C: Mathieu Stern via Unsplash

The Circular Economy means just more taxes for the little people

Buried within the Programme for Government published by the Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil/Green Party coalition back in April 2020 was a section devoted to waste and the Circular Economy.

This contained a commitment to the “agreed Circular Economy approach,” apparently guiding EU policy, and the promise to publish a Circular Economy Action Plan (p36.) This has all to do with reducing waste and the use of plastics and so on. All very prosaic you might say, and even laudable, but what exactly is the Circular Economy? And more to the point, how many voters knew there was such a thing when they voted to elect this strange mélange?

Unsurprisingly, the Greens were the only party of the three to commit itself in their manifesto to “moving away from the linear economy and the ‘take-make-dispose model’ of consumption and moving to a circular economy.”

Readers of this document can only be impressed at how such a small party has succeeded in dominating so much of the work of the coalition. They also might allow themselves a wry smile at the manifesto’s reference to how all of this will lead to import substitution. Yes, the same party that demanded the closure of a successful peat sector so that we could, well, import peat, are talking up import substitution.

They have not only been successful in getting the two big boys to agree to the Action Plan, but have now begun to push forward with a Circular Economy Bill which has started to make its way through the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment and Climate Action.

Firstly, perhaps, a brief explanation of what is meant by a ‘Circular Economy,’ before we examine how the great intellects of the Joint committee have been grappling with it, and what it will in fact will mean for the rest of us once it is passed.

It’s inevitable that Sinn Féin and the other opposition parties will be just as committed to all of this as the Greens, even though it is apparent that some of their spokespersons have not the slightest notion of what it actually entails. More of that anon.

While some would have you believe that the mysterious World Economic Forum is behind everything from chem trails to Mayo not winning Sam Maguire, the circular economy is in fact one of its many children. Not only that, but the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was the first state ruler to claim to be actually engaged in creating a Circular Economy.

The CCP adopted the Circular Economy as policy at the 16th Party Congress in 2002. China has adopted some of the means by which the German and Japanese economies have sought to reduce waste, with much more stringent penalties on businesses and individuals who fail to comply. This is made easier by the increasing reach of the social credit system. Not to mention the ability to throw people into camps.

The incorporation of the concept into the ideology of the Party is interesting as academics who have looked at the theoretical bases of the Circular Economy have generally been confused as it does not fit into any of the traditional economic categories. This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, given the disastrous experience of those countries which have attempted to impose rigid ideological formulas on how society operates on an economic level.

Having said that, however, the critique which claims that the Circular Economy is no more than a means to preserve existing power relations by claiming to eliminate or reduce environmental threats by controlling consumer behaviour has validity. This is especially true given that its foremost advocates are the Chinese totalitarians who are obsessed with ensuring that the elements of individual freedom associated with the market do not threaten its own power.

In addition, the main supporters of the Circular Economy in the west are large corporations who pitch the sustainability of their own power and wealth within the popular concept of environmental sustainability.

That has found its ideological channel in the World Economic Forum which claims the credit for establishing the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) that was launched at the WEF Davos get together of the great and good in 2017 with the specific aim of persuading “public and private sector leaders to take commitments and accelerate collective action towards the Circular Economy.”

Among the WEF partners in all of this are leading corporations such as Apple, Google, Unilever as well as the China Council for International Cooperation on the Environment and Development, the European Commission and the World Bank – all of the boys and girls who keep conspiracy theorists at their screens during the early hours of the morning.

This is clearly not a conspiracy theory however in so far that a serious high level co-operation exists among the global – for the want of a better word – elite designed not to ensure that billions of people have a better life, but that their own positions at the top of the heap are not threatened. That does not mean that they are inevitably hostile to people having a better material existence, but that is not their main objective.

Indeed, it is apparent that the leading strategists of big capital – whether in its western corporate mode or the more state controlled Chinese version – do seriously regard things like resource depletion as important, and as potentially destabilising factors. That is why they are attempting to manage the environment.

Chaps who grow lettuces in window boxes outside their ministerial offices are really only incidental to all of this, and it is always useful as Lenin noted to have people who genuinely believe in what they are saying on your side.

The dark side of the resource question and what casts the Chinese commitment to eliminating waste and preventing depletion of minerals resources in a sinister light is that they are engaged in a massive attempt to hoover up of control of those resources, which in large part still remain under the soil of countries such as those in Africa. Across the continent, land and natural resources and much more are falling rapidly under the financial power of Beijing, as recently underlined by reports that China might take control of Uganda’s international airport for failure to service a loan.

One of the main corporate backers of the Circular Economy is the American tech giant CISCO who were part of a seminar on the Circular Economy involving Irish Manufacturing Research. CISCO has been criticised for its alleged co-operation with China and others in the monitoring of internet use.

All this is by way of background to the Oireachtas Committee hearings on the heads of the Circular Economy Bill that began in October. While it is all couched in the language of environmental care, the bottom line again is that the “participation of citizens” will most likely go no further than having to pay more taxes, levies and penalties to the state.

These will include a levy imposed at point of sale on disposable containers – not to be greater than €1, new commercial and residential waste charges, and a levy on the commercial disposal of waste. All of the money collected will be put into the Circular Economy Fund that is proposed to replace the much-loved Environment Fund.

There is lots of other stuff about awareness and plans and the creation of a Road Map to guide us on the way to reducing food loss, and so on. Tacked on at the end is a re-statement of the ban on issuing licenses for prospecting for coal, lignite, and oil shale. Having already scuppered out very own peat generating capacity and decided to leave whatever gas and oil might lie off our coasts where it is, we can only hope that the world at large will not see us stuck when things get tight on the energy supply front.

No other sane sovereign state to my knowledge has ever made such a decision without knowing that they have a viable alternative like nuclear – and that the country will not grind to a standstill on a balmy summer’s evening when the windmills stop turning.

Anyone who has ever had to watch Oireachtas committee meetings will be reminded of the wisdom of Thomas Sowell’s observation that people who like meetings should never be let run anything. It is quite clear from the consideration of this Bill that few of the participants are greatly up to speed on it all, if indeed interested and the absence of several would suggest not a great deal.

Richard Bruton is an exception but while he began sensibly by questioning the budgetary aspects and wondering what in the name of God does a circular economy even mean, he then succumbed to musing about “the shared use of vehicles.” Which is all very well and good, but would Richard or anyone hand over his keys to one of his neighbours who might need the motor to pop down to the recycling facility, or the bookies?

He seems like a decent chap so perhaps he might, but is that really a basis for a policy objective that shorn of such pious hopes is only another means to extend state reach, including into our pockets? (At a subsequent meeting he decided that the bill should now be “the central spine” of the approach to the issues at hand.)

At least Senator Alice-Mary Higgins concentrated on the brass tacks of imagining  penalties not even included in the draft, such as fining manufacturers for “knowingly building in obsolescence.” The cunning bastards. 

Lynn Boylan mentioned something about packaging balloons, and her Sinn Féin comrade Reada Cronin had the good grace to say that she hadn’t really read the thing, but that we should maybe make soup on Monday out of Sunday’s roast, and that we need radical change. Cronin did, in fairness, wonder about the actual participation of people themselves which is of course completely irrelevant to the state, especially when it has the kind of power – as it does in China and as many technocrats in the west would cherish – which means they do not have to worry overly about consent. 

It is the role of the state, indeed, that has been highlighted by critics as a flaw in the Circular Economy schema. For, if there is one thing that the state is certainly not good at it, is the reduction of waste. As was pointed out by another Sinn Féin TD Darren O’Rourke who referred to the “incredible” waste within the health service. Which is true, but surely that ought to cause himself and others to pause in their call for that same wasteful entity to be “the leader in terms of managing waste.”

There could not, of course, be any thought of introducing new legislation here without allowing the sectoral NGOs to put their fingerprints on it. Thus, Mindy O’Brien of VOICE, a former Capitol Hill staffer who you may remember from her roles in Conscious Cup, Sick of Plastic and Picker Pals; and Jean-Pierre Schweitzer of the European Environment Bureau, have made presentations.

O’Brien made the surely dubious suggestion that any legislation be “future proofed” to ensure that a future government which takes a different view on things is prevented from amending existing legislation. This is a notion highly regarded by liberals and lefties who see it as a means of imposing their ideology even after they have lost something trivial like an election.

Dr, Geraldine Brennan of CIRCULÉIRE, which is effectively the Irish section of PACE, also made a presentation on October 21. They were part of the Irish Management Research seminar referred to above. Brennan’s contribution was the lengthiest and best informed and provides the best synopsis of where the business sector sees all of this going. Despite her reference to local repair shops in response to Cronin’s question about citizen involvement, the overall “vision” is clearly one in which the corporate sector embeds a model of sustainability for itself. All else is secondary and merely contributory to all of that, in the same way as diversity is an imagined consequence of importing low wage labour. 

It is a bit sad really that we have few, if any, people involved who are elected representatives who have even the basic understanding of all of this, much less any alternative “vision” beyond gratuitous nods in the direction of “radical change” and what not. Which are of little interest you may be sure to those who sit in the board rooms of the big corporations and much less at meetings of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party or of their admirers in Davos and elsewhere. 

Whether you choose to believe that all of this is part of some global scheme to Build Back Better in the interests of those who have done very well thank you very much in the Time of the Covid is your own affair. At least you are thinking seriously about it. Which is not something you could accuse most of the people supposed to be legislating for the common good of ever doing intentionally. 

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