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Donuts & Climate Change


Donuts & Climate Change

Mick Pope

While talk of donuts brings a certain yellow cartoon character to mind, it also represents a new economic model which loves God and neighbour by caring for his creation and his image bearers. Donut economics recognises that people have the right to live flourishing lives: access to health, education, employment opportunities and so on. In particular, women’s rights to safety and education and children’s health are what bring societies up. Development does require access to safe sources of energy. As Pope Francis noted in his recent encyclical; “People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating.”  Not to mention permanent disfiguration from fires. In all of this, women are overrepresented.

While people need to be hooked up to the grid, we can’t ignore the fact that climate change is happening. The need for development is often used as an excuse for rich countries like ours to continue to export coal, with all of its attendant implications for climate change, pollution, ocean acidification, loss of farming land domestically, and so on. The technophilia that Francis so rightly condemns encourages us that we’ll just be able to engineer the climate to fix the problem. Tower of Babel anyone?

To live on the donut between the need for human development on the inner ring and planetary boundaries for a safe world for humans on the outer ring means it is time to change our thinking on economics, politics and ecology. It’s called repentance, and that’s what Christians should be good and doing and modelling to others. 

Applied to the donut, Pope Francis nails it when he says:

“developed countries ought to help [ecological] pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development.”

We have to help the developing world leap frog our past mistakes while repenting of our own. Coal is so last century and continuing to remain addicted to it for short term economic gain is a sin. Rejecting an idolatry of technology (Babelism) or the economy (Mammon) does not mean a return to the Stone Age as Francis puts it. But it does mean limiting our hubris. It does mean a turn to a more thoughtful and just economy, perhaps the Sabbath Economics of writers like Ched Meyers. It means resisting the globalising effects of economics with its love of tax dodging multinationals and a focus more on the local community. For Francis too, it means listening more to Indigenous voices, something Surrender understands well.

So living in the donut truly means loving God by loving and respecting his creation, and loving our neighbours whose suffering from the present globalised economy is all too often hidden from our view. The first step will mean bringing to light this suffering so we can work for its end.