From the introduction: Economic growth is neither socially inclusive nor ecologically sustainable. While in the rich countries the unequal distribution of wealth has reached the levels of the nineteenth century (Piketty, 2014), the Earth’s carrying capacity is being exceeded in relation to at least three planetary boundaries: climate change, the nitrogen cycle and biodiversity loss (Rockström et al., 2009). The corollary is that economy and society and the associated production and consumption norms can no longer be considered as a system operating in a theoretical vacuum. Significant theoretical and empirical efforts have been made to demonstrate how socially inclusive development could evolve within ecological limits and beyond growth (Daly, 1991; D’Alisa et al., 2014; Koch and Mont, 2016). An increasing number of researchers and activists call for a transition to a global steady-state economy (Koch, 2015) that would function within ecological boundaries. Although degrowth scholars generally accept that economic development in some form is required in the global South, the conventional development path – as in the North – is not advocated.
Less consensual, however, are estimations about how enjoyable or painful such a journey towards global environmental sustainability would be for the citizens of the rich countries. A particularly controversial topic is the issue of happiness or subjective well-being vis-à-vis objective welfare indicators. While a majority of degrowth scholars (e.g. Sekulova, 2014) appears to be confident that the transition to a global SSE would be accompanied by increases in both objective and subjective well-being scores, others are more careful (O’Neill, 2015; Fritz and Koch, 2016) and open up for the possibility that subjective well-being scores in the rich countries may (temporarily) go down if production and consumption patterns were to be brought in line with ecological limits. Judging by the historical genesis of ‘degrowth’ definitions the former position appears to have prevailed: In the declaration of the 2008 degrowth conference in Paris, degrowth was defined as a ‘voluntary transition towards a just, participatory, and ecologically sustainable society’, while the ‘objectives’ were ‘to meet basic human needs and ensure a high quality of life…’(Research and Degrowth, 2010: 523). While this original definition highlighted the centrality of human needs and did not presuppose a simultaneous rise in subjective well-being along the way, an often-cited passage by Schneider et al. (2010:512) is much more straightforward. Here,‘degrowth’ is understood to be, among other things, ‘an equitable downscaling of production that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions at the local and global level, in the short and long term.’ The latter definition also seems to have been behind the invitation text to the 2016 degrowth conference in Budapest, where ‘degrowth’ was defined as a ‘downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet’.
Ecological Economics; Volume 138, August 2017, Pages 74–81