Here are my thoughts on a set of principles that elaborate on the fundamentals behind doughnut economics with the hope that they could be useful for driving discussions and actions for the transformations needed to get us into the doughnut.
An Ethos for a Sustainable World
As those attuned to the multitude of problems facing humankind and the world we live in are aware of, there is a serious rift between human activity and the ecosystems that support us. In essence we are at war with nature and appear to be losing the battle. Moreover, the current economic and social structures are failing to meet the basic needs of the entire global population. Many people and organizations are working hard to address fundamental environmental problems and social injustices. This ethos for a sustainable world aims to bolster such efforts by offering a vision of a world in which humans live in harmony with Nature and the well-being of our children, grandchildren and generations to come is paramount. The principles presented here offer individuals, governments, organizations, and businesses a framework to guide their actions and to hold others accountable for their actions as we work collectively to protect (and restore) the natural world and build a global economy that ensures the well-being of all.
Four Key Principles
Four principles working together serve as the foundation for this ethos. Accepting responsibility for caring for the Earth and respecting each individual’s right to achieve his or her potential provide the moral underpinning for judging our actions. At the same time building strong communities and families and strong democratic institutions and processes provide the engine to create a better, more sustainable world.
Embracing Stewardship – Humans have an individual and a collective responsibility for caring for the Earth. After all we are the only creatures that have the capacity to dominate and destroy most anything around us. Each individual’s actions should take into account the environmental impact for good or for bad and make decisions on what is best for the Earth. The more affluent, the more one has benefitted from the current system the greater the responsibility. Businesses, especially large corporations which have an oversized impact, have a high moral responsibility and should be held accountable for their actions.
Realizing Human Potential . Each individual has the right to achieve his or her potential starting with the fundamental rights to adequate food, shelter, clean water, basic health care, and a safe and secure environment free from violence. Underlying these rights must be a respect for all individuals, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and sexual preference. Education is the cornerstone for ensuring that each person can reach his or her potential and societies have the responsibility to provide access to basic education for all its members to ensure basic literacy. Advanced educational and continuing learning opportunities, including access to museums, libraries, and theaters, provide further pathways to a lifetime of enhanced individual well-being as well as open new employment opportunities.
Fostering Democratic Governance – Strong governing institutions from the local to national and international levels, representing the needs and interests of those governed and supported by a rule of law culture, are essential to creating societies that put the best interests of their people and future generations at the forefront of decisions. Individual have the right to be heard and the responsibility to participate in democratic process to hold governments and leaders accountable. Moreover, the best interests of individuals for a healthy and productive life have precedence over the interest of corporations and other entities.
Building Strong Community and Family – Our connections with each other are the foundations that define who we are and what gives value to our lives. Communities that have strong bonds among members can reinforce the importance of caring for our world and support actions that will improve the well-being of the community. Strong communities promote civic actions to hold governments and businesses accountable for actions and policies that affect the environment in which they live. While governments at all levels have a responsibility to promote stewardship, local actions driven by grassroots activism are best positioned to create an environment where everyone can prosper. In essence, communities should define what kind of world each of us will live in and should reflect the best of the unique cultures that have evolved.
Strong families (however you want to define them) as the basic economic, social, and emotional unit offer resiliency and stability to our communities. Families serve as the primary conduit for passing down values and culture and inter-generational networks can provide additional emotional and economic support that can ground individuals in good times and bad.
Creating a Sustainable Economic System
Putting humans back into Nature requires that our economic system work in harmony with the global ecological system and serve the best interests of the entire global population. Our current economic actions are at the heart of the environmental morass as current levels of production and consumption far exceed what the global ecosystem can absorb, essentially borrowing from the future to finance today’s consumption. As important the welfare of the human race should be at the center of our economic system with the role of the economy to serve all people.
Rethinking Economic Measures of Success – A starting point for this transformation is rethinking how we measure progress. Progress today is measured largely in terms of growth – growth of output and consumption, increases in stock prices and wealth. At an abstract level continued growth is unsustainable – infinite growth in a finite world simply isn’t possible. More practically, how meaningful are such measures when about 10 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, just a handful of men have the same amount of wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population, and a sizable portion of output quickly ends up as waste in landfills or pollutes our air, water, and land. At the same time economic measures do not capture the environmental, health, and social costs of economic production that reduce both current and future human well-being.
Let’s start measuring economic progress not by broad statistics of economic growth and wealth but on the basis of progress in improving human welfare. The United Nations 17 Sustainable Development goals provide an excellent framework for assessing progress, calling for elimination of hunger and poverty, improvement of in health and well-being, universal literacy, and quality jobs that protect the environment along with other goals. Efforts under way to track “happiness” provides another more informative indicator of well-being. Our economic measures also need to capture the value of environmental services of a healthy ecosystem and contributions made from “non-economic” (and thus not valued) activities such as care for the young and elderly and volunteer service that contributes to stronger families and communities.
Reflecting Environmental Costs and Benefits – Factoring in the environmental cost of extraction and use of natural resources is crucial to provide appropriate market signals for production and consumption decisions. Because such costs are external to the production process, governments must step in to set effective prices to shift behaviors. Similarly, governments should seek mechanism to compensate landowners for protecting natural resources that provide essential environmental services
Adopting Ethical Economic Norms
Do No Harm —Production processes should be designed to leave or at least restore the world around it in its natural state. Greenhouse gas levels need to be held to sustainable levels to contain global warming and emissions from production, transportation and other activities need to be free of particulates in the air that jeopardize human health. Water used for consumption and production should be returned to rivers and other water sources as clean or cleaner than when it was removed. Production inputs should be non-toxic, preventing harm to workers, consumers, and the environment. Agricultural production, fisheries, and forestry should work with natural systems rather than depleting the essential ecosystem services of our soils, forests, and oceans.
Zero waste —Products should be designed as part of a circular economy that ensures the production process is waste-free and that products produced will have a useful “next life”.
Local and regional resilience —Shifting consumption to goods and services produced locally or regionally and relying on resources available locally can lower the environmental impact, help strengthen local economies and communities and make them more resilient to disruptions.
Human-driven output —Shifting consumption to goods and services that rely heavily on the knowledge, skills, and craftsmanship of individuals producing them (concerts, yoga instruction, craft beers to name a few) will lower the environmental footprint of economic activity, increase opportunities for individuals to achieve their potential, and further strengthen local and communities.