Show Notes

Roman Krznaric is a public philosopher who writes about the power of ideas to change society. His latest book is The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short Term World. His previous international bestsellers, including Empathy, The Wonderbox and Carpe Diem Regained, have been published in more than 20 languages.

Kate Raworth is a renegade economist focused on making economics fit for 21st century realities. She is the creator of the Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries, and co-founder of Doughnut Economics Action Lab.

Together, they address the one core question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:

  • That Doughnut Economics offers a model to “meet the needs of all people within the means of the Living Planet”.
  • That “one of the ways that the world changes is through empathy”, which can overcome our social divides.
  • That we need to be good ancestors and “step into the shoes of people in tomorrow’s world as citizens of the future.”
  • That recognizing and respecting boundaries is good for our own and the planet’s health, while also being a means to unleash our creativity.

Resources

Connect with Roman Krznaric

Website: www.romankrznaric.com

Twitter: twitter.com/romankrznaric

Connect with Kate Raworth

Website: www.kateraworth.com

Twitter: twitter.com/kateraworth

Transcript

Vicki Robin

Hi, Vicki Robin here, host of What Could Possibly Go Right?, a project of the Post Carbon Institute, in which we interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good, asking them all the same question. In the midst of all that is going wrong and going confusing, going crazy, what do they see emerging that could possibly go right? Today’s guest is Roman Krznaric and Kate Raworth. They are a married couple. And they’re both authors, and they both think about long term thinking, sustainability, economics, empathy, and intergenerational justice. I invited them to come together. They each have their own platforms, their books and their following, but I invited them to come together so that we could have a conversation about what they see emerging. I asked them also to introduce themselves. So we’re going to leave it at that and there will be links in the show notes. The conversation did go on quite a while and so it’s a little longer than you’re used to. But every little minute, it was a pure joy for me. So here they are.

Vicki Robin

Hi, Roman Krznaric and Kate Raworth. Welcome to What Could Possibly Go Right? And what a lucky stumble upon that I approached you, Roman, and then discovered you’re married to Kate, who I met many, many years ago and admired for her model of Doughnut Economics. So lucky me, you agreed to do this together. And it’s my first time having tried to do a duo. Unlike most webinars where individuals speak, and often do their mismatched five minute pitches, I want you to speak from that deeper agreement that you surely have about how to think about the future. So we can have one. And Roman you speak about long term thinking about being good ancestors and about empathy as a foundation for healing what divides us and Kate, you talk about the social and emotional conditions for sustainability, not just the environmental limits. And both of you stand for the sort of Cinderella of sustainability, the beautiful aspect of humans and societies that are currently swamped by the wicked step by step sisters of meanness and me first ism and competition. So I’m sure you’ve talked and talked and talked about this at the dinner table. And I’m sure there’s a shared part of the matter for you. And I want you to speak from that. So I first invite you to each briefly introduce your work in your own words. Because there’s two of you here, and I just want you to say it in your own words, and then to consider however you want to, and hopefully as a duet, not as solo arias, our key question, which is in this moment, when so much seems to be going wrong? What do you see emerging that could possibly go right?

Roman Krznaric

Okay, I think you’d better start. Okay.

Kate Raworth

I studied economics at university because I thought it would give me the tools I needed to help make changes in the world. And I was so disappointed by what I was taught. I walked away from it. And decades later realized in the wake of the financial crisis when the economy started saying we need to rewrite economics to to make it reflect financial realities. I thought, I’ll be damned if we’re only going to make it reflect financial realities, we need to make it reflect ecological, planetary realities and realities of crisis of human suffering and inequalities. So I drew a picture that is like a compass for human prosperity in the 21st century. And strange that it sounds it came out looking like a doughnut, you can see one on the wall behind me, but I’ve even got one right here. I’m just going to put it right in the room because this is so at the core of the work I do. So the goal here is to leave nobody in the hole in the middle of the doughnut. That’s where people are falling short on your centers of life. It’s where people don’t have the resources they need to have food and housing, and health care and education, transport, income, political voice and equality. Leave no one in the hole. Get everybody over that social foundation. But as we collectively use Earth’s resources, we must not overshoot that ecological sailing, because that’s where we put so much pressure on this delicately balanced, unique living planet that we begin to kick it out of balance. And we cause climate breakdown, and we acidify the oceans and break down the web of life.

So in the simplest of terms, the goal of this picture is to meet the needs of all people within the means of the Living Planet. Now, I sketched that on a piece of paper back in 2012. And I was working at Oxfam at the time. And we published it as a discussion papers just as an idea. And I was absolutely amazed by the traction it had, that people who’ve been talking about these issues for decades found this picture, incredibly empowering to that argument. And I learned through that the power of pictures, the power of our visual intelligence, and the need to recognize the pictures we draw, profoundly shaped what we do and don’t see what we put at the center of our vision and what we leave peripherally. So I wrote this book down as economics, really as an aim to rewrite the core ideas of economics so that they’re fit for the 21st century. And I did it through redrawing the pictures, the old ones are like intellectual graffiti in our minds. And it’s really hard to scrub out graffiti. So it’s much easier to paint over it with a beautiful mural. So I tried to draw new pictures. But when we start economics with this, not with welcome, and here’s the market, but with this, this is our goal. This is what we’re actually trying to achieve. Now, once we’ve got a goal, what kind of structures of government regulation services, provision, markets, prices, incentives, mechanisms designed, what kind of economic structures will give us even half a chance of getting here. When you start like that? It changes everything that follows. Over to you right now, over to you, Roman.

Roman Krznaric

Well, Kate walked away from economics. I walked away from political science, I did a PhD in politics. And I used to think that the way you change the world, was by changing laws and public policies and political institutions and elections and things like that. But I started to realize, I guess, in the late 1990s, that one of the ways that the world changes is through empathy, or what psychologists call cognitive empathy, or perspective, taking empathy, the capacity to step into the shoes of another person, and look at the world through their eyes. And that struck me as something fundamental for how we overcome social divides between people of different age groups or ethnic backgrounds or cultural differences. And, I grew up in Australia, where I hadn’t really encountered the indigenous perspective of the country’s history. I was taught that Britain had benignly colonized Australia. And it had never really occurred to me until I was probably my 20s, that, from the indigenous perspective, Australia was invaded. There was a war in the 18th century when the British arrived. And that’s all about empathy, as I understand it, and the psychology books, tell us it.

So I started studying empathy. I left academia, walked away from that political science stuff, and I wrote a book about empathy. But I also founded a museum called the Empathy Museum, which travels around the world and tries to give people the experience of what’s it like really to be another person from a different background, a different perspective, and one of the exhibits we’ve got, and this is really sort of led me to where I am today, one of the exhibits is called a mile in my shoes, and it’s a gigantic shoe box that you can actually walk inside, it’s the world’s first empathy shoe shop and you walk in, and someone will fit you with a pair of shoes belonging to a stranger, it could be a Syrian refugee, or a kid living in the slums of Brazil, or an investment banker from the City of London. And you can literally walk a mile in their actual shoes, while listening to a audio narrative of them talking about their own life in their own words. And it’s very intimate. It’s sort of when you’ve got there, the sound of their voices to your ears and their shoes on your feet, you kind of feel you’re enveloped in their body. It’s amazing. It’s designed by a great artist called Claire Peytie, who runs the museum. I’m just the chair of the board.

But one of the interesting things about the empathy museum is is about trying to step into the shoes of people in today’s world. And that started me thinking, Well, how do you actually step into the shoes of people in tomorrow’s world as citizens of the future? Because you can’t easily step into their shoes or have a conversation with people who are born in the year 2100. How do we make a kind of empathic leap through time, not just across space, and it was a subject i’d raised a little bit in this book, Empathy, but I’d never really tackled it properly. It was almost too difficult. And that’s what my book The Good Ancestor is  all about. And it’s, in a way led by a question that was asked by the great immunologist Jonas Salk who developed the first polio vaccine in the 50s. But in later life, he said,

The great question facing civilization is this. Are we being good ancestors?

In other words, how are we going to be remembered by the generations to come for what we did or didn’t do when we had the chance, because our actions today have probably more impact, more detrimental impact, potentially on future generations than any moments in history? I mean, obviously, that all began, probably on 16th of July 1945, when the first nuclear test happened, the Trinity test. But since then, we’ve added to our ways of sort of dumping on the future ecological risks, like the climate crisis, technological risks, like AI and bio weapons. So I think, both Kate and I were interested in our different ways of what it is to be a good ancestor, what kind of world are we going to leave to the generations to come? And that’s one of the things that I think unites our thinking and discussions and conversations about all of this.

Vicki Robin

Wow, just listening to both of you and harmonizing both of you in my own mind. I remember I remember way back when I feeling like an old lady, because it’s my 76th birthday. Happy birthday, Vicki. Happy birthday to you. But I remember being so excited in 1989, when I went to the first US conference, on the Brundtland Commission report on our common future, and I was so inspired that I got together with a group of friends and we started Sustainable Seattle, which did the first indicator project for sustainability for the city of Seattle. I remember sitting in this tower in one of the organizations’ buildings, sort of like an upper room dreaming that sustainability would be on the minds of every policymaker we set in the city of Seattle, that was our goal. And the construction is basically living today, that unfolding our well being in such a way today that future generations will have the resources they need to unfold their beautiful future.

Roman Krznaric

Yeah, that’s right, that idea of Yeah, meeting the needs of today’s generations without compromising the possibility of future generations to meet their needs. Yeah, exactly.

Vicki Robin

So there, it was baked in the beginning. And so quickly, the corporate interests took over and made it sustainable growth. I mean, I remember when that happened in the President’s Council on sustainable development under Bill Clinton and watching them do that, watching them do the trick. And then I’m also thinking about, that we used to talk about the three-legged stool, environment, economy. Oh, and social justice or, and that I remember, watching that third leg wither. And so in a way you are bringing it forward in language for this time, the sort of weak sisters, if you will, the sort of Cinderella, this sort of relegated to the basement aspect of this dream that the world itself generated. And, I mean, there’s immense disappointment that we didn’t realize that in the subsequent years, 35, but here we are again. And so I would like to just have if you have a comment, Kate.

Kate Raworth

It’s powerful hearing you saying that, Vicki, because I think we are doing the same work. This is the same piece of work, and it goes on. And I think it’s really important. It’s very sobering to hear you say that, because it’s almost no different from that excitement of the possibility today, and yet, this was 30 years ago. And of course, it happened before that in the 70s, as well, right. So it’s really important to connect, and I’ve had the privilege and honor of being in conversation with Herman Daly, who was one of the founding fathers of ecological economics or Hazel Henderson, who also since the 70s and 80s has been doing this work. Sometimes people say to me, when I show the doughnut and talk about these ideas, well you know, these ideas have been around for a long time, like what’s new? What do you mean by saying that’s new? And I love this quote from Andre Schede.

He said,

Everything that needs to be said, has already been said. But since nobody was listening, it has to be said again.

And I feel that we’re doing the same work. And there is no guarantee that the people who need to be listening are listening now. So we in each generation, we can believe that there’s a momentum, it’s happening, it’s changing, I’m sure you felt it at the time. And things are so at risk of being captured, greenwashed that we never know until it’s done. And we can look back and say that really was a tipping point. And I think it’s really critical to the work that we do. I don’t know whether this is a tipping point, I I certainly have reasons to believe and I really love the spirit of this podcast, what could possibly go right? And what if we believe that those things that could possibly could go right, will go right? If we give them that possibility, and that’s the spirit in which I certainly work. But it’s just really important to recognize that this is the same work that has been done for generations. And I’m really aware that the work that I do, that I called in a kind of crazy way, Doughnut Economics, it absolutely builds upon the work of thinkers and activists who for decades, have brought these ideas, indeed, centuries have brought these ideas, and I’m just representing them, this time with doughnuts. And let’s see if this has traction.

Vicki Robin

Yeah, it’s sort of like we’re building on our good ancestors. When I was doing this simplicity work back back in the day with Your Money or Your Life, there was a book by David Shai, called The Simple Life, and he traced simplicity through the American story from the very beginning. And I was like, Okay, well, so we’re just doing this generation’s work. And Roman, when we have this longer perspective, there is a humility that comes. And so both of you sort of set up this, your response to this question of like, what do you see emerging right now, because this podcast came out of the pandemic, like, oh, every breakdown is a breakthrough. So says Pollyanna rising again, what do you see emerging now, as we sort of like haltingly emerge from the pandemic, that in the United States, the racial justice movement, I mean, we sort of had that punctuation, of the trial, Derek Chauvin, we’re sort of like, inching our way forward. But it’s a very murky emergence. So where do you see evidence of things going, right, that we can cooperate exactly with, like, exactly what you said, we have to like not only put forward our ideas, but to cooperate with them, build on them. So what do you see?

Roman Krznaric

I guess for me, I mean, you mentioned earlier the phrase language for our time. And I think a lot of this is about finding the right words, and narratives to describe the things that are going on around us that have been going on. But something I really noticed in the last few years is the emergence of a kind of secret movement, emerging around the world who I think of as time rebels. That’s the kind of language they use. These are people’s organization movements, who are dedicated to taking the long view on intergenerational justice and a lot of them are building on older ideas of ecological stewardship in indigenous cultures like the idea of seventh generation decision making, of course, in Native American culture. In First Nations people in Altero, New Zealand, there is a Maori concept called Whakapapa, which is their word for lineage or genealogy, the idea there in a long chain of life, going far into the past and long into the future, it so happens, the light shining here.

And now the question is, how do we shine it more broadly, but the time rebels in the realm of politics, economics, culture, are taking action. So, for example, politically in the US, there’s this great public interest law firm called Our Children’s Trust, working out of Eugene, Oregon, who filed a landmark case against the federal government, as well as state governments on behalf of 21 young people campaigning for the legal right to a safe climate and healthy atmosphere for both current and future generations. They’re really trying to put those Brundtland Commission ideas into practice, and doing something that hasn’t been done since the French Revolution, which is trying to secure constitutional rights for people who may not be born for decades. And they’ve inspired movements around the world.

Or in the arts. There are fantastic examples like there’s a Scottish artist called Katie Patterson, who’s got a project called Future Library, which is an 100 year art project where every year for the next century, a famous writer is donating a book which will be completely secret and unread in the future library until the year 2114. When the 100 books will be printed on paper made from 1000 trees, which have been planted in a forest outside Oslo, and the first person to donate a book was Margaret Atwood. Elif Shafak, and other writers have donated since and just think then, Margaret Atwood is never going to see that book published in her lifetime. It is a legacy gift that asks us, what gifts we are going to leave and of course, from politics, to culture, there’s a whole realm of economics where Kate’s working, where there are people working there’s the circular economy, and many other areas which are about ultimately taking care of the place that will take care of our offspring, to use the language of the great biomimicry thinker, Janine Benyus who Kate introduced me to. Of course, how do we think long term ultimately, but by living within the boundaries of the ecosystem in which we’re embedded, it’s about place as much as time. So to put all of these together, actually, to me, they look like an emergent movement and movement of time rebels for intergenerational justice in the 21st century, I find it really exciting and unexpected.

Vicki Robin

You could probably add Greta Thunberg.

Roman Krznaric

She’s a classic time rebel. She says, When I’m 75, what will my children think of me. She talks about cathedral thinking being needed to tackle the climate crisis, looking and planning decades ahead. And we’ve got the paradox is we need to do it with an absolute urgency, we need to do it kind of right here right now, to take that long view.

Vicki Robin

You see any sort of like poking in about this, but do you see any, any other evidence from the last year, not just sort of, because we know that the Children’s Trust lawsuit did not succeed yet. So there’s like, these incursions is sort of like those little tongues of the tide coming in,nd there’s one little tongue that goes up on the beach. What other tongues are you seeing in this path?

Roman Krznaric

Yeah, well, just in that realm of, of legal cases, in Germany, just a few weeks ago, the Constitutional Court ruled against the government because they said the government was effectively violating the rights of future generations through its limited carbon emission targets. And then just a couple of weeks before that, there was another case in the Netherlands where the oil company Shell just lost a big case. And before that, there was another case in the Netherlands called the Agenda case, which again, is all about rights for future generations, forcing the Dutch government to take more action. So actually, I think you’re right, our Children’s Trust is a kind of David versus Goliath struggle. And, they’re working on their next cases, these cases will go on for years. And often legal cases do go on for decades, as we know, from the women’s movement and the civil rights movement. But what’s happening with this future generation stuff, it’s happening much faster than I’d ever expected, and also in countries like Pakistan in the Global South where there’s recent Supreme Court rulings using the language of intergenerational justice. So this is really, I don’t want to be overly hopeful about things. I’m surprised as maybe you might be about the how sexy law has become, I think, at least in my eyes.

Vicki Robin

Exactly. Exactly. Anyway, over to UK, to some finger painting on this paper that we’re developing. Okay.

Kate Raworth

So when you say, what could possibly go right? And I think, Well, what do I see that could possibly go right? So here are the two layers on top of this, this emergence of time rebels, which is a concept I love. I’m going to say one thing, I love it, because it gives people a name. And people say, Oh, now I have a name for that thing that I am. And it’s so as Roman said, the power of language, it’s so important to be able to name and create words that actually give a name to the possibilities we want to become. And I’ve, I’ve heard and give talks, and people say, I’m a time rebel, I’m gonna be a time rebel, I already am a time rebel. And it’s so empowering to be able to name this thing.

So I wanted to bring two others. I wrote Doughnut Economics as an act of advocacy. And when it came out in 2017, I gave lots of talks. And I was so struck by people who would come up to me after this talk. And, I was saying, What if this What if that Imagine if, and, and people come up to me say, No, no, I’m doing it. I’m a teacher. And I’m teaching these ideas. And I’m teaching this doughnut in my classroom, not because it’s on the curriculum, because it’s not on the curriculum, but it’s because I know this is what my students need and deserve to learn. Or I’m a town Councillor, and I’m going to take this into our next town council meeting. I’m a community activist, or I’m part of Transition Network and I’m taking this in. I’m a CEO, or I’m the newest graduate employee of a company. I’m going to take this into my company. So there were these people everywhere. I’m an MP, I’m a civil servant.

So I have learned that there are changemakers everywhere and don’t judge somebody by the organization that in the role they seem to play. Because some change makers, yes, they block bridges and lock onto oil rigs, and we need them. And I’ve sat with them and blocked bridges with them. But other change makers quietly work inside the tax office and take decades to change the tax code towards social justice. And they do quiet long work. And other change makers are in the classroom teaching 30 kids at a time year after year after year, but knowing that they are changing the ideas that those kids encounter, so there are changemakers everywhere. And when ideas come along that work for them, to help them bring about the change they already wanted to bring about, they grab it and they run with it. And that’s why we’ve turned the book of Doughnut Economics into Doughnut Economics Action Lab, very intentional name. It’s all about action. And it’s a lab because we’re experimenting, we’re learning how to bring about change with change makers everywhere. So I’m just blown away everyday by these changemakers I meet. And I know that’s what keeps me going. That’s what gives me energy.

And then the second thing I would say is the power of peer to peer inspiration. So I can stand on a stage or come on a podcast or go on the radio, or write a blog about what if a city adopted these ideas and put them in practice or what if an enterprise did or what if teachers started teaching us? That’s fine.

But it’s a completely different game, hewn a mayor says we are going to put the concept of Doughnut Economics at the heart of our plan for our city as we emerge from Coronavirus as the deputy mayor of Amsterdam did. Because that is a signal to mayors everywhere who say, Look, wow, that’s somebody like me doing that thing that I would have said was impossible or a little bit crazy. But they’re already doing it. And that just opens up a door of possibility. And Amsterdam decided to adopt the doughnut as a concept for becoming a circular economy in their city. Well, along comes COVID and knocks everything sideways. But Amsterdam said no, we’re going to launch our circular strategy in April 2020 at the height of their COVID crisis. Why?, the deputy mayor said, because we need to keep doing the business of government. We can’t just stop everything. And as we emerge from this emergency, whenever that happens, we need to know who we want to become, and where we want to go. As you said, right, a crisis can be a breakthrough. So we need to use this to pivot in the direction we already knew we needed to move in and that was written up in The Guardian newspaper, on page, seven or eight and it just went viral internationally, it fed a hunger and a possibility that people were listening to. And we were suddenly contacted by city officials, county councillors, deputy mayors, mayors, from places all around the world and towns and nation saying that thing Amsterdam’s doing we want to do it, how can we do it next. So I’m absolutely convinced by the power of peer to peer inspiration. And that means if any of us are in the business of promoting and bringing about change, raise up those pioneers, hold them up, make them visible, celebrate them, support them, because they are phenomenal at inspiring and giving permission to so many more like themselves.

Roman Krznaric

Can I just add a little something to this? I remember reading a few years ago, one line in a slightly obscure book on economic history, Energy and the English Industrial Revolution by Tony Wrigley. And what this book said was that in the 18th century, the great political economist, Adam Smith, didn’t even know there was an industrial revolution going on when he was inside it, or at the early stages of it, he couldn’t see it. And I think, when one’s thinking about what could possibly go, right, it’s really important to remember that it’s quite difficult to see all the things that might be going right now. And I think Kate’s experience of seeing the peer to peer inspiration that’s happened with the doughnut and the way it’s spread is one of those things that when you start seeing the connections, connecting those lines, that filigree of interdependence, it feels like movement. It feels like movement in its most profound sense of social change, the kind of thing that’s there, but you really have to look a little bit harder, which is partly what this conversation is about that enables people to see what’s actually there and build something out of that hope and that connection.

Vicki Robin

Wow, I mean, this does remind me actually, of when we first published Your Money or Your Life, and I was campaigning to end overconsumption in North America. And everywhere I went, every talk I gave, people would come up to me and they would say, sotto voce, I actually do exactly what you’re talking about. Yeah. So I’m making the world safe for frugality. They’re all coming out of the woodwork. And I made it a goal of every interview I did until the host him or herself said, I actually do this, until I had somehow evoked that it’s the most fun game in town. And then people wanted to affirm that it’s their game too.

And so I just like, I think you’re referring to, we have narrative rebels. And there’s, there’s, in this era of polarisation, what I see is that people are trying to capture the narrative, but they’re trying to capture it in opposition to the people who are trying to capture it, and we have like, at least two narratives, if not 100. And then using social media and using every tool in the book, to sort of have competition and escalation on narrative, like, What is this time about, and I’m doing it too “Oh, no, the pandemic is an opportunity.” So, but there’s something else you’re talking about, which is a noticing emergent, um, emergent phenomena, emergent people emergent streams, and naming that, and so finding language for that, and I think that’s probably what the both of you are in the business of. And it’s not just language, because what I see you doing is creating these visuals, and the visual just goes right in. Um, and so I really just reflect on this sort of, I would be interested in your thoughts about narrative language, as a sort of higher order intervention, rather than being an intervention of resistance. Thoughts?

Kate Raworth

I will jump in. I definitely think narrative language is a higher order intervention, as in, I mean, what language is doing as images are doing too, is reframing the paradigm, whether it’s through words or pictures, and anyone who is familiar with the work of Donella Meadows, another of these people who’ve been in this team work for decades, she wrote this phenomenal book that’s profoundly influenced me Thinking in Systems. And she talks about the different leverage points for intervening in the system. And right down at the bottom, as you know, you could tweak the tax rate, you could make information move more openly, which is really powerful when companies are required to publish the information about their carbon emissions per gallon. That’s really, really powerful, for example, but going higher and higher up the leverage at the top is changing the paradigm. And how do we do that is through bringing new words that describe what we’re aspiring to, or bringing new pictures. And as Meadow says, it might sound like changing the paradigm is slow work that takes decades, but in an individual, it can happen in an instant, the scales can fall from the eyes. And I’ve certainly experienced that showing people that don’t know. And when they go, Oh, you mean, it doesn’t have to be an economy that’s about growth. It can’t be about this, it can be about finding dynamic balance.

And the most important thing is that if we’re only against something, there’s nothing to be for, you’ve got to have that thing that you’re for. So I think you know, one of the most powerful forms of protest is to propose something new. If we want our politicians to go beyond GDP, we have to create something completely different that doesn’t refer to GDP, so that they can talk about thriving, instead of endlessly growing. So this is key. And when I first drew the doughnut, like I said, people had this response to it, I was amazed by and I started looking into the power of imagery, and I learned that over half of the nerve fibres in our brain are linked to our eyesight. So our eyes are pattern spotters, we’re just continually trying to make pattern which is why we see poodles in the clouds and ghost in the shadows. And so when we see an image, it goes in through our eyes, it passes by our very analytical, rational mind that has been trained through specially through Western education to analyse arguments and words and language, it goes straight past that goes into the visual cortex, which is literally at the back of your head. So if you say, Oh, it’s in the back of my mind, it really is sitting there in the back of your mind, like an image you may have seen decades ago, but it’s still shaping what we do and don’t see. So for me that was key to redraw the pictures, and to realize how empowering they are and how powerful they can be to dislodge the old narrative, not just arguing against the old but actually standing for the new and doing it playfully.

I want to add one thing to keep because you just mentioned about making frugality a great game and making it playful. I think of you now every time I drive a car, and here’s why. I remember when we visited, I visited you in your home in 2001. That’s when we first met. And you had this car and you’d had fitted into it I’d never seen it and I have never seen it sinc, you had it fitted into this thing, it was like a efficiency monitor. And I remember you saying “It’s really fun, and I drive my car, and I try to drive as fuel efficient as I possibly can. And it’s this great game.” I thought that’s, that’s, that’s amazing.

And I never saw one since and now, in December, last year, Roman and I looked at each other and thought, we know way more than enough about climate change, and the causes of climate change. And we just can no longer justify owning a car, we had a car, it sat outside our house, it was really convenient. We have 12 year old twins who want to play football and hockey and drama and this and that at the weekend. And it’s really handy to let’s jump in the car, and we’ll take you where you want to go. But we just thought we just can’t justify it on those grounds. And we also happen to live in a city in a neighborhood of a city that has a Car Club, cars dotted around that we can go online, and we can book those cars and use those cars. And they’re not always available, and you have to be organized. So there is a loss of that easy convenience. But come on, we’re going to do this or not. So we gave away our car. And it was taken away. And actually it was painful, the days between when we call the company and said could you please come and take this car away. And it was about five days before they came. And I really felt it viscerally. And this is for me psychologically important, that feeling of letting things go the privilege of letting go and how you your brain goes, should I really do this actually, this car works. And it’s full of memories. And it is a mistake. And it was only when the car had literally been towed off around the corner and disappeared that I felt just this lightness, and there was an empty parking space in front of our house. And I  know, I know, I can’t legally stop anyone parking there. But socially, I’m going to encourage people to leave that space empty and we’ve chalked it and built a snowman in it and playfully used it but to the point of my story. Now when we use a car from the Car Club, they are electric cars or hybrid cars. And inside built in is this little thing that tells you you’re driving 85 or 89 or 91% eco efficiency and I think Vicki Robin all the way every time I drive a car.

Vicki Robin

I had one of the first hybrids and I used to drive people crazy, because I was always watching the meter and they would be behind me racing for the ferry, like a little uphill, No, we’re gonna cruise it, you know?

Kate Raworth

Yeah, that thing you said about making it the best game in town. I mean, again, the doughnut is playful. And I know that a lot of people are scared of economics. They say “I’m not good at maths, I don’t understand these things, that’s too technical.” But when you say Doughnut Economics, everyone’s like, wait a minute, that’s already silly. That’s permission to come and play. And it makes people playful. And you just talked about making it the best game. Frugality is a great game, right? And it has to be playful. And it was when I was in this car with this, I was like, this is really fun. I feel great. I’m driving eco efficient. If only we could find more and more ways to build out in that it just feels great and smart and clever to live and work this way.

Vicki Robin

And your museum Roman is that as well.

Roman Krznaric

Yeah, I mean, the empathy museums, playful as an experience. But I think one can also be playful with these narratives that you’re talking about as higher forms of intervention, which is a great phrase. I mean, just, I happen to have, in my hands now, a couple of narrative devices, a marshmallow and an acorn. And these say something about who we are. I mean, in Kate’s book, there’s a great chapter about rational economic man, challenging the idea that we’re just, me, me, me. And so we’re also wired to be we that you might be able to turn it upside down, and you go from me to we. But there’s another part of human nature, that we don’t think about as much, it’s not just that we’re both me and we but we’re also long term and short term thinkers. We’re acorn thinkers, as well as marshmallow thinkers, as I think about it. So, do I party today or save for my pension for tomorrow? Do I upgrade to the latest iPhone or plant a seed in the ground for posterity, and, of course, that the marshmallow brain is a part of our neuroanatomy which focus on immediate rewards and instant gratification, the kind of stuff you’ve been working with and challenging in all your work on around consumption. And it’s named after the famous marshmallow test in the 60s, where kids had a marshmallow put in front of them, and if they could resist eating it for 15 minutes, they were rewarded with a second marshmallow and the majority of kids couldn’t resist and snatch the snack. What was missing from that story, really and that narrative which we then inherited that idea that we are short term grabbers of marshmallows, is  that we also have this acorn brain that lives in the front of our head, in the frontal lobe particular bit called the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex in case you wanted to know. But that’s the part that which focuses on long term thinking and planning and strategizing. And it’s new, it’s only about 2 million years old, marshmallow brains, about 18 million years old.

And when you think about other creatures, other creatures do plan ahead a bit, right? So a chimpanzee will get a stick and strip off the leaves and turn it into a tool to poke in a termite hole. But they’ll never make a dozen of those tools and set them aside for next week. But that’s what humans do with our acorn brains. And that’s how we save for our pensions or write song lists for our own funerals, or that’s how we built the Great Wall of China and voyaged into space, but it’s also about why the Car Club works. Because when we gave up our car, right, we join this Car Club, and every time we use it, and just have an hour in an electric car, we are making that Car Club function and be more successful and then encouraging the car club to put another car in our area, so more people can use them. So it is like planting a seed, in the same way that putting solar panels on your roof can start driving down the price. And it might be a bit more expensive for you, as the acorn planter, but the shade is enjoyed by others as the price of the solar panels go down. So there’s all these different ways we can, I guess, work in our communities and  in our economies to change the narrative about who we are, but that also changes the world that we’re living in.

Vicki Robin

Yeah, exactly. And it’s like when I first started publicizing Your Money or Your Life, I took a little course on marketing, which really bothered me, because I wanted everybody to think in the highest minded ways. And she said, things sell because people want to be smarter than other people. And so I pitch Your Money or Your Life is being smarter than other people, be the first on your block.

Roman Krznaric

Actually, this is something that Kate says about the British economies and governments. It was that line that you say, Kate, about the British government should be the first country into the Industrial Revolution. And I can’t remember the exact wording.

Kate Raworth

Well, two things, one, the UK was the first nation into the Industrial Revolution. So we should damn well be the first one out. I mean, that’s an onus of historical responsibility on the UK, to move first and faster than anybody else. But in terms of that smart point. So the city of Amsterdam, has said we’re going to be 100% circular economy by 2050. We’re going to be 50% circular by 2030. So in less than a decade, half of the materials that are being brought in and used in the city must be reused, recycled, repaired, refurbished remanufactured. And next year in 2022, 10% of city procurement contracts will be circular. Now, this has brought in regulations, especially in the construction industry of the way that they must now build and design. And I know from working with people in the city that at first, the designers and the planners are argh, all these new regulations we have to learn. And then once they learn them about how to design and build in a circular way, they suddenly find, oh, we’re at the forefront of the circular revolution, we suddenly have the skills and design and opportunity and context to innovate that all these cities and nations around us and the world are going to need so suddenly, it’s really smart, to give yourself those constraints, and I always say boundaries. So sometimes people, especially American friends of mine, I really noticed not you Vicki, that when I first drew this some of my American colleagues say Oooh Americans we don’t like boundaries. Americans, we think that gotta shoot right through that boundary. And I would say really, so if I gave you a tiny baby in your arms, and this child’s temperature is rising, like over 40 degrees, are you going to say Go Go you shoot right through that boundary? No, you’re going to do everything you can to bring that child’s temperature back down.

So boundaries actually are health and that we know the boundaries of our body and bodily health, but also boundaries unleash our creativity, and a designer, an architect anybody will say please don’t give me a blank piece of paper for heaven’s sake give me some parameters make me design in some space. So boundaries unleash creativity, we should not be afraid of them and say they are they get in our way they’re blocking us they are what makes us figure out okay, we’ve got to do this a different way. And we we go lateral we go up, we create something we’ve never thought of otherwise, if those boundaries hadn’t been put in place. And so you can create those boundaries for yourself in life and say, I’m going to drive 90% 95% eco efficient, or you can live somewhere the government says you know what, guys, we’re just going circular here. Gonna make this easier for you. This is just a rule. No fossil fuel vehicles in Amsterdam by 2030 50% circular material use I would love to be a graduate student in that city. Because it means that all the new thinking and the design that I’ve learned I actually get to practice, rather than leave it behind in my files of dreams from university and join some mainstream company that says yes dear, but just get on with real life. So let’s put in the place the boundaries that actually unleash the creativity we already know we need.

Vicki Robin

I totally love it. And, and I’m sorry, you asked it to be conversational. So here I go. I, I, I wrote a book that I was, I delivered the book, and then the publisher canceled the contract. And it was about rethinking limits, at rethinking freedom in a world with limits, and how to make Americans fall in love with limits the way they’ve fallen in love with freedom. And I worked for years to develop a language for limits that was about design, and it was about liberation. And I’m a sound bite Queen. In sound bites are narratives. They’re little things that stick in your mind their images, and one of them that I used to say is I buy my freedom everyday with my frugality. And, and I’m quoted on that now, and people rethink their short term purchases, and they go like, Oh, well, Vicki says, I buy my freedom everyday with my frugality. So it was so tragic. It was like, they canceled the contract. But, they given me an advance, but I’d use the events to buy my hybrid car, and to heal from cancer. I didn’t have the money anymore. And I’ve never had to go have a job like where I did somebody else’s agenda for money. I didn’t even have a concept of that. So I thought, where am I going to get the money? So they said, If I didn’t publish a word of this for five years, I could keep the money. So I put it aside for five years, and by then I’d lost confidence in it. So I keep going back around, I will make a special day with you. And I will do my slideshow.

Roman Krznaric

I’d love to see that. Reminds me. I wrote a book in about 2005, and the publisher turned it down, even though I had a contract, because it wasn’t what they wanted and I refused to change. And it’s sat in my filing cabinet for 15 years, and I’ve just decided to self publish it actually, it’ll be out quite soon. And I’d also lost confidence in its ideas. And I thought No, actually, it still speaks to the world 15 years later. So let’s see this slideshow, but let us see the page as well.

Vicki Robin

Okay, double dare, huh? Yeah, so when it was on my sound bites, “Limits are not in the way they are the way.  They’re the shaping tools of freedom.”

Roman Krznaric

Sounds amazing, go on, keep going. I feel like I’m hearing these, these sort of haikus of post consumer society coming at me.

Vicki Robin

Yeah. And I talked about cheap thrills and deep thrills. And cheap thrills is basically what you’re talking about, short term thinking. And then deep thrills, are sort of values based choices, that you’re going to feel better and better and better and better about yourself over time. And, also, I mean, now that you asked, I talked about the freedoms that separate and the freedoms that connect. The sort of traditional Isaiah Berlin freedoms, are the freedom that separate, the freedom from constraint from somebody else telling me what to do. And it’s an important freedom because freedom from poverty, freedom from domination, freedom, these are really viscerally important. And that is the freedom to do what I want to develop my life my way, super important. These are liberal freedoms.

But I said, there’s two hidden freedoms. And there’s freedom for like, like, like I said, like, you don’t have to get free, you already are free. The problem is that this like, tsunami of freedom is coming through you at all times. The problem is, how do you shape it? What is freedom for? And that’s a very potent question, because like most people don’t think about well, we will have what I want, sort of like the greatest view of freedom is entitlement and that’s sort of like the next narrative capture of, of our society of America, this is the narrative capture that freedom is entitlement. So what is freedom for? So freedom for, and then freedom with, the recognition that every other being the ones you think are alive, and the ones you don’t think are alive, like rocks, every other being is imbued with the same freedom you are trying to unfold its destiny. So the challenge of freedom is, is freedom to enact your freedom in the presence of other beings enacting their freedom? Not in a zero sum game. I mean, it’s a totally, like, what is it James Carse said, games, infinite and finite games? Oh, yes. Yeah, exactly. It’s that sort of thing. How does freedom become an infinite game? So yeah, I have all these practices. Okay, I’m reinspired.

Roman Krznaric

It also just made me think when you’re just talking about freedom, for me think about the doughnut as a kind of a goal for society. And where you’re going to direct your energies, your choices, your decisions. And that’s part of what I think is so compelling to people about the doughnut because it’s a goal, which also speaks to us of balance, rather than continuous growth. I mean, Kate should be saying all of this rather than me. But it’s partly what, what, what draws me because I love the idea of a kind of a lodestar to guide our lives. I mean, I feel because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about agency and mindfulness and things like that I wrote a book called Carpe Diem Regained, about how to seize the day and the history of that, that concept. And one of the things that I really found there was that, although I think there is a huge value in various kinds of mindfulness, the Buddhist kinds rather than the corporate McDonaldized packaged kinds, what’s sort of missing from some of that is a sense of having goals, which give our lives meaning, and that’s the sort of Viktor Frankl story of Man’s Search for Meaning having something outside yourself, that gets you out of bed in the morning, and that you care about and that you may not be laughing your head off all day, because it’s not just about smiling your way through life. It’s about having purpose. And I think the doughnut sort of plays that role in a really extraordinary way.

Vicki Robin

Thanks, exactly. I one time did a book on local food, because I realized that we were completely dependent on long supply chains. And, people think of local food is Saturday at the farmers market and buying a zucchini, or I think you call it something else. What do you call that? Courgette? Yeah, right. Yeah. And so just saying, we just need to build local food systems. So I, I sponsored, literally sponsored, I paid for it because I wanted it to happen. a project on Whidbey Island, at least an event called Food 2020. And the goal was 50% of our food within 50 miles by 2020. This was in 20, beginning of 2011. And I did a visioning and backtesting exercise, and a first step, yeah, visioning and backcasting exercise and used all the sort of social tools that you use, and, and, and it was so easy for people to vision, but they couldn’t, when we tried to do the back casting, trying to put on a timeline, the things that needed to change by 2020, our imagination wasn’t alive enough, we were still constrained by the impossibility of things. Well, wait a second, people own that land, we can’t commandeer that land, to grow whatever, courgettes. And, and I think it has, I mean, I didn’t do any follow up, I don’t like forming organisations, but, I think it’s informed some thinking.

And when people think about the future, they think about, getting – we’re working now on, getting a chicken processing facility on our island. So, so that’s the sort of march from the old system march through time, but there is a visionary thing. And I think that’s positive narrative capture. You put a purpose out there and you dress it up in little adorable clothes that everybody can remember like a doughnut and and then people start to orient around and it does backcasting all by itself. And of course, if you want to buy a pony, you save money when you’re nine years old. It’s not like a radical notion. It’s that if you have goals, it will alter how you spend your time and, and your life is enlivened by having that Oh, right, not buying this candy bar is a pony, or an iPhone, or whatever it is. So I think what you’re doing is you’re sort of, you’re sort of lifting up what we already know. That’s the funny thing. We already know about having goals. We had to be taught short term thinking. I mean, we have to be taught in this moment in time when we know better, to forget that we know better. And I think it’s a real disturbance. As you’re saying, Kate, I think it’s a real disturbance of people. Because we know better. We’re doing things that we know better, you should not do. And so you’re giving language so that they have a place to step that has some dignity in it. To express Yes, but they already know.

Kate Raworth

And one thing I wish I could figure out is how to help move faster, like, so London, used to be full of people smoking on the tube in every pub, every restaurant, every office, car everywhere. And then over decades, and in a particular year, there was a smoking ban in public places. And there was a big kerfuffle of resistance against it. And then it happened. And actually, it’s happened across the UK. And now we go into pubs or restaurants. And we’ll say, Oh, do you remember, this would have been just the air thick with smoke. And you remember that feeling when you’re in university and your clothes stank of smoke the next day? Wow, we thought that was normal. And there’s a nonsmoker, we thought it was normal to sit on an aeroplane with people puffing away behind you’re in an office? How do we think that was normal? And we get so used to the change, we look back and can’t imagine how we tolerated it for so long.

And I really, really feel like we can have that with fossil fuels. There’s always going to be expensive and difficult to get rid of these cars, I think we’re going to look back within 15 years and say, we used to send our kids walking to school next to trucks and buses pumping out these fumes that we couldn’t smell anymore, because we were so used to it. But now we smell it. Remember that smell of the early 2000s that petrol? And we thought it was so normal to have it in so many parts of our life? And we didn’t want to give it up? What was it? We couldn’t see? Why did it take us so long? I really think we’ll look back. Why did it take us so long to let go of owning a car? Why did it take me so long to move to a largely plant based diet on to a fully plant based diet? Why am I so afraid of giving up milk and cheese? I personally went vegan about nine months ago and I thought oh, I’m gonna miss cheese. I just really don’t miss cheese. I don’t miss any of it. I really like it. So why do we get so entrenched in what we think is normal? And then after we’ve shifted, we look back and think why could I not see this other side of it? Why could I not see the possibility? So I really think there’s something important there about learning from changes we have made. And so glad we made and how that can somehow help us hasten through the ones we’ve yet to realize we want to make.

Vicki Robin

Yeah, it’s like delegitimizing something that we consider normal. Since Joe Biden, it’s not necessarily a good step along the way. But they outfitted a an F 15 Ford truck as an electric truck, and that’s the most popular pickup truck in America. They outfitted it as an electric and he gets in there with his aviator glasses. And an electric car is like zero 60 in two seconds. And he takes off and pre-orders. People had to smack down $100 and pre-orders went through the roof for that truck. So yeah, it’s a sometimes I feel the urgency of the moment. And we don’t have time for that slower process, but maybe this sort of natural delegitimization. I think Roman you probably have an idea about that having studied brain science, that there’s probably a part of the brain that locks in repetition as a survival strategy. And so, we’re dealing with people’s sense of survival.

Roman Krznaric

But also we’re dealing with something completely wonderful which is something that German sociologist Max Weber wrote about 100 years ago, which is humans are habit forming creatures. And once you’re jolted into a new habit, say by a rule that you can’t drive a car into London, we just get used to that. And we start, that becomes part of a narrative of who we are and, and how we live. On the one hand, that’s something that’s enabled the advertising industry to flourish and sell us stuff that we don’t need. We get used to that. But, we can also get used to other stuff. Back to the better game. Yeah, that’s right. And we need to be building our habits inside the infinite game. Inside a regenerative economy and ecological civilization, not building our habits inside the hedonic treadmill of 20th century consumption patterns, which we have inherited and must shake off.

Vicki Robin

Recycling, that’s becoming a norm.

Kate Raworth

Yes. And at first people think, oh, such a fad, which bin is for which, and I get this, it’s just such a fad to separate my rubbish. And now you think I couldn’t possibly put a banana skin in with the plastic. That’s disgusting. And when you find yourself in a place where they don’t separate the rubbish, and you think I can’t do this, and it’s that beautiful realization that my worldview and my behavior, and what I consider normal or even acceptable has really changed in my own clear memory. And, and you just said, Vicki, do we have time for these slow processes, and I don’t think we have time for them to be slow. But we need to make them fast.

Vicki Robin

Which is narratives, language, metaphors, soundbites, images, inspiration, yeah, it’s like, Yay, there’s work for the artists.

Kate Raworth

In a circular economy, where we don’t throw materials away, we use them again and again, far more carefully, collectively, creatively and slowly, there is so much work for the artists. We love going to cafes you like wow, this used to be an industrial packing house, and there’s old messages of the history of a place are still embodied. And we love the reinvention of space. It’s so creative figuring out what could this be next? I mean, you’ve spent I know, you’ve spent decades like, what could I do next with this yoghurt pot? Or this right, this chair? And how do I remake it? And it means we are homo Faber we’re continually creating, which is so innate to us. And it’s playful. And we can laugh and amuse ourselves can I can see what that used to be. And I can see what you did there and see what you turn that into? And what’s it going to be next. And so it just means that creativity comes right back into the heart of a local economy, that has to be a good thing.

Vicki Robin

Exactly. I keep looking at this moment, I look at the clock and then I look at, there’s no stopping point here. Everything anybody says is something else somebody wants to say. But I think that the joy of the new habits that we’re going to form and look back, and are forming. I mean, just right now I know I’m doing my own thing, because I imagine something but right now you see pictures of people in lines at airports, the dreary old, habit of getting on aeroplanes, and it’s all balled up. I mean, one of the best things that for local food is the, breaking of the food supply chains is those pictures of people fighting over toilet paper. These are moments hopefully of awakening. and thinking, maybe there’s something else that we could do differently.

Roman Krznaric

I also think there’s historical perspectives to take here as well, which I think are really interesting. We have this idea that human beings get their status and recognition from material displays and earning stuff from cars and so on. But when you cast your mind back in history, well in early modern England or Europe or whatever, 500 years ago, being wealthy and displaying your wealth wasn’t necessarily the best way to get social status and recognition. There are other ways being a pious priest or a great warrior, all sorts of other things. So we can redefine we can choose how we want to relate to others and be seen by others. And of course, how we’re seen by others really matters. But it doesn’t have to be by buying stuff we don’t need. There are other ways and other habits we can develop to express who we are.

Vicki Robin

Exactly, I mean, selling water by the river, decades of, of an attempt to, to, to, to resell repackage,  the sort of thrift store for old ideas that are really very, very fresh and look adorable on you, it’s just, I just think this is so refreshing. I do think, in just service to the people who are listening, who are probably right now thinking, Oh, no, don’t stop.

Kate Raworth

We’re not going to stop because we’re going to come back around to where Vicki pulls out and dust off her manuscript and tells us about her book. That was way before its time, but is right for now. About limits and freedom.

Vicki Robin

Perfect. Okay. That’s a stopping point. That’s sort of like a Mark Twain who does a chapter where you cannot not read the next you cannot not turn the page. So thank you so much. This worked out even better than I could have imagined. Thank you.

Roman and Kate

Yeah. Thank you, Vicki. It’s been great. Thank you.

 

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