The case for degrowth in a time of pandemic

The time is ripe for us to refocus on what really matters: not GDP, but the health and wellbeing of our people and our planet.

Jevons’ paradox and a tax on aviation to prevent the next pandemic

How is it possible that, in an era of unprecedented medical progress, humanity is once again caught in a major pandemic? Several lines of evidence suggest that advances in infectious diseases control facilitate the development of major urban centers, global high-speed transportation, industrial animal farming and ecosystem destruction. In turn, all of these are well known to favor such diseases, thus reproducing the same kind of dynamic previously observed in resource consumption and known as “Jevons’ paradox”. Such economic developments compel health systems to develop continuously just to maintain the improvements that had already been achieved, which, furthermore, became more difficult with the generalization of neoliberal policies. In this process, progresses whose primary purpose is to benefit everybody’s health are transmuted into benefits for those involved in certain economic activities. This is especially apparent in the case of long-haul aviation, a profitable activity aimed mainly at a high-income minority but playing a unique role in disease transmission. The COVID-19 pandemic is, therefore, one of the most massive cost-shifting events ever. A proposal is presented to prevent comparable if not even more harmful events in the future, with two parts. First, a global fund with base funding from an internationally-agreed tax on aviation, devoted to upgrading health systems and to programs to tackle sources of emerging infectious diseases, especially wild animal trade. Second and no less important, a global agreement to fundamentally transform agri-food systems.

movum – Heft 19: Gesundheit

Heft 19 des Magazins movum zum Thema Gesundheit.

Kurzbeschreibung: Die Umweltschäden holen die Menschen ein. Ohne Umweltpolitik kommt Gesundheitspolitik nicht mehr aus. Deshalb braucht es jetzt ein Bündnis.

Das Heft als PDF.
Die Infografik als PDF.

Popular Epidemiology / EnvJustice Vocabulary – Grettel Navas

Grettel Navas, ICTA-UAB, explains the term “Popular Epidemiology” and exemplifies it with a particular case from Argentina: Mothers of Ituzaingó.

Youtube-channel EnvJustice Vocabulary

The experience of the Italian Network for Sustainability and Health

Ivan Illich argued that a revolution in the health field is crucial and “integral to a society-wide criticism and restraint of the industrial mode of production”. Recently, in order to develop this stream of thought, several authors have tried to re-think health in the conceptual frame of degrowth and, in parallel, practical initiatives and networks have been developed.
In this presentation, we will discuss the case study of the Italian Network for Sustainability and Health (INSH).
In 2013, the ‘Movimento per la Decrescita Felice’ organized a national conference with active participation of the most important Italian associations working in the field of health, degrowth and sustainability. This process led to the creation of the Italian Network for Health and Sustainability, composed actually of 22 associations, which signed the ‘Bologna Manifesto for Sustainability and Health’(BMSH). The Manifesto is the result of a participative process where associations agreed on a set of key issues related to degrowth and health. They declared that ‘the present prevailing paradigm based on unlimited growth […] is unable to safeguard the health of present and future generations’ and called for ‘an alternative model, not only aimed at growth’. However, they choose to not explicitly use the term degrowth.
In the presentation we illustrate the BMSH and the process that lead to its adoption. We furthermore describe the structure, the work done and the objective of the INSH, arguing that such a project of intellectual and activism cooperation between health and degrowth communities would be mutually beneficial and crucial in the next future.

Additional links:

This media entry was a contribution to the special session „The experience of the Italian Network for Sustainability and Health“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.

Sustainable health and degrowth: Health, health care and society beyond the growth paradigm

Abstract: The extraordinary economic growth rates of the twentieth century are historically exceptional and a continuation into the future seems neither possible nor desirable. Consequently, it is in the interest of public health to actively shape a socio-economic transformation towards a system that is not based on growth. “Degrowth” provides coherent guidelines for such a system. Combining existing scholarship from the degrowth and the public health fields, this paper makes seven suggestions for a public health agenda towards sustainable health: (1) to develop an index of health status in relation to present and future health burden; (2) to reduce the resource burden of medical therapy; (3) to translate increased productivity to fewer working hours and more free time instead of more income and material consumption; (4) to make use of non-conventional knowledge and non-commercial forms of work and product exchange; (5) to make knowledge freely available, making use of innovative research frameworks such as open source drug research; (6) to relocalize economic life and health-related organization and to reshape citizen participation and (7) to reduce socio-economic inequality through redistribution. Generally, this paper argues that it is time for discussions on degrowth to enter the mainstream medical and health community and for doctors and other health workers to acknowledge that they have a significant role to play and important experience to contribute when our societies face the upcoming challenge of no-longer-growing economies.

Social Theory & Health (2017): 1-23.

Rethinking development under conditions of uncertainty: The case of EU chemicals management

Abstract: The number of new synthesized chemicals is growing exponentially, proving that there is a well functioning system for developing and producing new chemicals. At the same time, full information and knowledge regarding the potential hazardous effects of majority of chemicals on human and environmental health is lacking. This uncertainty together with growing negative consequences indicates that there is no well functioning system for safe chemicals management.
Using three case studies of chemicals (PCB, HBCD and Bisphenol-A), this study examines the previous and emerging EU chemical management regimes under conditions of uncertainty. Further, the article analyses the EU chemical management regimes by applying a degrowth ideas in order to criticize existing practices but also to discuss alternative approaches of chemicals management development.
We argue that de-growth ideas can help to develop an alternative path. In addition to highly discussed management options under condition of uncertainty (such as precautionary, adaptive management and so on), we argue that the management of chemicals might also benefit from introducing ―sufficiency into production. In more general sense it means a shift of seeing quality of life as based on a sufficiency of chemicals and not on an abundance of them. The article concludes that although utopian ideas regarding chemicals management might be very problematic, more integrated and holistic visions of future chemicals and also environmental policies might emerge from consideration of such ideas.

Contribution to the 3rd International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Venice in 2012.

Slow medicine: a new health care model

Abstract: Health care seems to be more and more costly, while data on the health of populations do not seem to improve. We all know that just a small part of the individuals’ and populations’ health depends on health care systems and on medicine. Economic and social factors affect the health of human beings, and among these an ordinate development compatible with the planet resources. Health care models in modern communities are depending on the advancements of research in biology, physiology, pathology, pharmaceutics and other sciences applied to the strong will to improve humanity health. Human beings are plunged in their environment, and are affecting it in different ways: health and health care as well as depend on the relationships between man and environment. A quality health care seems to improve both the results of health care and its costs. This can happen both in developed and developing countries. In this workshop we will discuss a model of medicine based on centrality and participation of patients and communities in health care design, on real health and health care needs, on professionals able to reach the best evidence via web and apply it according to local and well planned resources, on organisational principles of cooperation, coordination and participation in setting health care goals, processes and indicators for outcome measurement. This model cannot be implemented without a strong commitment of professionals in counselling and patient/communities listening. Sobriety, Respect and Justice are the principles of medicine that should be stressed in order to make it quality and sustainable, as well as Good, Clean and Right are the principles of Slow Food. So these are the principles of SLOW MEDICINE. An interactive workshop on these items and principles will be held during the conference by some of Slow Medicine Italian founders.

Contribution to the 3rd International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Venice in 2012.

Medical students for Degrowth

Introduction: Unlike other sciences, e.g. IT or Physics, whose experts’ high level of specialization is regarded as the major key to success, Medicine actually maintains the prerogative of a traditional knowledge, in which a deep understanding is reachable only with practice in at least several of its branches. Besides, since it affects the whole of life of people devoting to it, Medicine is almost a “total experience”, that makes it an Art -in the original sense of the Latin Ars, “skill”-, rather than a simple career. To all this, add up its collective dimension: Virchow’s definition of Medicine as a “social science” dating back to 1848 pioneered the pathway to a broader concept of Health, possibly forerunning the present-day discipline of Global Health. As mentioned in a review by MD N. F. Killen, the distinction between the caring and the curing function of Medicine stressed by Ivan Illich’s Medical Nemesis actually charges physicians with the role “to relieve, to support, to rehabilitate, to make life not only tolerable but rich”: a major duty that professors are supposed to pass on to medical students. Thus, if it is true that “doctors must be one of the most self-critical professions, constantly examining and challenging traditional beliefs”, no doubts that physicians are asked to take position as regards the current deterioration of consumer society and capitalism. That is in fact the reason beyond the creation of the “Doctor for Degrowth” manifesto within the Italian based Movement for a Happy Degrowth. From this project derives the idea to also get young medical students involved in the process of re-thinking Medicine and its teaching in the 21st Century: aware of Illich’s caveat against the wildest forms of medicalization in the future of the Athropocene, “degrowthist” medstudents too are now given the chance to play a key role in promoting a low impact yet high efficiency health care for their own and the forthcoming generations. In the following sections we identified three main axes of work to encourage the spread of the Degrowth movement within the Italian -and possibly international- Medical schools, concerning the self, the academic world and advocacy towards the whole of society respectively.

Contribution to the 3rd International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Venice in 2012.

The Act of Care: A Good Opportunity.

Introduction: Ever since my father’s death from epatocarcinoma I have been interested in the psychological aspects of cancer patients. The ideal adjective which best describes my personal experience of that death is DEVASTATING. Nevertheless, I feel profound gratitude towards my father, who allowed me to be part, for the first time, of this parting from life.
A few months prior to this event, my son was born, and I had had the “good opportunity” to be part of the beginning of life. The ideal adjective which best describes my personal experience of that birth is THRILLING. In each one of these situations, I felt very deeply my bonds to my family and at the same time I felt pressed to maintain a professional involvement.
In one case (the death of my father) I found myself at home, at my family’s home, with my “original” family. Upon returning from hospital, where there was “nothing else to do” I had transformed my parent’s room into a hybrid hospital with phleboclysis, syringe, stethoscope, sphygmomanometer, a chemical toilet and much more.
In the other case (the birth of my son) I found myself in a hospital room but in a comfortable one, furnished as a hotel room, with a double bed, a big bathroom with a birthbath, stereo, book shelf, fridge and a phone. Everything was prepared so that the birth would be as little “hospitalized” as possible but with the assurance of an adequate and constant intervention in case of an emergency.
The domestic welcome (in a homelike atmosphere) given to both parents was very relaxing, but the convenience of being able to open the door and find oneself in an assuring hospital setting made the event more peaceful.
In the first case, that there was “nothing else to be done” put a definite end to medicine as an organized system of knowledge, practice and procedure designed to combat, oppose and defeat the illness and the same “nothing else to be done” left me the sole possibility of delaying as much as possible this event. I was left to assist, monitor, direct the ongoing deterioration of the illness.

Contribution to the 3rd International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Venice in 2012.

A more caring and equitable society requires linking local engagement in support of Global Policies for Health

Abstract: The health care industry is is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing industries and healthcare spending is rising faster than economic growth, consuming around 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) of most developed nations. However volume and increase of spending do not relate directly with population’s health improvement. In many countries, the increase of health care needs and spending is related to population ageing, but an increasing burden of disease worldwide is strictly related to the neoliberal model of society and its globalization. Its impact on health may be direct (as in the case of the spreading consumption of processed foods) or indirect, as consequences of environmental degradation or macro-economic policies increasing inequality. The dominant bio-medical and technological approach to health is an additional co-factor of increased healthcare costs, but the introduction and marketing of new products often does not respond to real health needs or diagnostic and therapeutic improvements, and is mainly driven by the market. In addition, in times of financial crisis while life and health conditions of the population worsen, neoliberal policies impose cuts on public expenditure including on public health expenditure, pushing population into the poverty trap.
In a convivial de-growth perspective, together individual and collective behaviours, the quality and characteristics of health policies need to be rethought and public policies in all sectors should be formulated taking into consideration their impact on health. A paradigmatic shift toward a more caring and equitable society, would be necessarily based on substantial reorientation of policies at national level and citizens engagement at community level. Nevertheless, due to global interdependence and the unavoidable interactions between global forces and national systems, a deep rethinking and reorganization of global health governance and its reformulation into Global Governance for health are essential.
The paper argues that a human rights approach to health should reorient global public policies in all sectors, and social determinants of health should be taken into consideration in global priority setting. Using examples from the food industry and the experience of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) it argues about the inadequacy of solely relying on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and industry’s self-regulatory approach, and advocates the establishment of binding international instruments to regulate and monitor market forces critically influencing health worldwide. Besides strong commitment and and health conscious leadership at the global level, the effective enacting of such policies needs strong support from, and connection with, civil society which can be built on a global scale taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the globalization process (such as networking and knowledge sharing facilities), interlinking local experiences, to increase awareness, and organize and coordinate advocacy.

Contribution to the 3rd International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Venice in 2012.

De-growth and critical community psychology: Contributions towards individual and social well-being

Abstract: This contribution sets out to combine the perspective of the degrowth paradigm with that of Critical Community psychology. Following the degrowth argument, the advancement of human well-being calls for a shift from growth-based societies to ones grounded in the ethos of degrowth. In this regard, we acknowledge the necessity for both theoretical principles and examples of good practice, which can lead to this transition. To this end, the article combines some of the underlying principles of the degrowth paradigm (i.e. decolonisation of the imaginary, reciprocity and conviviality, and environmental sustainability) with those of Critical Community Psychology, as well as, in one case, of Liberation Psychology (i.e. conscientisation and de-ideologisation, responsible togetherness, and environmental justice). This integration intends to equip academic scholars, practitioners, and social activists with visions and practices for the implementation of strategic actions aimed at individual and social well-being. The article concludes with a thorough reflection on social justice and how to better promote it through the combined contributions of both degrowth and Critical Community psychology.

Futures: Volumes 78–79, April–May 2016, Pages 47–56

Degrowth Episodes and Public Health: Lessons from the Past?

Transcription and presentation of an poster session by Iris Borowy at the Second International Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Barcelona with the title “Degrowth Episodes and Public Health: Lessons from the Past?”.

Fleischatlas 2014

Unser Essen hat eine politische und ethische Dimension und stellt immer wieder aufs Neue Fragen an unsere Verantwortung. Nachdem der Fleischatlas 2013 gezeigt hat, welche Auswirkungen Europas Fleischkonsum auf die Schwellen- und Entwicklungsländer und auf das Klima hat, bringt der Fleischatlas 2014 Licht ins Dunkel des „Big Business“ Fleisch – von Europa, über die USA bis hin zu den aufstrebenden Volkswirtschaften China und Indien.
Wie viele Tiere werden in Deutschland und der Welt jährlich geschlachtet? Wer profitiert vom billigen Fleisch? Welche Hormone landen ungewollt auf unserem Teller, und wie viele Pestizide werden eingesetzt?
Der Fleischatlas 2014 serviert in zwanzig kurzen Essays neue Themen rund um den Fleischkonsum und zeigt, dass jenseits der großindustriellen Produktion von Fleisch Alternativen möglich sind.
(Beschreibung der Herausgeber)

Die PDF kann kostenlos auf der Seite der Herausgeber runtergeladen werden.

Common goods and food sovereignty – Double Pyramid and Economic Considerations on Sustainable Diets

Abstract: This document aims to offer a general introduction to the trade off between nutrition, health, diets and environment, following mainly the Double Pyramid approach started by BCFN in 2010. Taking Mediterranean diet as a sustainable diet reference model– as it is low in fats and meat consumption, whereas high in vegetables and whole cereals -­‐, it analyzes the environmental impact and economic costs of the above mentioned model, making comparisons with other dietary habits.

Contribution to the 3rd International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Venice in 2012.