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Executive summary


Climate instability is just one of many symptoms of today's way of doing economics, yet climate policy is focussed on the symptom rather than the system. Perhaps the climate problem hasn't been solved because effective solutions don't exist within the narrow bounds where we've been looking? Perhaps the climate and all the other symptoms are more closely connected than we've realised, so that effective solutions actually exist in the vast little-explored space where all global challenges are considered together as a single system? Working with these systemic solutions requires a level of ambition that escapes the cycle of declining hope from decades passing without meaningful progress. It also requires habits of thought which differ from those cultivated by a society whose thinking caused all the problems in the first place. Our reward, if we are willing to extend our imagination to the scale of the problems and to act fast enough, would be to trigger a societal response faster than we can today imagine. In other words we are capable, if we try, of redefining what is feasible to match what's actually needed rather that just what has previously seemed realistic. Changing the game could be more feasible than just tinkering with the rules! 
Conventionally we seek to make problems more manageable by breaking them down into smaller and smaller sub-problems, then trying to control the detail. The complementary approach of systems thinking has been used within climate science for example to study feedbacks and the risk of runaway instability. However there has been a neglect of the potential for making problems more manageable by using systems thinking to design cross-problem solutions in which the detail can largely self-organise.  This Climate CoLab proposal offers a way to implement the 1966 work by Kenneth Boulding about a vision for economics that could resolve multiple problems at source. Climate change is an outcome of economies that systematically turn resources (including fossil carbon stores and greenhouse gas sinks) into wastes that accumulate throughout ecosystems (including in the atmosphere). This is called 'linear economics' because it takes resources on one way trips. Tackling this requires nothing less than reshaping the whole economy to 'circular economics' which would take all resources on return trips. Economics would operate together with nature to ensure that resources become new resources (for nature or people) rather than accumulating wastes. Circular economics is a well-known policy, also known as closed-loop and 'cradle to cradle'. This proposal provides the mechanism, an economic tool called 'precycling insurance',  to make it happen worldwide. A description may be found in the peer-reviewed published information at
The anticipated outcomes are:
  • Awareness that the world's symptomatic problems require systemic solutions not symptomatic solutions. They cannot be solved separately, especially the big ones like climate. 
  • Implementation of circular economics everywhere, by implementing the economic tool. This means that the mechanism for restabilising the climate would be the same as that which destabilised it; the whole economy!  Anything less is pie in the sky.
  • Implementation of related 'policy switches' that fix other global systemic errors to do with how we relate and respond to the world and each other. These errors works as accelerators for climate disruption but when fixed they would accelerate a rescue. Please see the peer-reviewed published information at
  • So long as we act in time, the world economy would rapidly eliminate its dependence upon emitting wastes (including GHGs). There is no limit to this process so emissions cuts would exceed all current targets and would proceed towards running with net-negative emissions.
  • Fixing the system would enable the reversal of multiple global problems, not just climate problems.
This proposal is unlike most other climate proposals, yet it may also be distinguished by the management of resources and products rather than the usual management of emissions and energy. This materials focus is helpful in making the big picture with climate more tangible. People can see:
  • The flow of materials, from resources to wastes.
  • Problems as resources decline.
  • Problems as wastes accumulate (including climate problems).
  • The problem is not just one element (carbon) but the whole flow.
  • A reshaped economy can reconnect the flow into cycles.
  • The shape for the economy can be chosen. 
  • This choice determines whether all products end up as wastes or new resources. 
  • Products include fuels and all other materials in the economy.
  • Emissions are resources becoming wastes.
  • Energy is available both with and without waste accumulation.
  • Being efficient with energy saves resources.
  • Being efficient with resources saves energy. 
James Greyson designed the main action proposed here, precycling insurance, and two of the other proposed 'policy switch' actions; numbers 4 (conflict -> co-operation) and 5 (ownership -> guardianship) as part of a set of seven policy switches which has been peer-reviewed and published as 'Advanced Research' by NATO.  James received a UN 'Climate Centurion' trophy in 2008. See

What: Actions and impacts

The proposed action is to reshape the whole economy, from linear to circular, by implementing a market-based instrument called precycling insurance. See  Also proposed is to implement related policy switches to accelerate the transition. See These switches would together create the conditions for the start of a rapid response to humanity's ecological, social and economic predicaments. A serious response will not cherry-pick or dilute the seven switches.

The 'how much by when' targets shown in the MIT model may not less relevant to this proposal since it isn't based on targets. Debates about target timelines unhelpfully lead to mechanistic technical planning and presumptions about what is feasible that are misguided by what has been feasible so far. What really matters is achieving net-negative emissions and net-positive expansion of nature at the fastest possible speed. Humanity is capable of vastly more than it has demonstrated so far so the speed of transition could be vastly faster than we can imagine today. Hence the 'mitigation cost' shown in the MIT model for this proposal is correctly shown as N/A. This should not be taken to suggest that the proposal is not feasible, just that current models cannot accommodate it.  Computer modelling is a highly skilled and important activity yet it so far works with changes within paradigms, not changes of paradigms and modelling applicable to this proposal has yet to be done. It is even possible that the inherent uncertainties may require decisions to be based on understanding and dialogue rather than numerical evidence. The future can be envisaged but it might not be measurable: 
  • If the economy is not circular long before 2100 there will be no economy in 2100. 
  • The MIT model seems to apply constraints to a conventional linear economy rather than switching to a circular economy. 
  • This is like comparing activity in a healthy business with a closing down sale. 
Economic activity in the transition to a circular economy may not be predictable but it is predictably huge. Conventional linear economics undermines future growth by systematically destroying all sources of security including the climate, resources and co-operation. Precycling insurance would reverse that by providing a systemic correction for market externalities (including climate insecurity). Its impacts would be remarkable:
  • Sales of unsustainable products (for example fossil fuels) would fall but their higher prices would add to growth.
  • Premiums from precycling insurance would be invested in sustainability, adding to growth.
  • Investors (everyone from shoppers to governments) would get the same clear signals, boosting confidence and adding to growth.
  • Neglected activities, such as protecting and expanding nature, would be funded - adding to growth.
  • Resources previously lost would remain economically available, adding to growth.
  • Previously unpaid financial and ecological debts would be paid, adding to growth.
  • Positive expectations about the future would rise, which suppresses exploitive behaviours and adds to growth.
The proposal's feasibility is largely based upon affordability. How can we pay for the immense surge of activity that's needed? Since the proposal works with the whole economy, the funds for necessary investments need not derive just from climate financing mechanisms. Each of the following five financial mechanisms is likely to be individually larger than any other proposed climate-related mechanism. But not larger than needed given the urgency of the predicament. We can invest our way out of the Age of Austerity and the prospect of runaway climate instability simultaneously. 
Revenue from precycling insurance premiums, to be invested globally in cutting the risk of all products (including fuels) ending up as waste. This means capacity-building worldwide, including reversing the loss of nature and meeting basic human needs everywhere. 
Economic growth running on regeneration rather than exploitation - an entirely new 'growth engine' (not just a 'green economy' sector).
Release of funds previously thought necessary for investment in weapons. (Switch 4)
Sharing of wealth previously collected by the super-rich. (Switch 6)
Creation of money previously handled by banks. (Switch 7)
Why: Rationale for the proposal
These actions and outcomes are desirable because it is necessary for humanity to get its collective head around the diabolical mess it has made of things and the need for a response on the scale of the mess. Although society's trajectory of efforts with global problems is not leading to a solution, it's possible to switch to a new trajectory that does. 
How: Feasibility of proposal
The proposed actions just need to be implemented. Prescriptions for energy technologies, behaviour changes, targets and timetables are not needed since the actions would create the conditions for change to be self-organising.  This may be contrasted with recent decades where change has been repeatedly prescribed in vast detail, but without hardly happening because the conditions for change were not provided. 
It's worth noting that the proposed actions would eliminate most of the roadblocks which have previously blocked progress, most notably political fears about economic growth. Limiting emissions within the obsolete linear economy, which relies on freely wasting and emitting, could impact upon growth and economic competitiveness. Hence the lack of political will. However, tomorrow's circular economy thrives and grows by cutting waste and emissions so nations would compete to change faster, not slower. This provides politicians with a defence against vested interests who could no longer argue that growth derives from their freedom to pollute. It also divides corporate lobbyists into innovators (able to imagine sustainable business within an economy supporting profit from sustainability) and dinosaurs (able to imagine business as usual). 
Those who would say, "I don't believe in any problem with the climate" would be similarly divided by reshaping the whole economy as most would struggle to extend their skepticism to say "I don't believe in any ecological, social or economic problem". The proposal also benefits from the psychology of expansion and progress, which is more enticing than solutions based upon constraint and limits. The public debate may also be able to encompass the systems aspects of climate to break the spell of complacency and denial. The climate attempts to self-regulate so the debate about temperature rises has been unhelpful. Wider awareness of the dramatic loss of climate buffers, such as polar ice, should help the public and decision-makers to sense that humanity's response must be far bigger and faster than previously imagined.
Vision of the future under this proposal 
The proposed actions are compatible with most people's visions of a peaceful sustainable co-operative simpler more fulfilling future on a shared Earth. The proposal emphasises that such visions, though ubiquitous and perennial, are in reality dependent on the speed of response. If we pass an unpredictable deadline then no attractive vision will be possible. Before that deadline, the attractiveness of the vision improves as we act faster.