Getting Inside The Doughnut

Getting Inside The Doughnut

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Humanity faces an incredible innovation challenge in the coming years. One that will define our course as a species in relation to the planet. Somehow, we need to meet the needs of our growing populations, whilst living within the means of our planet. We have to ensure that everyone has the essentials to life (food, housing, healthcare, political voice), without damaging Earth’s life-support systems (climate, soil, water, ozone layer). The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries is a way of framing this challenge. 

The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries (2017)

The outer layer in this diagram (the ecological ceiling) has nine ‘planetary boundaries’, (Rockstrom et al). Overshooting these means environmental degradation and risks to Earth’s systems. The inner twelve dimensions (the social foundation) are social standards agreed by the world’s governments in the Sustainable Development Goals (2015). Between the two is a socially just and environmentally safe space where humanity thrives. There’s a one-minute animated introduction to the Doughnut by Jonny Lawrence, and for more details, see Kate Rayworth’s doughnut economics. All models are flawed to some extent, but this one offers an interesting perspective to inform our thinking about the future we need to create.

The global population is predicted to peak at around 10 billion people, later this century. That’s 10 billion people who will want a higher quality of life than even the wealthiest and most progressive countries live today. To maintain those high living standards – with the infrastructure and approaches we use today – at the rate we’re going, we will need multiple planets to sustain that population size.

Things have to change. We have to do things differently. Trillions in capital are needed to move swiftly towards delivering the necessary infrastructure. We require global-scale innovation at levels never witnessed before.

Look at just one area of human life – mobility, for example.

  • The typical European car is parked 92% of the time.
  • The average car has 5 seats, but carries 1.5 people per trip.
  • In a petrol engine, 86% of the fuel energy never reaches the wheels.
  • Roads reach peak throughput only 5% of the time and only 10% are filled with cars, even then.
  • 50% of most city land is dedicated to streets and roads, parking, service stations, driveways, signals and traffic signs.
  • There are 30,000 deaths per year on roads, and 4 times as many RTAs causing disabling injuries, with 95% caused by human error. 

We are on the precipice of a rapid revolution in mobility that’s coming much, much quicker than we realise. A number of converging technologies are opening up approaches to transport that have never before been possible. If you are interested in how this sector is going to change, watch this talk. In short, many of the inefficiencies in our current transport system are going to disappear very quickly – in the same way the horses rapidly disappeared when the first wave of mass-manufactured cars arrived. That’s all before you look at the impact of video conferencing and the generation of high-bandwidth immersive communication technologies that are to come. There is so much room for innovation in this one area alone – which can and will reduce human impact. Every sector carries similar inefficiencies that an array of emerging technologies will support us to resolve.

And yet, so much of this transition isn’t about innovation. It’s about a new perspective on living. Lockdown also demonstrated something interesting. It demonstrated, in an experiential way, that the ‘rat race’ of doing things you don’t love to pay for things you don’t need must come to an end – for some people. Whilst the full impact of that experience won’t be known for some time, there was a collective realisation that slowing down and living more simply has some significant upsides for our quality of life.

One thing is for sure, the world will change forever in the next decade. The biological, technological, financial and planetary disruptions will force us into a new way of living, whether we want to change or not.

I, for one, am very positive about the future. I trust we will find a way of organising that is much better for us, both individually and collectively. We will find ways to live well that are highly progressive, from both a planetary and human perspective.

The era of the large, powerful, centrally-governed, multi-layered superstates is coming to an end. They are struggling to manage the day-to-day needs of the emerging crises we are experiencing, let alone able to deliver the innovation necessary to develop a new way of organising.

And this is why I do what I do, where I do it. My work is supporting Guernsey to become a key global centre for delivering quality of life-based innovation. Developing high-quality-of-life, low-cost, economically-dynamic, climate-friendly governance is one of the key components of the necessary transition – and one which my own community and many others like it can support.

What we require, more than anything, is the emergence and rapid evolution of a new model of governance. A new framework for living. That framework for living is likely to  emerge first in small nations that are agile and innovative enough to adapt to, and improve in, rapidly changing circumstances.

To getting inside the doughnut.

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  1. Susan Hayward says

    Wow, those vehichle stats are stunning. I have never thought about mobility that way before …

  2. As always thought provoking, and with apt timing. A joy to read Marc.

  3. Marc,

    A thoughtful piece, with some important information that needs to be widely shared.

    At the end, you call for a new model of governance. In my view, we don’t need something entirely new but rather to restore and build upon two models that thrived before.

    The first was implemented by the Cathars (who called themselves the Good People). They built a civilization in Europe circa 1050 – 1300 AD. Recent findings have determined that they had a society almost without poverty, which flourished to such an extent that serious scholars have declared that this should be called The First Renaissance.

    They used complementary currencies; tools which complement national money, with each doing well what the other does poorly. These are explored extensively in the book New Money for a New World, and in summary form in my own A Celebration Society.

    The second is the Venetian Republic, which led the world in architecture and maritime pursuits for 800 years, until its conquest by Napoleon. The Venetian system of governance structurally prevented the four weaknesses of democracies: moneyed control, demagogues, parties, and gridlock.

    These understandings could be readily applied to a new system of island governance.

    Best regards,

    Jonathan

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