I haven't reviewed many Sustainability books on here of late, mainly because the few I have read recently have been terrible, some to the point of being unreadable. Frankly I didn't want to bore you with diatribes against poor authors (in both senses of the word 'poor'). However, a couple of weeks ago I took a duplicate present back to Waterstones and, on a whim, picked up Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth as a replacement. Talk about serendipity.

The titular doughnut is Raworth's analogy for a sustainable economy which is strong enough to pull people above the inner limit of the poverty line (the social foundation), yet stays within natural limits (the ecological ceiling). Within these two thresholds we should be 'agnostic' about growth. I love a simple, resonant analogy and this is one of the best Sustainability models I've come across for a long time.

The subtitle of the book is "Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist" and the seven main chapters set out major mindset changes required to move from standard economics to the doughnut model. They are:

  1. Change the goal: from GDP growth to the Doughnut.
  2. See the big picture: from self-contained market to embedded economy.
  3. Nurture human nature: from rational economic man to social adaptable humans.
  4. Get savvy with systems: from mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity.
  5. Design to distribute: from ‘growth will even it up again’ to distributive by design.
  6. Create to regenerate: from ‘growth will clean it up again’ to regenerative by design.
  7. Be Agnostic about Growth: from growth-addicted to growth-agnostic.

The 6th and 7th of these were the ones I found most interesting. No 6 covers the circular economy, including a 'butterfly model' which wonderfully sums up its components more gracefully than my various attempts. No 7 is the most interesting as Raworth tries to square the circle of the "can't live with it, can't live without it" nature of economic growth. I wasn't surprised she doesn't quite manage to nail it – if she had succeeded, she would surely be worthy of a Nobel prize – but she gives it the best attempt I've seen in a popular economics book.

My only criticism of the book is occasional lapses into 'lazy-lefty' wishful thinking. For example, if the Occupy movement was as impactful as Raworth claims, how come we ended up with Trump in the White House? And while you can blame neoliberalism for many things, climate change isn't one of them – the time lags in the physical mechanisms of climate change and the residence time of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere mean that temperature rises to date have been largely driven by carbon emissions from before Thatcher and Reagan started down the neoliberal path in the mid-1980s. You only have to look at Soviet-era environmental destruction across the former Eastern Bloc (which inspired me to take up the eco-baton) to see that 'left = sustainable, right = unsustainable' is a dangerous assumption to make (I'm proudly what is known as a 'Centrist Dad').

But while I may quibble with such details, overall the book really made me think and gave me some powerful new perspectives on economics and Sustainability with a refreshing focus on solutions rather than problems. Who can ask for anything more?

 

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