHO - and in my experience and observations around the internet - it is both vitally, vitally necessary and woefully, chronically and ridiculously ignored and underfunded (see my comments on the farce of the Talanoa Dialogue for a great example). Of course details are important, but so are organising ideas. And ridiculously IMO, there are very view places to realistically discuss such global, universal organising ideas.