Online lecture and discussion: The policy legend of the circular bioeconomy: A biophysical view of the sustainability predicament

Date: Wednesday, October 7, 2020 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Organiser: BMBF junior research group “Mentalities in flux: imaginaries and social structure in modern circular bio-based societies” at the Institute for Sociology (Friedrich-Schiller University, Jena, Germany)

Speaker: Mario Giampietro (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

Registration (webinar with zoom):

Circular bioeconomy, at a first glance, appears like a magic bullet for a future economic development. Especially policy makers from the EU create a vision and a promise of a circular bioeconomy that would enable sustainable development, a green economy, economic growth and social welfare altogether. This, of course, sounds great and provokes hopes of overcoming the climate crisis and scarcity of resources and, at the same time, going on with economic growth. But: is this realistic? If we think about an economy that is based on renewable biological resources coming from animals, plants and microorganisms and assume that economies should grow as they did before, we have to put the question how sustainable this would be. What are the limits of the economic use of available biological resources? An often-used argument for solving this dilemma is the development of technological solutions and the circular economy, in which waste and side-products will find their way back to economic use and by that reducing the demand on biological resources.

Is that concept scientifically solid? Are we dealing with a dangerous form of sociotechnical imaginary? What exactly does circular bioeconomy for different stakeholders mean? Are policy makers ignoring fundamental assumptions from non-economic sciences that are crucial for the feasibility of a sustainable economic development? How realistic is a sustainable development under a circular and bio-based economy?  And, how would the concept of a circular bioeconomy have to change, if sustainability would serve as a rule for decisions?

Mario Giampietro from the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at the UAB (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) will held a lecture and go into these questions. He will give us an insight on the (biophysical) scientific views and assumption that are connected to the concepts of circular economy, bioeconomy and the growth-paradigm. He will explain why to his opinion, the promise of the circular bioeconomy is a legend and why it could lead to unrealistic hopes and expectations, mismanaged investments and irresponsible future-programs. The audience will have the possibility to discuss various questions with Giampietro and the other participants.

The lecture is part of our workshop It’s the (bio)economy, stupid!
The future of growth and the promise of the bioeconomy

Working Paper No.1 published online

The junior research group flumen has published its first issue of the working papers series online. See here for downloading.

Eversberg, Dennis (2020): Bioeconomy as a starting point of polarising social conflicts? The distribution of socio-ecological mentalities within the German population 2018 and possible supporting and resistance potentials towards bio-based transformations.

Using the data from the “Study on Environmental Awareness 2018 ” by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and the German Environment Agency (UBA), this paper develops a typology of eleven different patterns of socio-ecological attitudes or mentalities in the German population and asks to what extent the transformations of economy and society towards a post- fossil model, which is currently being discussed under the heading of bioeconomy, are becoming the subject of increasing tensions or conflicts between social groups with different mentalities. In a first step, six different dimensions of socio-ecological attitudes are identified with the help of a factor analysis, before eleven different types of attitude patterns are distinguished from one another and described in their various variants by comparing the results of three different cluster analyzes based on these factors. Using indices for the cultural and economic capital endowment of the interviewees, these attitude patterns are then put in relation to each other in their respective ideal-typical locations in the social space according to Bourdieu and their mutual relationships are examined. This results in the overall picture of a roughly tripartite division of the population into an eco-social camp, which comprises around a third of the population and actively supports far-reaching ideas of a post-fossil transformation not only of the economy, but also of the prevailing way of life, a liberal, growth-oriented camp of around 40 %, which adheres to ideas of economic growth and increasing prosperity and has so far not been ready to accept such transformations if they threaten to call these goals into question, as well as an authoritarian-fossilist camp that in fact aspires to a return to outdated economic and social models of the 20th century that will be impossible on a bio-based basis. The (still) rather latent conflict constellation between these three camps on the “eve” of the Fridays for Future protests is outlined. Finally, the question is raised which ideas of a bioeconomic transformation from the point of view of the various mentalities and camps find support, but also to which increasing polarizations they could lead to.

Dennis Eversberg took part in the 40th Congress of the German Sociological Association

The 40th Congress of the German Sociological Association (DGS) was held under the topic “Societies under Tension” from the 14th to the 24th of September 2020 online.

In the session „The Sociological Measurement of the Ecological Crisis“ on September 16th, Dennis Eversberg has given the contribution „Voltage detector: To a Relational Analysis of Social-Ecological Transformation Conflicts“.

The session and Dennis Eversberg’s presentation you find here:

Furthermore, he has taken part in the discussion „Post-growth projects in the field of tension between collective and individual contexts of meaning“.

The Congress ›Societies under Tension‹ focused on societal tensions, conflicts, diagnoses of the re-ordering of societies and the corresponding challenges for sociology as a social science.

See more at the website of the Congress

Out and about: Lilian Pungas and Jana Holz doing field research

Two of our employees and prospective doctoral students did their field research in Finland and Estonia in the late summer weeks. There are two short reports here.

Field stay and interviews in Äänekoski, Central Finland

Jana Holz also traveled to Finland again in late summer 2020 for her dissertation project. For two weeks she was in Äänekoski, an industrial town in central Finland not far from the university town of Jyväskylä. As part of “flumen”, she examines innovations and changes in Finnish forestry with reference to the bioeconomy and their socio-structural significance for socio-ecological transformation processes. In the second field phase, she concentrated on the town of Äänekoski and the local organic product factory of the Finnish company Metsä Group. The plant is the most modern and efficient pulp mill in the northern hemisphere and has represented a milestone in the history of Finnish forestry since the planned investment was announced in 2015. There will also be created a system of innovative smaller plants that will do research and develop various biotechnologies related to pulp. On a local level, recent developments mean investments in infrastructure, a prosperous economy outside of the Metsä company premises and confidence for the future – but also increasing pressure on regional forests, threats to their biodiversity and increased traffic from deliveries to the factory. A double-edged sword well worth exploring sociologically with a view to different social groups in the city.

During the two weeks in Äänekoski, she was able to speak to numerous local actors from politics, business and civil society as well as local residents. The aim of the stay was to get a more precise idea of ​​how local bioeconomization, modernization and intensification of forestry are changing the socio-ecological relationships and structures as well as various usage practices and understandings of nature and forest.

Flumen researcher Lilian Pungas was in August in Eastern Estonia and despite the Covid 19, managed to conduct numerous interviews in and around Narva and Sillamäe. In addition to her main research focus (the local subsistence farming practice), this time she also inquired about aspects such as

  • the impact of Covid-19 on the local population
  • gender aspects
  • Human-Nature Relations
  • the local oil shale sector and 
  • the current “Just-Transition” negotiation processes

Lilian Pungas examines the subsistence agriculture of the predominantly Russian residents of Narva in their dachas. In the 90s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they suffered particularly from the consequences of the transformation. High unemployment and a lack of prospects led to existential fears, which the residents met by growing their own food. With regard to mentalities, the group examined shows a high degree of skepticism towards neoliberal growth imperatives. As gardeners, the residents of Narva and Sillamäe already practice aspects of the bioeconomy.