Why should doughnut economics replace aggressive growth?

Cities around the world are turning to doughnut economics. This crisis might motivate us to focus on thriving instead of aggressive and unsustainable growth. 

To say “less is more” about the economy feels a bit counterintuitive. “More” has been the mantra of pretty much every country in the world. We pat ourselves on the back when we see those graphs about wealth growth and increased production. That’s how we recognize progress.

But should this go on forever, exhaustion of resources is inevitable. Instead of a growth economy, we should strive for one that looks like a… doughnut. 

The urgency of doughnut economics 

“Things grow, and they grow up and they mature, and it’s only by doing so that they can thrive for a very long time,” said Oxford economist Kate Raworth in her popular 2018 TED talk. She acknowledged that growth is a wonderful phase. As for the economy, developing countries are right where they should be. However, even growth has a finish line. “If I told you my friend went to the doctor who told her she had a growth – that feels very different, because we intuitively understand that when something tries to grow forever within a healthy, living, thriving system, it’s a threat to the health of the whole,” she illustrated. 

According to Raworth, at some point, the desired upward curve isn’t a win. This is when doughnut economics can save the day. Ideally, we should “thrive and balance within the social and the ecological boundaries of the doughnut”. That means fulfilling the essential needs of everyone with regenerative, distributive societies. 

Those living in the Doughnut hole struggle with unmet social needs such as health, education, food, justice, or income. Humanity should fulfill them, but it needs to be cautious at the same time. Overshooting the boundary of the Doughnut – a so-called ecological ceiling – means trouble too. It includes climate change, biodiversity loss, or land conversion. Ideally, we should live the way that allows us to stay within the “dough”. 

How are we doing? Looking at the red areas in Raworth’s model, not that well. However, some cities took this pandemic as an opportunity and mustered the courage for change.

Amsterdam is leading the way

The Dutch capital applied the principles of doughnut economics in its long-term vision and policy-making. It was the first city in the world to do so in April 2020. “I think it can help us overcome the effects of the crisis”, said Amsterdam’s deputy mayor, Marieke van Doorninck, for The Guardian

Amsterdam teamed up with Raworth’s Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL). Before preparing the plan, they asked one crucial question. How can the city be home to thriving people in a thriving place while respecting everyone’s wellbeing and the planet’s health? 

The plan was to bring together a network of changemakers within government, business, and academia. Thanks to their collaboration, the city reduces food waste, helps residents consume less, and encourages sustainable construction. “We are very proud to be an example for other cities, and we (are) happy to spread the message,” van Doorninck said for CNBC

Leading by example clearly worked. Brussels followed up with their own iteration of the Doughnut, with more initiatives becoming active worldwide. Kate Raworth even believes that one day, the model will soon evolve to a national scale. 

Going circular makes a difference

You might be asking – what can I do if my country or a city isn’t progressive? The doughnut economics model is far from being widely used. That doesn’t mean you can’t try helping the planet by adhering to the basic circular economy principles. It makes a difference to reuse, repurpose and recycle. 

For example, one of the issues that Amsterdam decided to tackle is food waste. That’s an area where each individual could do better. Your contribution could be as simple as planning your cooking and grocery shopping and looking out for community fridges. If you’re lucky, you can find companies such as Too Good to Go operating in your country. This app allows its users to purchase unsold food from top eateries at the end of service to prevent it from being thrown away. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you could even forage your food! 

Andrea Orsag from MissionC encourages individuals and startups to go circular, but she says governments need to get involved. As she explained at the Reflect Festival, only 9 percent of our world is circular.

That presents an immense opportunity, and some countries have already grasped it. “The Netherlands is already 25 percent circular, so I am confident that we have a potential to get there,” she says, adding that the whole EU is committed to a European Circular Economy Plan. 

By 2050, the world could really be a better place, but we need to admit that progress doesn’t look the way we imagined.

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