One of the difficult questions facing the degrowth community is how to achieve a high level of human well-being for 7 to 9 billion people without exceeding planetary boundaries. Drawing on data from the Degrowth Accounts and other recent work, we attempt to quantify the biophysical requirements of a “good life”, and relate these back to established planetary boundaries. We investigate the relationship between nine social indicators (life satisfaction, life expectancy, nutrition, sanitation, education, social support, equality, democratic quality, and employment) and six planetary boundaries (carbon, materials, water, phosphorous, nitrogen, and land use).
Based on current relationships for 200 countries, we find that achieving a good life for all people would require a level of resource use that is 2 to 5 times the sustainable level. In general social goals related to meeting basic physiological needs (e.g. nutrition and sanitation) are easier to meet than those related to more aspirational goals such as equality, education, and democracy. The strictest planetary boundary relates to CO2 emissions, while the weakest relates to freshwater use.
Our findings are based on average relationships between resource use and human well-being across a large number of countries. However, some countries are much better at translating resource use into human well-being than others, and offer valuable lessons. The overall findings suggest that achieving both social and environmental sustainability at the global scale may be possible, but they highlight the magnitude of the challenge and emphasise the need for substantial degrowth in wealthy nations.
This media entry was a contribution to the special session „How Much Degrowth Is Required?“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.