Amsterdam uses 'Doughnut Model' to greenwash policy

Open letter to Kate Raworth

Dear Kate Raworth,

Amsterdam is organizing the Doughnut Days this week. Many citizens of Amsterdam might think this is a publicity stunt by the many doughnut shops in our city. They are wrong of course, because this week we celebrate your groundbreaking theory about a sustainable economy, as described in your book “Doughnut Economics”. During the Doughnut Days we will talk about how we put your theory into practice.

The words 'British economist Kate Raworth' and 'Doughnut Economics' may not ring a bell with everyone, but in the sustainability world you are a well-established authority. Rightly so. Our addiction to endless economic growth has pushed our Earth to the brink of ecological abyss. A climate bomb is ticking. It is time to take a radically different look at economic development. The Doughnut Economy is not about economic growth, but about meeting social boundaries within the ecological limits of the planet.

Fortunately, our self-proclaimed 'greenest city council ever' has a towering ambition and an unprecedented sustainable drive. Last year, they proclaimed Amsterdam a Doughnut City. With a touch of metropolitan arrogance, our chairwoman for Sustainability gave an interview to TIME magazine about this. A new economic theory saved the climate! And what happened to your theory, Kate? Let's assess more than 3 years of doughnut policy led by GroenLinks, D66, SP and PvdA.

For example, let’s take a look at how houses are heated in a climate-proof manner in the future: As a 100% shareholder of the AEB (Waste Energy Company) the municipality built a…Biomass Power Plant! This plant emits not less, but more CO2 than coal and gas. “Amsterdam free of natural gas” is the great promise of this council, but the city will soon run on imported massive logging and deforestation. Talk about jumping from the fire and landing in the frying pan…

Then there is the way the council deals with international data giants like Facebook and Cisco. They rolled out the red carpet to attract the international ICT sector: the data center capacity even doubled. As a result, (fossil) power consumption is increasing so much that the Amsterdam climate target for 2030 will not be achieved. This was calculated by research agency CE Delft. Not to mention the dangers for our clean drinking water supply, which data centers use for cooling. It's old-fashioned profit over planet policy and nothing more.

It’s not just the ecological ceilings that are being ignored. Things also go wrong at level of social boundaries. Desperate tenants from different city districts have been knocking on the door of the municipality for years because they cannot pay their energy bills. Their homes are dilapidated and energy poverty is lurking for thousands of households. Nevertheless, this council spent 5 times more money on district heating - based on biomass and waste incineration - than on insulating homes. Saving energy should be number one, and not something to make budget cuts on.

To make matters worse, Amsterdam's policy has been dictated for years by the same multinationals that caused the climate crisis. The economic advisory bodies of the municipality are full of lobbyists from Shell, Schiphol, Tata Steel, Rabobank, Ahold, the biomass industry and the data center industry. These polluting companies advise us on a sustainable way forward? That sounds a little backwards, right?

And don't get me wrong; we don't expect a single municipality to solve all the world's problems within 3 years. However, the current council’s policy makes the transition to a doughnut economy virtually impossible. In the meantime our city is distracting us with your theoretical models and safe, small practical examples, while the large industrial sectors remain unaffected.

That is not something we hold against you, Kate. After all, you are not the responsible policy maker here. But you should not allow city officials to use your model to greenwash their polluting practices. This is detrimental to the credibility and support needed for the climate transition. We must prevent the inner ring of the Doughnut from becoming a symbol of the ideological void left in public administration after decades of neoliberalism.

Hopefully during the Doughnut Days there will be room to discuss which (radical) policy choices are really needed to stay within the boundaries of the doughnut in Amsterdam. I'd love to talk to you!

Johnas van Lammeren
Party chairman
Party for the Animals Amsterdam

Dutch version