Living Within the Doughnut

In 2012, Oxfam economist, re-development thinker and researcher Kate Raworth introduced a new sustainable development model  for Rio +20 conference called the “Doughnut Model”, introduced in a working paper entitled A Safe and Just Space for Humanity.

The model is based upon the model of planetary boundaries developed by Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Centre along with a group of 28 other distinguished scientists. Oxfam’s model integrates human development with planetary limitations. It acknowledges that human socio-economic systems are intimately bound to our ecology. Our economy cannot function without a healthy ecology because all wealth produced by our economy is derived from ecological services. Human development must therefore take place within explicitly identified safe limits of global environmental parameters. We must proactively be stewards of the land, sea and air. We have been able to get away with not doing this for a long time, hence the unbalance of Economy outweighing Ecology. With exponential demand on resources as well as exponential increase in pollution, our world today is a reflection of what an out-of-balance strategy is doing to the planet and human civilization. We must recognize that without a healthy ecology, there is no such thing as a healthy economy.

The doughnut model is an annulus bound by an outer ring and an inner ring:

  • The outer ring – the environmental ceiling of the dougnut model consists of nine planetary boundaries, as set out by Rockstrom et al, beyond which lie unacceptable environmental degradation and potential tipping points in Earth systems.
  • The inner ring – social foundation consists of the eleven top social priorities identified by the world’s governments in the run-up to Rio+20 – and below this foundation of resource use lies unacceptable human deprivation such as hunger, ill-health and income poverty.

Between social and planetary boundaries lies an environmentally safe and socially just space in which humanity can thrive.

The doughnut concept and image has gained widespread global acceptance in the development community because it adds the demands of social justice to the powerful framework of planetary boundaries, bringing social and environmental concerns together in one single, unifying image and approach. While it provides a framework for an equitable and sustainable future, it is silent on the possible pathways for getting there. Hence it is perfect for evoking  discussion on  alternative pathways to reach the vision.

The doughnut model is another expression of the concept of Economy and Ecology in balance. To join the discussion on doughnut economics, go to Kate’s site here.





The mythology of development vs the environment

Raworth’s 2012 discussion paper also contained research that dispelled the popular right wing myth that environmentalism hampers social development, a myth used to attack the environmental movement. Raworth’s research uncovered that there is, in fact no contradiction between upliftment and social development and creating a greener human civilization:

  • Providing enough food for the 13% of the world’s people who suffer from hunger means raising world supplies by just 1%.
  • Providing electricity to the 19% of people who currently have none would raise global carbon emissions by just 1%
  • Bringing everyone above the global absolute poverty line ($1.25 a day) would need just 0.2% of global income

The report further points out:

  • half the world’s carbon emissions are produced by just 11% of its people (guess who?)
  • 50% of the world’s people produce just 11% of its emissions (guess who?)
  • Animal feed used in the EU alone, which accounts for just 7% of the world’s people, uses up 33% of the planet’s sustainable nitrogen budget
  • Excessive resource use by the world’s richest 10% of consumers crowds out much-needed resource use by billions of other people
  • It is not the needs of the poor that threaten the biosphere, but the demands of the rich
  • crossing any of the nine planetary boundaries can severely undermine human development, first and foremost for women and men living in poverty
  • social justice is impossible without far greater global equity in the use of natural resources, with the greatest reductions coming from the world’s richest consumers

Politically, the easy way to tackle poverty is to try to raise the living standards of the poor while doing nothing to curb the consumption of the rich. This is the strategy almost all governments follow. However, it is a formula for environmental disaster, which only spreads poverty and deprivation.