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ISSUE IX - Land Use (June 2019)

ISSUE IX - Land Use (June 2019)

Dear Nexus Times subscribers,

In this month’s issue MAGIC scientists address the critical issue of land-use – as it applies to climate change policy, ecosystems, biodiversity and farming.

Introducing the issue, Keith Matthews reflects on some three decades spent in the field and how challenges in the early 1990s are all too pertinent today.

Investigating climate change policy, Mike Rivington argues that we need new analysis methods and science-policy processes to tackle complex tensions in land-use between carbon sequestration and the provision of food, bioenergy and other ecosystem functions and services.

Akke Kok and Abigail Muscat expand on the topic of ecosystems and land use to write about how there are inevitable tradeoffs and that in order to manage these, more attention needs to be paid to societal values and stakeholder input around land use.

Following on from the issue of farming, Richard Aspinall and Michele Staiano explain how accounting for ecosystem services using costs as well as benefits can effectively support debate and evaluation of trade-offs between services, impacts of land management activities, and has direct relevance for decision- and policy-making.

These authors extend their report to detail how their analysis shows that land management needs more evaluation methods because a loss of natural capital under current management practices is unsustainable, given the large inputs of fertilisers that are required annually.

In conclusion, Richard Aspinall and Michele Staiano use the metaphor of an LP record to describe the  carefully balanced land-water-food nexus – all parts need to be harmonized perfectly. So how can we achieve this?

We hope you enjoy this latest issue of the Nexus Times,

Kind regards,

The MAGIC Nexus Team
 

This thing called Land Use: Reflecting on a life in land use research

The theme of this issue of the Nexus Times is Land Use, a term that has waxed and waned in prominence in the discourses on sustainability and more recently on the “perfect storm” of nexus security issues.  Here we reflect on how many of the challenges for land use research identified in 1995 remain to be faced in 2019.

The climate change policy challenge: Balancing the multiple roles of land use

The EU Climate Change policy target of net zero emissions by 2050 implies the need for significant land use change, with tensions between carbon sequestration and the provision of food, bioenergy and other ecosystem functions and services. The article argues that we need new analysis methods and science-policy processes to tackle these challenges.

Land use change connected with the evolution of farming systems: modernisation in practice

Accounting for ecosystem services using costs as well as benefits, measured by metrics beyond financial benefit, can effectively support debate and evaluation of trade-offs between services, impacts of land management activities, and has direct relevance for decision- and policy-making.

Balancing food production and biodiversity conservation

Land use and biodiversity conservation are intimately linked. Agriculture is the dominant type of land use in Europe, with about 75% of the terrestrial area used for crop production, grassland and forest (EEA, 2017). As such, it has an important role in European landscapes and biodiversity.

The tradeoff between land use and natural capital

The analysis of the complexity of the coupled agricultural land system shows that land management rather than biodiversity is a necessary subject for evaluation of provisioning services from agriculture.

The Nexus and Land: the spinning record and the pivot

A working, balanced nexus that offers the possibility of sustainability, can be thought of as orchestral music played on a well-mixed record: all the parts are harmonized so that we can really enjoy the music...

ISSUE VIII - Transport Trade-offs (March 2019)

ISSUE VIII - Transport Trade-offs (March 2019)

Dear Reader,

In this issue our scientists tackle the issue of transportation - an important issue for the study of the nexus. It is both the target of innovative solutions that may help solve the challenges of energy and climate, and the source of challenges and trade-offs in sustainability governance. An example of innovative solutions are electric vehicles that promise an alternative to fossil fuel-based transport. On the other hand, biofuels are an example of an innovation that initially seemed to lead to more sustainable energy sourcing, but has created new challenges for land use in agriculture and has fallen short of expectations of reduced pollution and energy provision. In this issue, we take a closer look at both examples and we engage with the newly emerging debates about car sharing and the sharing economy.

Starting with biofuels, our first article tackles the question: do biofuels really produce less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than fossil fuels? Bunyod Holmatov takes us through the intricacies of GHG accounting and explains that emissions vary according to the type of biofuel, to production routes and steps, and to the type of GHG considered. Overall, GHG accounting is a challenging task, and Holmatov advises policy makers to measure twice.

The research team based in the Autonomous University of Barcelona continues the discussion by showing that statistics about biofuels vary considerably due to differences in accounting methods between European countries and issues of double accounting. Overall, there is no clear evidence base for policies, which is reflected in the ambiguous role of biofuels in the European policy. Biofuels were at first seen as a greener alternative to fossil fuels and later criticised for the indirect land use change they induced, as in the case of palm oil.

Wrapping up the discussion, Maddalena Ripa, Mario Giampietro and Juan Jose Cadillo Benalcazar explain the many concerns related to biofuels, which range from Europe’s dependence on imports to the low energy return on energy investment, the challenge of fuelling aviation with biofuels, the lack of technological infrastructure to produce biofuels in Europe, and the general lack of transparency surrounding biofuels in policy. Are biofuels a matter of concern rather than a solution?

In our fourth article, Louisa Di Felice takes up the example of electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are not as new as one may think: they were first commercialised in the 1880s. So why has this “innovation” been so slow to deliver on its promises? The article explains some of the drawbacks of electric vehicles, such as the sourcing of lithium for batteries and the underwhelming recycling rates. More importantly, Di Felice argues that sustainability necessitates behavioural change rather than technologies that enable unsustainable practices to persist.

Behavioural change is not without its uncertainties. Roberta Siciliano closes the issue with a discussion of car sharing, which was expected to deliver a sharing economy through which less resources would be used, but due to the success of its business model has created a new market and new business possibilities that induce more, not less, consumption. Siciliano warns that sustainability is not about finding “silver bullets”. What is needed is a collective rethinking of mobility.

We hope you enjoy this latest issue.

The MAGIC Nexus Team

Meeting EU biofuel targets: the devil is in the detail

Biofuels are being pushed in the EU as a solution for increased sustainability and security of supply. But if the EU wants to take biofuels seriously as a sustainable option, it needs to account for all steps in the complex biofuel production process and regulate the trade of primary and secondary products.

Why it is so difficult to measure biofuel emissions

How much GHG emissions do biofuels actually emit? The answer is not so simple, given the complexity of the production chain and different types of biofuels. Here Bunyod Holmatov explains why it's important to focus on the detail when it comes to weighing up biofuels.

Biofuels at a crossroads: the concerns are stacking up

Biofuels are therefore at a crossroads. In the EU28, biofuel consumption in the transport service has grown more than six fold over the last decade, however biofuels still account for just three to four percent of all transport fuel energy.  What are the concerns related to the plausibility of a fast and effective expansion of this option?

Electric cars: an answer to the wrong question?

Electric cars can contribute to a shift in sustainable mobility, but this depends on how they are used and which patterns they reproduce. Implementing them without criticality may incur in shifting problems to other countries and domains.

The Sharing Economy: More than a new business model?

Collaborative platforms are becoming more widespread and car sharing and car-pooling rank among the most popular types in Europe. But while initiatives such as car sharing provide environmental and economic benefits, they are not a silver bullet and must be accompanied by significant regulatory and structural changes to our mobility system.

Transport Trade-offs

Transportation is an important issue for the study of the nexus. It is both the target of innovative solutions that may help solve the challenges of energy and climate, and the source of challenges and trade-offs in sustainability governance.

ISSUE VII - The Water-Energy Nexus (December 2018)

ISSUE VII - The Water-Energy Nexus (December 2018)

There is an increasing demand for energy to alleviate water scarcity pressures, and, vice-versa, a growing water footprint required to produce many energy forms – including new energy technologies. The governance of water and energy then is crucial if we are to safely manage these finite resources into the future.

In our first article, Zora Kovacic explores the origins of the term ‘nexus’ from its original use spearheaded by the food and beverage industry as part of the ‘green growth’ agenda, to become attached to applications as diverse as water modelling to multidisciplinary social-ecological systems analysis initiatives today. She uses the context of these varied applications to question whether the ‘nexus’ concept will help or hinder future water governance efforts.

Broaching the topic of hidden water flows, Maddalena Ripa and Violeta Cabello crunch the numbers to investigate the characteristics and size of an often invisible, yet important water flow – non-consumptive use in the energy sector.  These authors highlight the shortcomings and challenges in quantifying water flows in the energy sector today, and break down the sectors that are not – and should be - properly accounted for. The article then explains how we can improve water governance using better-defined and more comprehensive accounting methods.

Finally, Juan de La Fuente and Baltasar Peñate explore the topic of desalination as a water-energy nexus technology in the Canary Islands, Spain. These authors explain how this controversial technology, known for its large energy footprint, is a viable technology in cases where renewable energy sources are readily available. They show how the Canary Islands archipelago has alleviated its water scarcity problem using desalination technologies, thanks to solar and wind resources available in the area together with effective management to balance costs, energy availability and environmental effects.

We hope you enjoy this our final issue for 2018. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive future issues coming in 2019. You can subscribe at the bottom of the homepage .

Kind regards,

The Magic Nexus Team.

The origins of the “nexus”: a water governance concern

The term ‘nexus’ was originally spearheaded by the food and beverage industry as part of the ‘green growth’ agenda, and since then has been applied to a wide range of issues. With such a broad meaning will the ‘nexus’ concept help or hinder future water governance efforts?

Water for energy: quantifying the massive amounts of water that go unaccounted for

We crunch the numbers to investigate the characteristics and size of an often invisible, yet important water flow – non-consumptive use in the energy sector - and look at how we can improve water governance using better-defined and more comprehensive accounting methods.

Desalination is a viable nexus technology: but local conditions are key

Investigating desalination as a water-energy nexus technology in the Canary Islands, Spain, we look how this controversial technology, known for its large energy footprint, can be viable technology in cases where renewable energy sources are readily available together with effective management strategies.

Issue VI - Innovation (September 2018)

Issue VI - Innovation (September 2018)

Innovation plays an important role in policy-making, especially when it comes to the water-energy-food nexus. Sometimes, however, innovation cannot meet the needs of all sectors at the same time, causing various tradeoffs. For example, while desalination technology produces extra water for residential and industrial use, it also requires extra energy inputs. In such situations then, how can policymakers reconcile diverging policy goals? And how can decision-makers analyse and account for the possible adverse effects of certain policies in other areas, for example the effects of agricultural policy in the water and energy sectors?

In the MAGIC project we analyse the role of innovations in the policy-making process and in the emergence of “nexus policies”. In this issue, we invite you to take a look at some of our case studies and the core theoretical issues surrounding the role of innovations.
 

Table of Contents

In our first article we analyze the classic energy-food nexus issue, bioenergy. While it may be seen as a policy solution towards meeting climate goals, bioenergy also increases demand for land, water and agricultural inputs. Land and water resources are already heavily exploited in Europe, both directly and indirectly. In the European Union an important proportion of biomass is imported (for example through animal feed). Upscaling bioenergy production would thus raise new sustainability concerns: would Europe have enough land and water to meet its bioenergy use? To what degree does Europe depend on biomass from outside the EU? Would sustainability in Europe come at the cost of sustainability elsewhere?

Can Europe utilize bioenergy without compromising sustainability?
 

 

Our second article explores hydraulic fracturing for shale gas extraction (fracking). This technology exemplifies some of the major challenges of the water-energy nexus. From a bio-economics viewpoint, shale gas is only viable if gas prices are high, making it a risky investment. From a geopolitical standpoint, shale gas may help increase energy security in countries that depend on natural gas imports, thus reducing risk. This case study illustrates the difficulty of assessing technological innovations, amid political and economic complexity when contrasting judgements can be made.

Is Shale Gas Dead?
 

 

The third article takes a deep dive into green bonds, an increasingly popular option to finance climate and sustainable development policies. However, this policy solution may raise more questions than answers. If nation states act as issuers of green bonds, new debt may be created. If nation states act as regulators, questions arise with regard to what constitutes “green”, especially in the context of the nexus in which different factors, and the interactions between them, must be taken into account.

Green bonds: how could they affect Nexus governance?
 

 

The issue closes with a more theoretical discussion of the issue of trust in the use of innovations as a policy solution. Scientific research and innovation do not necessarily translate into clear policy solutions. Innovations should thus be assessed not only as a solution to a practical problem, but also with regard to social impacts, political interests, and power asymmetries. The current erosion of trust in policy solutions points to the need to take into account potential benefits and uncertainties alike.

What is the role of scientific innovations in EU policy?
 

    ISSUE V - The Governance Challenge (June 2018)

    ISSUE V - The Governance Challenge (June 2018)

    The nexus between water-energy-food can be defined in many ways, as a matter of interconnections, trade-offs and linkages. But perhaps one of the most important ways it should be conceived is as a governance issue. The institutions, coordination and rules concerning sustainability problems across the nexus are crucial to its effective governance. This issue explores some of the questions that arise from the understanding of the nexus as a policy challenge: how do water, energy and agricultural policies impact each other? How can policies be coordinated and harmonized at the European level? Which type of evidence can be used to govern the nexus? How are statistical indicators linked to governance? With this issue, we will be sharing with you some first-hand insights gained from our conversations with European policy makers.

    The first article asks: Where do we govern the nexus? Although decisions made in distinct policy areas affect each other, there  is no single European Commission (EC) body that governs the sectors of water, energy, food and the environment together. In this article, we share with you the information we learnt talking with policymakers from the EC and related agencies as part of the MAGIC Nexus project.

    In the second article, we explore the role of numbers in governance. Numbers matter. Achieving robust quantitative analyses to measure policy effectiveness requires a great deal of time, money and institutional support. But are we paying enough attention to how metrics are influencing governance processes? This article takes a look at quantification through a governance lens to understand how our choices of quantification may affect governance outcomes and what we need to think about to ensure quality metrics when it comes to the nexus.

    In our third and final article, we elaborate on one of the main themes of the MAGIC project: Governance In Complexity (the “GIC” of MAGIC). Everybody agrees that the nexus is complex: but what does complexity mean for governance? This article presents some reflections on what it means to govern when knowledge is incomplete, contradictory or even contested. A model of governance that expects to apply “solutions” to clearly identified “problems” assumes that the world is simple. Complexity means letting go of the ideal of command and control.

    These articles are aimed at initiating a discussion on the governance challenges of the nexus. We welcome any comment and contribution to the discussion. You use our discussion forum, write to us or follow us on Twitter.

    From the MAGIC Nexus Team.
     

    Table of Contents

    • Where do we govern the Nexus?
    • Governing by numbers
    • Complexity in Nexus Governance

    Where do we govern the Nexus?

    In Europe and beyond there is a growing interest in how we might manage and govern the water-energy-food nexus. The nexus is complex, contested, and difficult to resolve with existing solutions. Therefore, understanding and intervening in the nexus not only requires new diagnostic methods and combinations of technical innovations, but also needs decisions to take account of its many interconnections.  This is a challenge, as most policies deal separately with different aspects of the nexus.

    Governing by numbers

    Numbers matter. Measuring policy effectiveness requires a significant investment of time, money and institutional support. But is the European Commission paying enough attention to how metrics are influencing governance processes? This article takes a look at quantification through a governance lens to understand how choices of quantification may affect governance outcomes and what policy-makers need to think about to ensure quality metrics when it comes to the nexus.

    Complexity in Nexus Governance

    Whatever the water-energy-food-environment Nexus is, everybody tends to agree that it is complex. Unfortunately, nobody agrees what it means to be complex. In this piece, I claim that more time ought to be spent on serious discussion about what complexity is and what it entails for our possibilities to achieve some kind of governance of the Nexus.

    ISSUE IV - Outsourcing: implications in a globalized world (March 2018)

    ISSUE IV - Outsourcing: implications in a globalized world (March 2018)

    Dear reader,

    In this the latest issue of The Nexus Times we are covering the critical issue of outsourcing and externalization of resources in European industry. The question is, what role does outsourcing play in the effectiveness of EU policies to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, promote renewable energies, increase recycling and reduce environmental impact of agriculture?

    Due to the challeges in keeping track of externalized activities, they are difficult to measure and are often kept hidden from public view. In this edition we cover the externalization of waste, energy and water to explore the impacts of externalization from a nexus point of view - that is, from a cross-sectoral, big-picture systems perspective.

    We hope you enjoy this March edition, and please write to us or go to our discussion forum to include your comments.

    From the Magic Nexus team.
     

    Table of Contents

    • What if Europe had to process its own waste?
    • What if energy imports mattered?
    • What if healthy diets had a hidden cost?

    What if Europe had to process its own waste?

    A great deal Europe's waste is exported to the Global South, including electronic, chemical and incinerator waste. Despite recent policy action to reduce plastic waste, the EU still plans to export a significant amount of plastic to other countries. But what if  Europe did not export any waste at all?

     

    What if energy imports mattered?

    During the past few hundred years, growing numbers of people have obtained their energy from further and further afar, and supply has become inextricably linked to distant locations and events, expanding the spatial and temporal chain linking energy supply to demand. This is particularly true of oil, but also of all the other energy sources that can be moved across borders: coal, electricity, natural gas, and nuclear fuel (Overland, 2016). In 2012, the EU imported 53% of all the energy it consumed, at a cost of more than €1 billion per day.

     

    What if healthy diets had a hidden cost?

    Europe consumes around 200 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables (F&V) annually, which is about 12% of the total biomass consumed in our continent. This volume has steadily increased over the last decades, a consumption pattern that is a sign of the healthier and richer dietary habits and lifestyles of Europeans. However, these habits need to be met with increased production, which is not feasible everywhere. Contrary to other crops such as cereals or tubers, most F&V require high irrigation levels and warm weather conditions for growing.

     

    ISSUE III - Agriculture and the Nexus (December 2017)

    ISSUE III - Agriculture and the Nexus (December 2017)

    What are the tradeoffs in agriculture?

    Why is the MAGIC project specialized on the water-energy-food nexus? Because the nexus matters crucially for many EU policies! In this issue, we discuss some of the nexus issues that concern agriculture and the challenge of feeding an increasing population.

    The nexus between agriculture and biodiversity is explored by zooming into the ‘land sharing vs land sparing’ debate. On the one hand, agriculture depends on biodiversity, for services such as pollination, soil generation, etc. On the other hand, agricultural expansion competes with biodiversity and land set aside for conservation.

    The challenge of agricultural expansion matters not only for biodiversity, but also raises the question of internal boundaries: are there enough farmers to feed an increasing population? There is a link between the small amount of labour Europeans put into agriculture, and the consequences it has on the use of machines, fossil fuels, as well as imports. The EU imports almost four times as much food as China does, even though it has double the amount of arable land per capita. Diets, living standards, and people’s preferences are part of these internal boundaries.

    The explicit inclusion of the nexus within policy-making allows for a better-informed analysis of progress towards EU sustainability goals. It does not mean, however, that the achievement of these goals becomes easier! In our last article, we take you through the first results of MAGIC’s analysis of policy narratives. The Common Agricultural Policy has the potential to be a force for change in strategies on water, biodiversity, climate change and wider rural economic development – but it is also dominated by big agro-businesses.

    These articles are aimed at initiating a discussion on the importance of the nexus for agricultural policy-making. We welcome any comment and contribution to the discussion. You can either use our discussion forum (check out our post on CAP narratives!) or write to us.

    The WEFE Nexus and the Common Agricultural Policy

    The MAGIC Nexus project team has identified policy narratives that illustrate complexities and tradeoffs regarding the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the context of the water, energy, food and environment (WEFE) nexus.

    Planetary boundaries and the global food system: what about the farmers?

    Planetary boundaries are usually framed in terms of natural constraints on the ecosystem, but constraints linked to society’s organization, especially our workforce, shouldn’t be ignored.

    The land sharing vs. land sparing debate: Options to ensure food security while preserving biodiversity

    Global agricultural production is increasing to meet our food needs as the world's population grows - but how can this expansion be reconciled with environmental concerns such as biodiversity loss and cultural practices?

    VIDEO: Is agriculture just about food production?

    Watch Mario Giampietro talk about the complexities of agriculture and how farming is more than just monoculture. This excerpt was taken from the 2017 UAB MOOC on socio-ecological systems:

    VIDEO: How should we conceptualize 'food'?

    Should we view the concept of food more in terms of its historical and geographical context versus its role as a commodity? Mario Giampietro of the UAB explains why the definition of 'food' is so important when analyzing agricultural systems. This except was taken from the 2017 UAB MOOC on socio ecological systems.

     

    ISSUE II - Efficiency Paradox (September 2017)

    ISSUE II - Efficiency Paradox (September 2017)

    Why focus on efficiency?

    Efficiency has become a  popular measure in many of the policy areas of the European Union, including energy policy, the circular economy and climate policy. However, despite its ubiquitous use, the term efficiency is surrounded by considerable confusion. Indeed, in some cases improvements in efficiency may lead to increased consumption. This edition of The Nexus Times enters in the current debate on efficiency targets with a critical analysis of the term efficiency and its related paradoxes.

    In this edition, you will find two articles that discuss the efficiency paradox from different points of view, highlighting some of the challenges that efficiency targets may pose for the governance of the water-energy-food nexus. We also take you through the historical origins and development of the concept of efficiency, and talk about how this concept is used in two of the policy areas that MAGIC is analyzing: energy policy and the circular economy.

    These articles are intended to generate a discussion on the use of the term efficiency in setting policy goals. We welcome any comments and contributions to the discussion, including article contributions. To get in touch, please use our discussion forum or write to us

    We hope you enjoy this latest edition of The Nexus Times!

    Kind regards, 

    The MAGIC Nexus team. 

     

    Table of Contents

    • VIDEO: The paradox of energy efficiency
    • The paradox of efficiency: Can uncertainty be governed?
    • Paradox or Paradigm? A deeper discussion about societal goals
    • Is renewable energy efficient?
    • From religous concept to industrial tool
    • The circular economy: A new efficiency paradox?

    VIDEO: The paradox of energy efficiency

    Increasing energy efficiency helps to use resources more economically. But what if greater efficiency in a complex system actually uses up more energy resources overall? This video explains this paradox of energy efficiency, also known as the Jevons Paradox.

    The paradox of efficiency: Can uncertainty be governed?

    In a world of limited resources and increasing human impact on the environment, using resources more efficiently seems sensible. Many policies see efficiency as an important instrument to achieve their goals. In the case of energy policy, the EU has published in 2012 a directive on energy efficiency and in June EU energy ministers agreed to support a 30% energy efficiency target for 2030 as part of proposed legislation to improve the EU's electricity market. In water management, efficiency is seen as a means to deal with water scarcity in arid regions.

    Paradox or Paradigm? A deeper discussion about societal goals

    The Jevons Paradox and rebound effect can be seen as one of the same thing as both observe higher consumption levels due to increased efficiency. But the real public policy question we should be asking is: do we want to live in a consumption-driven society?

    Is renewable energy efficient?

    Renewable energy and efficiency are both essential to meet the EU’s sustainability goals, but synergies and trade-offs between the two measures are under-studied.

    From religous concept to industrial tool

    Far from having a straightforward definition, the term 'efficiency' has taken on many different meanings throughout history, showing that its meaning is highly contextual, writes Tessa Dunlop.

    In its most general sense, the term ‘efficiency’ has become a central ideal in the world’s advanced industrial cultures. Efficiency often signifies something good, as in a job well and economically done, and is associated with ideals of individual discipline, superior management, and increased profits.

    The circular economy: A new efficiency paradox?

    Proponents of the circular economy call for actions to be 'eco-effective': but is this another efficiency paradox?

    ISSUE I - Circular Economy (June 2017)

    ISSUE I - Circular Economy (June 2017)

    Table of Contents

    • What does the concept of the Circular Economy mean?
    • Can the Circular Economy boost job creation?
    • Acknowledging risk migration in recycling
    • What type of complexities are involved in circularity?
    • Infographic: Measuring circularity
    • VIDEO: What will it take to 'Close the Loop?'

    What does the concept of the Circular Economy mean?

    The Circular Economy is attracting increasing attention from researchers, funding agencies, policy makers and industry. The European Union invested EUR 184 million in 2016 alone on green projects, almost half of which were on the Circular Economy. What is so special about the Circular Economy?

    Can the Circular Economy boost job creation?

    Garbage collection

    The European Union’s Circular Economy plan needs to push circularity beyond waste management in order to realize its job creation potential.

    Acknowledging risk migration in recycling

    How can science and policy deal with the uncertainty of the potential risks the recycling poses to human health and the environment?

    What type of complexities are involved in circularity?

    Circularity means different things in physics, biology and economics. But what do different narratives imply for European policy?

    Infographic: Measuring circularity

    This infographic shows the circularity of the economy from a systems perspective, showing which types of materials are being recycled and reused and in which sectors.

    VIDEO: What will it take to 'Close the Loop?'

    Find out what narratives and indicators can be used to understand the Circular Economy in this video.