Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today.
by Robin Mahon
In two previous articles on Doughnut economics for Barbados, entitled Doughnut anyone: thriving without growth in Barbados and Applying the Doughnut, we explored
the new concept of Doughnut economics and whether it might be useful for Barbados.
Thanks to the folks at the University of Leeds and the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL), we actually have a first cut at a Doughnut for Barbados.
It is based on publicly available global databases, such as those provided by the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
While it gives a first look at what a Barbados Doughnut might look like, it may be the case that with access to local data that is not available globally – and especially with input from people in Barbados – we could probably come up with a Doughnut that is more tuned to Barbados; one that we can actually use to guide sustainable development.
Looking first at the social foundation we see that important data are missing on ‘income and poverty’, ‘social support’ and ‘life satisfaction’. Also, Barbados is falling below the social foundation for ‘employment’ and even more so for ‘equality’, according to these results.
The latter which is much talked about in the media, is based on one year of data from 2010.
Surely, we must have better and more recent information on the distribution of income and wealth.
Areas where Barbados is at or above the foundation are ‘life expectancy’, ‘nutrition’, ‘sanitation’, ‘access to energy’, ‘education’ and ‘democratic quality’; achievements we can and should be proud of as a country. But these are all based on global standards.
For this approach to be useful in tracking the big picture of how we are doing, we need to set our own standards, add any indicators we think are missing, and monitor them carefully over time to see whether policies are making a difference.
Looking at the biophysical boundary, Barbados’ ‘carbon dioxide emissions’
per person are far beyond the level that
could be extended to everyone on the planet without overshooting the goal to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
We are somewhat over for ‘material footprint’ and ‘ecological footprint’, both measured on a per capita basis. For the ‘phosphorus’ and ‘nitrogen’ indicators – which measure the levels of excessive fertilizer use associated with our consumption – we are at the limits.
What is surprising is that the Barbados Doughnut shows us as well below the boundaries for ‘blue water’ consumption and ‘land-use change’, even though we know that water scarcity and conversion of agricultural land are major issues for Barbados.
Here again, the global data are from 2005 and 2011, and they simply cannot capture the current realities of our small island.
Just as for the social foundation, we need to get better and more recent data locally.
We also very much need to develop our own ideas about the boundaries that we consider to be important, and that we want to avoid exceeding, while being mindful of our global responsibility as well as our historical contribution.
Once we have done that, if we do not have the data to keep track of where we are, we need to start collecting it.
It is interesting too to compare our Doughnut with other countries. Take, for example, the UK, which has done only a little better regarding the social foundation, but with a much greater planetary impact.
This is consistent with the idea that past a certain point more economic growth does not necessarily lead to a better life, especially after basic needs are taken care of.
The Barbados Doughnut raises a lot of questions that cannot be answered
in a brief article.
Hopefully, however, it has served to illustrate the value of looking at the big picture approach and the need to identify limits for both the social foundation
and the biophysical aspects that support our well-being.
Insofar as I can tell, it is in the biophysical area that we are especially deficient and need to get moving, but we need to do so in a way that maintains or improves the social achievements of the past decades. This is our 21st century challenge.
There is a lot of expertise in Barbados to take on this task. It can be found at UWI, our Community College and Polytechnic, in NGOs, in government and in a private
sector that is steadily turning its attention to such issues.
The excellent UWI public lecture on Monday October 26th by Senator Crystal Drakes is an example which tells us that these perspectives are emerging among our young intellectuals.
Pursuing the Barbados Doughnut can help us bring together ideas for how to provide a good life for all residents within the means of the living planet, and the limits of our island, in a compelling way.
I think it may provide a much-needed opportunity for diverse areas of expertise to funnel into an integrated vision of socially just sustainable development for Barbados. If you do too, stay tuned for a Zoom session on the way forward.
Robin Mahon is the Professor Emeritus Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) University of the West Indies,
Cave Hill Campus.