We’ve profoundly shifted gears these last few weeks. Things that would have been thought impossible, or entirely too complex, are being done with increasing regularity. In unprecedented times, we do unprecedented things. Politicians of all political stripes are focused on finding the people whose needs are not being met, and new programs are spinning up accordingly. Political will can change everything.
Swift action in response to need during a crisis is inspiring to see. But, a moment is coming in the months ahead, where we will face an awkward choice. At some point, should politicians stop creating policies based on the premise that everyone’s needs deserve to be met? Or should we use this rebuilding time to build something better? This is a question being asked in many places and I’m following the discussion with great interest. You may be surprised to learn, in some places, that discussion is centering around doughnuts.
Lessons from a Doughnut
I’m talking about Doughnut Economics. This is a really different approach to both considering our goals for the economy and its purpose in the first place. Let me explain it a bit.
Using this approach for PEI, we would establish a set of basic needs as the social floor that we agree no one should fall below. Things like access to enough food, appropriate housing, enough money, education, health, and others would likely be included. These basic needs create our doughnut’s inner ring. Collectively in recent weeks, we have been using such a lens to some degree.
The outer ring is framed by our environmental limits. Indicators could include things like climate change, freshwater withdrawals, nitrogen load, and chemical pollution. This outer ring is an acknowledgement of science; a realization we cannot take at a rate faster than nature can regenerate, nor can we pollute faster than nature can absorb. This makes sense. Between the social foundation of the inner ring and the outer environmental ceiling is the doughnut in which we must design our policies to meet the needs of people, within the means of our environment.
Considering from the beginning that we need to stay within the limits on both sides of that doughnut would dramatically change the way we think about solutions, and will force us to work smarter.
The need for a new approach
Traditional approaches to the economy demand annual growth, whether or not it causes people and our environment to thrive. Annual growth of the GDP for its own sake is a misplaced and outdated goal. Instead, our focus should be having our people and environment thriving, whether or not it causes the economy to grow.
For example, Amsterdam has announced their intention to embrace the ‘doughnut’ model to mend its post-coronavirus economy. We could do this too.
Decisions would be made differently if both human and environmental no-go zones were drawn, and we can unpack what that could look like in the weeks ahead. Our small size gives us flexibility in charting a different course, one that respects the land, water and soil we are so dependent on, while providing for the needs of our people. The wellbeing of every Islander has been a shared goal lately. Imagine if it always was.
Making the most of the opportunity
In the weeks and months ahead, decisions will need to be made on what parts of normal we keep and how we can create a better normal. We have an opportunity like never before to shift directions. Let’s not waste it.
Lynne Lund is the MLA for District 21 Summerside-Wilmot and the Official Opposition Critic for Environment, Water and Climate Change and for Green Economic Development.