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CEC is committed to creating a more resilient and just region in the face of climate change. Through our work with the Central Coast Climate Justice Network and elsewhere, our vision includes an end to racial injustices and their resulting environmental inequities.
Doughnut Economics By Kate Raworth

We regularly ask CEC’s Staff, Board, Partnership Council, and President’s Council to offer their perspectives as thought leaders in the Santa Barbara community. In this ongoing series, they share about the books, articles, films, apps, podcasts, and other multimedia that are influencing their thinking, including how these tie into CEC’s work and the climate crisis at large. 

Book title: Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist

Author: Kate Raworth

Reviewed by: Barbara Lindemann, CEC Board Member

What the book is about:

Raworth is an economist who finds the economic theories from the 1950s and 60s–which are still taught in all major undergraduate and graduate departments–to be inadequate as a basis for today’s policy decisions. She proposes a model that can address the central dilemma of this generation: economic growth cannot be sustained without destroying the natural resources on which such growth depends; yet without growth our economic system will collapse, bringing social upheaval and political turmoil. Different kinds of investments using different criteria are required to resolve this dilemma.

In Doughnut Economics, Raworth offers a more complex way of measuring economic strength than the U.S. metric of GDP and its international equivalents. She illustrates her proposed  model of regenerative design with a simple, two dimensional doughnut. The outer ring of the doughnut is the border of sustainable use of natural resources: air, water, soil, ozone, oceans, biodiversity, forests, minerals, and fossil fuel. The inner ring is the border of the “hole,” where the economy fails to provide essential food, water, health care, education, housing, social and political equality, energy, and employment. A regenerative economist would make decisions designed to stay within the “dough” of the doughnut.

Why I read it:

I remember that some 20 to 30 years ago, environmental writers were calling for new economic theories that recognized the limits of growth. I asked John Steed, CEC Board President, if he knew what subsequent work has been done, since the dominant narrative from economists both left and right still uses annual growth of gross domestic product or of world production as the mark of economic prosperity. John recommended Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth, which I read first, and which left me looking for more. John also recommended Doughnut Economics, which builds on Jackson’s work and offers some new models. The doughnut concept is one easily grasped by policymakers, and if used could accomplish two critical goals: end the depletion of natural resources that all life depends on, and reduce the distressing levels of world poverty. At the same time, Kate Raworth is offering to students of economics new models that have the potential to transform the discipline.

Why it’s relevant to CEC’s work or the larger conversation around the climate crisis:

Illustration © 2020 PHAROS Creative LLC Much of CEC’s work fits within the “dough” of the doughnut. Here are a few examples:

  • CEC’s “outer ring” work to reduce our region’s reliance on fossil fuels has lasting “inner ring” impacts: more individuals can affordably switch to electric vehicles through the Electric Drive 805 program, 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations were installed along the Central Coast to make charging more accessible, and the Solarize program makes home solar ownership easier and more affordable for people and businesses to install solar power.
  • CEC’s “outer ring” commitment to sequester carbon from the atmosphere is made possible through its “inner ring” work to increase the use of carbon farming by demonstrating clear economic and environmental benefits to diverse stakeholders and through CEC’s Food Rescue program, which prevents produce and restaurant-quality prepared food from going to the landfill and instead directs it to organizations that feed people facing hunger in Santa Barbara County.
  • CEC strives to reduce “outer ring” plastic consumption by facilitating “inner ring” installations of more than 100 water bottle refill stations in our schools, providing clean, plastic-free water to all students.

Main takeaways and actionable items: 

  • Raworth’s campaign is exciting and ambitious. In the current domestic and international political climate, it is easy to view Doughnut Economics as just one more doomed vision. Yet it is proving useful in cities like Amsterdam, from which it could well spread to well-placed policy advisers.
  • Check out the Doughnut Economics Lab for actions you can take to think like a 21st-century economist.

Other connections: 

Barbara Lindemann is emerita professor of History and Ethnic Studies at Santa Barbara City College. Since retirement, she has been chair of the Planned Parenthood Central Coast Action Fund Board, of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation Board, and of the Mission Canyon Association Board. She is a longtime supporter and volunteer for the Community Environmental Council and, prior to her current position on CEC’s Board, was a member of the Partnership Council for five years.

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