The City of Nanaimo has adopted doughnut economics as a guiding principle in civic decision-making. (News Bulletin/stock photo)

The City of Nanaimo has adopted doughnut economics as a guiding principle in civic decision-making. (News Bulletin/stock photo)

OPINION: Doughnut model’s limits the only rational position

Currently, we are into the danger zone in four of the nine planetary boundaries, says columnist


I find it exhilarating that Nanaimo has followed Amsterdam and Brussels as the third city to adopt doughnut economics as a planning principle. Briefly stated, doughnut economics brings care for nine critical planetary boundaries into planning priorities previously focused on human demands without consideration of planetary impacts.

The doughnut model includes human needs as well as planetary imperatives. Its two circles create three areas. Outside the outer circle lies the planetary danger field. The space between the two circles is ‘the safe and just space for humanity.’ And the central sphere is the place where many humans do not have their basic needs met. Outside the doughnut lies overshoot; in the centre is the tragedy of shortfall.

Between the two doughnut circles is the only rational place to position ourselves. Municipal leadership using the doughnut framework is where to begin.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo council decides city will be guided by ‘doughnut’ economic model

Currently, we are into the danger zone in four of the nine planetary boundaries: extinction rate, deforestation, atmospheric CO2 (greenhouse gases) and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorus due to fertilizers and animal wastes including human sewage. Excess nitrogen carried by the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico has produced a coastal dead zone from Texas to Florida. And there’s an even bigger one in the Arabian Sea.

It is more than 50 years since Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, warned that it bought us 30 years to bring “the Population Monster” under control. Overpopulation isn’t one of the planetary boundaries, it’s both a symptom and the driver of planetary disasters fuelled by our overuse of non-renewable energy stored in coal, gas and oil. Borlaug spent his life working to feed the hungry but he was well aware that our rate of population increase threatens the planet.

Fire gave us cooking. Cooking gave us easier access to plant nutrition. Cooking meat gave us access to nutrients already processed in animals we eat. Better nutrition gave us the energy to develop larger brains and greater intelligence. The more energy we captured, the bigger the population monster became.

We have become addicted to energy over-use and must start using the energy the sun provides sustainably and efficiently. Our task is to shift human behaviour to be satisfied with enough and seek happiness in contributing to a better world for all, starting where we live.

We look to senior governments for control of much of the overshoot. But what can municipal governments do? After all, this is where we live, where we have our feet on the ground, where we have to deal personally with each other.

What about spending more on public transit so people don’t have to use private automobiles? Or land banking for regenerative agriculture and market gardening? Or setting limits on the size of a municipality to prevent over-development? Or providing genuinely affordable housing for people trapped in the doughnut hole? We could push the Regional District of Nanaimo to tertiary treatment of wastewater and limit our demands just as we encourage our children to ration their treats.

And let’s get braver about confronting greed masquerading as efficiency.

Marjorie Stewart is past chairperson of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at


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