An engineer named John Todd has proposed building “agro eco-parks” on the barren Appalachian land that used to be mountaintops. These parks — more like farms, really — would generate food and fuel, slowly repair the watershed, and sequester carbon. Todd’s plan begins with the planting of native grasses, which would then be burned to produce biochar, a nutrient that quickly rebuilds soil and sequesters carbon. Reforestation would follow. The Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative estimates that 2,000 jobs could be created to plant 125 million trees on former strip mines. In Todd’s scheme, half of the new trees would be native hardwoods — managed for conservation and biological diversity, carbon sequestration, and carbon markets — while other trees, such as fast-growing willows, would replace coal as local biofuels. Todd’s experiment in a “restoration economy” can only be achieved, he writes, “by dissolving the distinction between resource and waste.” In other words, it would produce no illth, because externalized wastes would either be eliminated or converted to nutrients.
When the distinction between resource and waste dissolves, the economy starts looking less like a linear process that ends at a toxic dump and more like a circulatory system. What I am envisioning here is an economy that finally abandons growth based solely on gross domestic product as the primary marker of its success.
“The End of Illth,” Eric Reece, Harper’s, October 4, 2013.