Economy: No Planet B

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Dave Deruytter suggests we have to make some difficult decisions in terms of the economy to save the planet.

We have all ordered a product online, at least once. More often we bought it on a foreign website, rather than on a local one. The product itself was probably produced in Asia, shipped to the foreign country, put in a large warehouse there, before a ‘man in a diesel van’ took on the delivery of the package to us in Belgium. Agreed, if we would have bought the product in a shop nearby, the ecological footprint would probably not have been much smaller. That product would also have been produced in Asia, but maybe shipped directly to Belgium, avoiding a second cross border transportation.

Can’t we produce more products locally? The raw materials would then have to be shipped here, as Belgium does not have any iron ore, or oil, or any of other typical raw materials needed. Still, as a large share of the production machinery used worldwide is produced in Germany, an important part of the production chain would come from a bordering country. That would be an improvement.

Could 3D printers be an even better solution? The ingredients that those printers use for production sometimes also come from far away. Still, if the 3D printers are produced in Belgium or in a neighbouring country, again the ecological footprint should be smaller.

Why is this not happening? Labour cost is very high in the EU – so high that producing a product in a plant thousands of kilometres away and shipping it from there is cheaper than producing it locally. Also, the EU has strict ecological requirements for factories on its soil. That is not the case in many of those low-cost production countries. Furthermore, by no longer producing much locally in the EU for decades now, our workers have lost the necessary skills and experience to produce many of the products that are hot buys today, such as smartphones for example.

If we would make shipping, or transport in general, much more expensive, that should have an effect. A carbon tax for example, which the polluter pays. But we should go further and ban products produced in a non-ecological way from ever entering the EU. Thirdly, we should start producing more locally again in the EU. And education should help us prepare the workers needed to do so, with the right knowledge and skills which would eventually have an impact on the overall economy.

Of course, we are not efficiently using our ‘polluting’ products today either. Our cars stand idle very often. When our children leave home, we have rooms to spare. Our old smartphones are put away in a cupboard. The widespread sharing of houses (Airbnb) and cars (Uber), instead of all of us owning at least one of each, would have another big positive effect on the climate. The circular economy should grow much bigger. From scrap material reuse, our old smartphones for example, to clothing getting a second or even a third life.