Not Just Any Doughnut

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

A new model for changing economic strategy from growth to thriving, and connecting bodily health to planetary health.

For as long as anyone on the planet has been alive, western governments have all pursued growth and the laws of supply and demand as their primary economic strategies. But now, some are questioning whether this age-old model needs to be re-considered and new ideas introduced in a post-Covid-19 world. Why's this good news and what's it got to do with a doughnut? Read on...


Back in 2017, Kate Raworth, an English economist from Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, published a bestselling book called Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. The central premise is simple: the goal of economic activity should be about meeting the core needs of all but within the means of the planet. The “doughnut” is a clever new device to show what this means in practice and how it can enable countries, cities and their populations to thrive in balance with the planet.


That sounds very much like positive news to us at OGN Daily.


With Raworth's ideas being described by commentators as a “breakthrough alternative to growth economics”, it's being given the green light by the Dutch city of Amsterdam, as their proposed path out of the economic mess that's inevitably going to be left by the coronavirus pandemic. From today, the model will be formally adopted by Amsterdam as the starting point for public policy decisions, the first city in the world to make such a commitment. “I think it can help us overcome the effects of the crisis”, said Amsterdam’s deputy mayor, Marieke van Doorninck, who joined Raworth in an interview with the Guardian via Skype before the launch. “It might look strange that we are talking about the period after that but as a government we have to … It is to help us to not fall back on easy mechanisms.”


“When suddenly we have to care about climate, health, and jobs and housing and care and communities, is there a framework around that can help us with all of that?” Raworth says. “Yes there is, and it is ready to go.”


Here's how Raworth's doughnut concept works: the inner ring defines the minimum everyone needs in order to lead a good life (derived from the UN’s sustainable development goals, ostensibly agreed by all the world's leaders), ranging from basic essentials like food and clean water, through to an appropriate level of housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, gender equality, income and political voice. Anyone not attaining these minimum standards is described as living in the doughnut’s hole. The outer ring of the doughnut, where the colourful sprinkles normally go, represents the ecological ceiling drawn up by earth-system scientists. It highlights the boundaries across which humanity should not go to avoid damaging the climate, freshwater, soil, oceans, the ozone layer, and biodiversity. Between the two rings is the good stuff: the dough, where everyone’s needs and that of the planet are being met.


“The world is experiencing a series of shocks and surprise impacts which are enabling us to shift away from the idea of growth to ‘thriving’, Raworth says. “Thriving means our wellbeing lies in balance. We know it so well in the level of our body. This is the moment we are going to connect bodily health to planetary health.”

Raworth scaled down her model to provide Amsterdam with a “city portrait” showing where basic needs are not being met and “planetary boundaries” overshot, and demonstrating how the issues are interlinked.


Take housing, as an example. Amsterdam's housing needs are not being met, with almost 20% of city tenants unable to cover their basic needs after paying their rent, and only 12% of approximately 60,000 online applicants for social housing being successful. The apparently obvious solution is to build more homes, but Amsterdam’s doughnut highlights that the area’s carbon dioxide emissions are already 31% above 1990 levels. Imports of building materials, food and consumer products from outside the city boundaries contribute 62% of those total emissions.


Van Doorninck says the city therefore intends to regulate to ensure builders use materials that are, whenever possible, recycled and bio based, such as wood.


Van Doorninck says the port of Amsterdam is looking at how it moves on from dependence on fossil fuels as part of the city’s new vision, and she expects that to naturally evolve into a wider debate over other pressing dilemmas brought to the forefront by the doughnut model. Furthermore, the port is the world’s single largest importer of cocoa beans, mostly from west Africa, where the labour is often highly exploitative. Raworth adds: “Who would expect in a portrait of the city of Amsterdam that you would include labour rights in west Africa? And that is the value of the tool.”


Could Amsterdam's new economic / life strategy become a beacon of hope for a new future? Not just for the Dutch city but for numerous countries and cities around the world. Let's hope so! We all know that years of Climate Summits have produced little more than promises and press releases; but Greta Thunberg (and her entire generation) needs world leaders to step up to the plate and actually do something to solve the impending climate crisis.


Hat's off to Amsterdam for jumping in and giving it a go!


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