The Blue Economy, by Gunter Pauli

Foreword Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary and UNEP Executive Director

See more about his visit in April:

The ideas you are about to encounter are among the most tantalizing prospects for realizing a low carbon, resource-efficient economy in the 21st century. It is remarkable that perhaps some of the greatest opportunities for sustainable jobs will come from replicating the efficient, zero-waste operation of ecosystems.

The natural world, in all its splendor and diversity, has already solved many of the sustainability challenges facing humanity in ingenious, unexpected, and even counter-intuitive ways. If humans could only unravel the fascinating chemistry, processes, structures, and designs that organisms — from bacteria and mollusks to reptiles and mammals –have evolved and tested over millennia, perhaps then we would have new and transformational solutions to the many challenges faced by a planet of six billion people, rising to over nine billion by 2050.

Gunter Pauli’s book, The Blue Economy, opens the door to this fresh, forward-looking field. The pioneering advances it profiles will quickly persuade business and government leaders to explore and develop the cutting-edge sciences at the foundation of these new developments. It highlights the innovative work of many, including Emile Ishida (Japan), Wilhelm Barthlott (Germany), Andrew Parker (UK), Joanna Aizenberg (Russia/USA), Jorge Alberto Vieira Costa (Brazil), and other front-line scientists who refused to accept either the conventional wisdom or the status quo. In featuring their work, The Blue Economy demonstrates that we can find ways of utilizing physics, chemistry, and biology just as ecosystems do with renewable materials and sustainable practices. This is no longer the realm of science-fiction; it is actually happening here and now. With appropriate policies to support research and development, and promotional strategies that accomplish their delivery through market mechanisms, such materials and methods offer abundant opportunities for accelerating their adaptation to address pressing global issues.

In turn, widespread adoption of the framework proposed in The Blue Economy can provide a solid rationale for implementing the agenda of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the missions of organizations like UNEP and IUCN. Currently, species are being lost at an unprecedented rate. Many scientists believe that the world is now undergoing the sixth wave of extinctions, primarily caused by economic models and human behavior that undervalue the contributions of species, habitats, and ecosystems to our lives and the planet’s life support systems.

These species within ecosystems underpin our mega-trillion dollar economy by providingb essential services at the local, regional, and global level. Many ecosystem species and processes hold clues for potentially significant achievements in production of medicine, food crops, biofuels, and low-energy materials. These could prove to be essential for societal measures to mitigate or adapt to climate change. Such achievements will certainly be needed to catalyze new sustainable businesses and industries to provide decent, sustainable jobs.

For the 100 innovations  it describes, The Blue Economy estimates this employment potential to be on the order of 100 million jobs. The plausibility of this estimate is enhanced by the fact that there are today more people employed in renewable energies than in the oil and gas industries combined, and that investment in wind, solar, and geothermal power generation exceeds investment in new fossil fuel power plants. Consider a water-collecting system modeled after that of the Namib Desert beetle.

By 2025, the United Nations forecasts that 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions suffering from water scarcity. Two thirds of the world’s population could be living with conditions of water stress. Meanwhile, climate change is expected to aggravate water problems via more extreme weather events. The Namib beetle lives in a location that receives a mere half inch of rain a year, yet it can harvest water from fogs that blow in gales across the land several mornings each month.

Researchers have recently designed a surface that is inspired by the water-attracting bumps and water-shedding valleys of scales on the beetle’s wings. These scales allow the insect to collect and funnel water droplets thinner than a human hair. Trials have been conducted using beetle film to capture water vapor from cooling towers. Initial tests have shown that this invention can recover 10% of the water lost. This lowers energy bills for nearby buildings by reducing the heat island effect. An estimated 50,000 new water-cooling towers are erected annually and each large system loses over 500 million liters of water per day. Other researchers are adapting the beetle water collection system to develop tents that collect their own water as well as surfaces that will mix reagents for “lab-on-a-chip” applications. Twenty people are employed on this fledgling development but the true world-wide potential might be as many as 100,000 new jobs.

The Blue Economy cites a project in Benin where a novel farming and food-processing systememulates the way an ecosystem “cascades” nutrients. Animal wastes from the slaughterhouse are processed in a maggot farm to feed fish and quails; biogas provides electricity and plants purify water. The project is a microcosm of the Blue Economy. For the same Dollar, Euro, Rupee, or Yuan it generates, it produces income, livelihoods, and food security while recycling and reusing wastes. To date 250 people are employed. There is a potential of 5 million jobs if this cascading model were used in every African abattoir.

It has been nearly 70 years since Swiss engineer George de Mestral, after examining the natural hooks on the burdock seeds that stubbornly attached to his clothes while on a countryside stroll, came up with an invention we know as Velcro.

More recently, buildings such as a shopping centre in Zimbabwe, a hospital in Colombia, a school in Sweden, and the Zoological Society of London are cooled by structures inspired by termite mounds. Meanwhile, engineering schools around the world are racing to develop far more efficient solar power based on the molecules and processes of photosynthesis. What The Blue Economy emphasizes is the vast potential of such innovations. It spotlights the tipping point inherent in the immense number of such breakthroughs currently in the laboratory, under development, or being commercialized.

The world has been racked by food, fuel, environmental, financial, and economic crises. Ecosystem and biodiversity loss has led to an emerging climate crisis and a looming natural resource calamity.

A Blue Economy, able to deal systematically with these many challenges, and ready to seize the manifest multiple opportunities, is now essential. Our Earth has always been our greatest resource, and this book cites 100 new reasons why investing in both local and global ecosystem sustainability is even more valid and central today.

Leonardo da Vinci neatly summed up the power of ecosystems and nature’s material efficiency in his Codex Atlanticus: “Everything comes from everything, and everything is made of everything, and everything turns into everything, because that which exists in the elements is made up of these elements.”

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary and UNEP Executive Director
Ashok Khosla, President of IUCN

see more about his visit in SBarbara: