An economic system that supports planetary health
A capitalist system based on infinite economic growth and increasing levels of consumption, requiring deforestation, extraction of raw materials, and other polluting and emitting processes, does not align with planetary health nor does it ensure a habitable earth.
There have been arguments that we can continue our consumer lifestyle and improve our quality of life by creating a means of production that pollutes less and uses fewer of the earth's resources, but research has debunked this. The research shows that rates of consumption rise and offset the technological advances that allow us to produce products in a way that does less planetary harm. Continuing to grow our GDP, while decoupling from the creation of excessive greenhouse gases and extraction of earth's finite resources, is unrealistic if we are to stay below 1.5 degrees of warming, considered by climate scientists to be the "safe zone."
The Doughnut Economic Theory has been proposed as a solution, which enables every person to have their basic needs met, while also protecting the earth's ecosystems and successfully avoiding overstepping planetary boundaries.
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During a panel titled Imagine a More Equitable Economy, while panelists highlighted that widening inequality and climate breakdown were the product of today’s economic system, talk of solutions revolved around terms like “sustainable capitalism” and “eco capitalism.” Someone even suggested that the current system was yet to be perfected, all while acknowledging that capitalism is the cause of many global problems today.
I had sat there nonplussed. Sustainable capitalism? Bearing in mind that a growth-oriented, greed-driven system has got us into this mess in the first place, the term seemed like an oxymoron...
Around the world, models that seek new ethics of production and consumption include cooperative ventures and bioregional and solidarity economies, which promote local business, not-for-profit endeavours and the re-orientation of work from market-determined wage labour to sustainable livelihoods that ensure decent standards of living.
"Decades of data on material flows confirm that there are “no realistic scenarios” for such decoupling of economic growth from resource use. Combing through 179 of the best studies of this issue from 1990 to 2019 further reveals “no evidence” that any meaningful decoupling has ever taken place.
“The goal of decoupling rests partly on faith,” conclude the team from the BIOS Research Institute in Finland, an independent multidisciplinary scientific organisation studying the effects of environmental and resource factors on economy, politics, and culture.
The BIOS team previously advised the UN Global Sustainable Development Report on the risk that endless economic growth under capitalism would be undermined due to intensifying “biophysical” limits. A combination of diminishing returns from energy extraction and increasing costs of environmental crises are already undermining growth, and require us to rewrite the global economic operating system, the scientists concluded in a powerful background report to the UN."
Take the financial system. It should be in the right relationship with the only set of laws we can’t change: the dynamics of the Earth system. We do not control the climate – we can change it, but we don’t control that change – we do not control the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the oxygen cycle, nor the nitrogen cycle. These are the given of our planet. We need to redesign all our institutions so that they are in the right relationship with the cycles of the living world and so that they are distributive by design. To change design, we need laws and regulation. That’s why Europe could lead here, with its power to set regulations across 28 – for now – countries.
"Humanity’s 21st century challenge is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet. In other words, to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice), while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend – such as a stable climate, fertile soils, and a protective ozone layer. The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries is a playfully serious approach to framing that challenge, and it acts as a compass for human progress this century.
The environmental ceiling 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 twelve dimensions of the social foundation are derived from internationally agreed minimum social standards, as identified by the world’s governments in the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. Between social and planetary boundaries lies an environmentally safe and socially just space in which humanity can thrive."
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A compilation of books, movies, articles, and ways to take action to protect Black lives
Nadia Colburn, PhD and member of Extinction Rebellion Media team, discusses how to talk about the climate and ecological crisis with family and friends.
Thu May 13th @ 7 p.m.
Fri May 14th @ 4 p.m.
Sun May 16th @ 10:30 a.m.