Doughnut economics #7

Key idea #7: twenty-first century economies can be both more sustainable and help regenerate the environment

Thanks to Rob Liu for granting permission to reprint this from the Conscioused website.

Buy Kate Raworth’s Doughnut economics  at Fishpond (New Zealand)

You’d think that nations would be scrambling to develop ecologically sustainable strategies given the looming environmental crisis, right? Unfortunately, many countries continue to ignore the threat of climate change.

Economics is often part of the problem. Many economists depict an unpolluted natural environment as a luxury. Like greater equality, environmental protection is seen as something societies can only afford once they’ve reached a certain stage of development.

But that’s a mistake.

American economists Gene Grossman and Alan Krueger crunched the numbers in the 1990s. They compared GDP growth with air and water pollution. A pattern quickly emerged: as GDP grew, pollution initially increased before eventually decreasing.

That, however, was misleading. As the authors admitted, they hadn’t included global pollution levels in their calculations. Despite resting on shaky foundations, the idea that GDP growth would see pollution levels automatically decline was hard to resist.

Between 1990 and 2007, as GDP grew across high-income countries, so too did their environmental footprints. Once you take all ecological factors into account, the footprints of the UK and New Zealand grew by 30 percent in the same period, while those of Spain and the Netherlands increased by more than 50 percent. That’s a long way from the safe space of the Doughnut we explored earlier. So what do we have to do to get there?

First of all, our linear economy has to become circular.

Essentially, that means a shift from making disposable products to producing reusable goods. Whether it’s biological material like plants and soil or technical commodities like synthetics and metals, most things can be given a new lease of life.

Coffee grounds, for example, can be used for an amazing array of things. You can grow mushrooms in them and then use them as livestock feed – especially handy since animal manure returns them to the soil in the form of natural fertilizer. A huge amount of “waste” can be turned into valuable resources in this way. Not bad given that less than one percent of the nutrient-rich bean ends up in a cup of coffee!

The same applies to industrial products.

In the Togolese capital of Lomé, workshops repurpose discarded computing equipment to build 3D printers using open-source designs, transforming waste products into a primary material. It’s not only environmentally friendly but a potential lifesaver; doctors use the devices to print medical equipment, which is much cheaper and quicker than ordering tools from abroad.

All this just goes to show that reuse, repurposing and smart design aren’t luxuries – they’re essential!