Living within the donut of social and environmental justice

George Monbiot poses an interesting question in the wake of an Oxfam report: Is protecting the environment incompatible with social justice?

The Oxfam report, A Safe and Just Space for Humanity looks at ‘Humanity’s challenge in the 21st century is to eradicate poverty and achieve prosperity for all within the means of the planet’s limited natural resources.’ It’s a big question especially in New Zealand where dairy intensification, increasing fishing and drilling and mining for resources are presented as necessary steps to deliver growth and lift living standards, to be ‘balanced’ against environmental degradation.

It’s exactly the line new ‘Minister for Everything’ Steven Joyce is adopting and best seen in his ‘can’ts’ opinion piece in the NZ Herald that criticises ‘people who in the one breath chant “more jobs, more jobs” and then in the next breath say “but don’t do that, or that, or that.”

The report’s author Kate Raworth argues convincingly we can see prosperity, lift people out of poverty within natural limits – or within the donut, a visual summary for sustainable development. The donut, Raworth points out,  is ‘The social foundation forms an inner boundary, below which are many dimensions of human deprivation. The environmental ceiling forms an outer boundary, beyond which are many dimensions of environmental degradation. Between the two boundaries lies an area – shaped like a doughnut – which represents an environmentally safe and socially just space for humanity to thrive in.’

Where are we at with the donut right now in New Zealand? Around the same time the Seafood Industry Council have produced their own glossy report, The Environmental Cost of New Zealand Food Production, green-washing our fishing industry and again arguing that feeding the world is New Zealand’s economic game. The report however conveniently ignores the significant by-catch impacts pushing some species closer to extinction; clearly outside the donut. The Government is a vocal supporter of more drilling, more mining, and dairy intensification but it’s not about feeding those in poverty, lifting those in energy poverty out nor for Kiwi taxpayers benefit because we know there’s hardly any royalties, hardly any taxes and hardly and jobs and the profits increasingly are flowing offshore. The Government’s economic plans are for a select few despite the altruistic arguments.

Respecting natural limits or saying ‘we can’t’ sometimes, as Raworth points out, doesn’t have to consign us to maintain poverty, for example:

Providing enough food for the 13% of the world’s people who suffer from hunger equates to raising world supplies by just 1%.

Providing electricity to the 19% of people who currently have none would raise global carbon emissions by just 1%.

Bringing everyone above the global absolute poverty line ($1.25 a day) would need just 0.2% of global income.

As I responded to Joyce it’s not about false choices, balance, or ‘can’ts’,  it’s about ‘won’ts’; the Government and many worldwide won’t make common-sense decisions to promote equity or protect the natural environment. We don’t have to ‘balance’ poverty against wrecking our natural environment – we can choose renewable energy, clean-tech jobs, increasing conservation, smart transport, and sustainable business, helping people and planet. The Greens know this and that’s why the donut is embedded in our Charter.

4 Comments Posted

  1. having been born and lived in NZ and now left it seems to me NZ has one of the most insidious forms of corruption in the world, so much so that most are unaware or simply accept it. it seems to me that the Greens are the last vestige of the original pioneering spirit which was what first brought our ancestors there in the first place. keep up the good work

  2. The most Eco way to live, by far, is to have a society made up of villages where people grow their own vegetables, have their own egg-producing chickens, and fruit trees, eat no more meat than they need, and operate locally a low-speed electric transport system that integrates it all together. And finally, turn their own human waste back into fertilizer to close and sustain the resource-circuit. And, build low-cost well-insulated houses that require very little power. You can do this on a household or, even better, village scale. It’s easy.

    But realistically this requires letting new “villages” develop outside Auckland (and other area’s) Rural Urban Boundaries, and the Greens are opposed to what they describe as “sprawl”.

    My point? Having your heart in the right place is all very well, but your brain has to come to the party too. And Gareth, you wouldn’t know what a “smart” transport system were if it bit you on the bottom.

Comments are closed.