Discussing Doughnut Economics

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Discussing Doughnut Economics

By Laura Busheikin for DenmanWORKS

Last October I attended (electronically) the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance Summit on behalf of DenmanWORKS. The goals of this annual event are to foster collaboration and add vitality to the Vancouver Island economy. Here is part one of a report.

The Summit was introduced with a call to rethink what we really mean when we say “economy”:

“It’s clear that our business-as-usual methods for incremental change are thoroughly inadequate to our present circumstances. Urgent circumstances suggest bold response. Lao Tzu said if you don’t change direction you may end up where you are heading,” said George Hanson, VIAE president.

The keynote presentation, Applying Doughnut Economics: From a Radical Idea into Transformative Action, offered a framework for such a directional change.

“The goal of the economy should be to meet everyone’s needs within the limits of the living planet,” said presenter Carlota Sanz, Co-Founder of Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL). “We have inherited systems that have not done well at either of these goals.”

The “doughnut” is the shape used to graphically represent the interplay between human and planetary needs. Social needs are represented on the inner circle, and environmental limits form the outer circle. The doughnut-shaped area between them represents an environmentally safe and socially just space where humans and the planet can thrive.

Working with doughnut economics usually starts with measuring how well a place meets core human needs and stays within nine planetary limits. The resulting doughnut diagram is a tool to analyze, compare, and strategize for change.

Doughnuts from Around the World

Sanz showed us doughnuts from 150 countries. The variety was striking.

“Rwanda is living within its planetary boundaries but massively falling short of meeting its people’s needs. On the other side of the spectrum, Canada is meeting everyone’s needs but massively overshooting planetary boundaries,” she said.

“Ideally, you meet the needs of all people while staying within planetary boundaries,” she said. “We are very far from reaching this goal. Billions of people are falling short of the social foundations; for example, 11 per cent of the world’s population still does not have enough food to eat. We have already exceeded four of the planetary limits.”

We can’t look at any one country in isolation, said Sanz. “Countries are deeply interconnected through colonization, the ongoing relationships of military power, the structural adjustment rules imposed by the World Bank in the 80s, finance and trade rules imposed by international institutions, ongoing destruction and land grabs, and current and future impacts of climate change. These dynamics end up impacting lower income countries disproportionately.”

Creating doughnut economies

The key is to create economies that are distributive by design and regenerative by design, says Sanz.

“We have inherited a degenerative system—take, make, use, lose. It’s linear. We use things once, then throw them away. We need to instead use resources far more carefully, creatively, and collectively, working with and within the cycles of the living world,” she said.

Sanz presented some examples of doughnut economics in action:

The City of Amsterdam adopted a doughnut framework and passed ambitious legislation regulating construction to phase out the use of new materials by 2050, moving instead to a circular system of refuse, rethink, reduce—reuse, repair, refurbish—repurpose, recycle, recover.

China has has created a Sponge City Plan that uses soil and vegetation to manage the impacts of seasonal flooding. An example is Qunli’s Stormwater Park, which incorporates 500,000 cubic metres of stormwater in a wetland park setting on the edge of the city.

In Vienna, over 60% of residents live in good quality affordable social housing that is owned either by the city or by subsidized housing cooperatives.

Seattle mandated a living wage for everyone in the city.

Four questions to get started

“We are asking a very ambitious question,” said Sanz. “How can our community become a home to thriving people in a thriving place while respecting the wellbeing of all people and the health of the whole planet?” She presented a format to get started:

Create a rectangle divided into four equal sections. Assign a question to each of those sections:

  1. How can all the people of our community thrive?
  2. How can our community be as generous as the wild land next door?
  3. How can our community respect the health of the planet?
  4. How can our community respect the well-being of all people?

Then look at each question in detail. For question #1, we could ask what it means for people to thrive here. The answer will be place-specific.

For #2, we could look at storing carbon, housing wildlife, harvesting solar energy, managing water, and building soil.

For #3, we could look at decarbonizing energy, creating circular material use, and transforming food systems.

For #4, we can think of the companies and businesses in our community—how are they operating and treating people? And what about the multinational brands and retailers who sell in and to our community? What is the labour behind the labels?

We can then put key questions through the filter of all four questions. For instance, when considering housing, we can ask how to build housing that

1) is affordable, supports the community, builds connection, enables parents to care for their children and elders to age in place;

2) connects us with nature, cools the air, houses biodiversity;

3) reduces use of fossil fuels and materials, uses more renewable energy, is circular; and

4) respects the rights of the people who make the materials and do the work, wherever they are in the world.

Here on Denman, we could start to incorporate doughnut-style thinking by pondering the four key questions and looking for ways to be both distributive and regenerative in our individual and community actions.

More info

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist, by Kate Raworth’s

Mission Economcy, by Maria Mazzucato

Kate Raworth’s TED Talk: A Healthy Economy Should be Designed to Thrive, Not Grow

Doughnut Economics Action Lab: https://doughnuteconomics.org/