The local dimension in the degrowth literature. A critical discussion

Degrowth is establishing itself as a theory within the ecological and post-development scholarship. At the core of degrowth is a local-centric perspective, whereby small urban agglomerations are considered as the key actors of the political and economic system of an imagined post-consumerist and post-capitalist society. Degrowth proponents thus argue that the fundamental steps to achieve a truly democratic, socially just and ecological society should be taken at local level. However, in the degrowth theory a thorough debate about why the local level would be the most suitable spatial units to achieve degrowth is scarce. The importance of the small urban size appears to be axiomatic, rather than supported by substantive arguments. By engaging with non-mainstream strands of green political thought, this paper critically reflects upon the local-centred perspective at the core of the degrowth theory, identifying its main practical and theoretical shortcomings.

Intervention – Small and local are not only beautiful; they can be powerful

Cosmolocalism emerges from technology initiatives that are small-scale and oriented towards addressing local problems, but simultaneously engage with globally asynchronous collaborative production through digital commoning. We thus connect such a discussion with two ongoing grassroots developments: first, a cosmolocal response to the coronavirus pandemic; and, second, an ongoing effort of French and Greek communities of small-scale farmers, activists and researchers to address their local needs.

Promoting Waste Degrowth and Environmental Justice at a Local Level: The Case of Unit-Pricing Schemes in Spain

This paper investigates the introduction of unit-pricing (UP) schemes in waste management with regard to grassroots initiatives promoting bottom-up participatory processes in local communities, addressing several issues concerning environmental justice and degrowth. As waste service charges and fees increase in proportion of waste generated in presence of UP schemes, the paper explores and evaluates the socio-economic impact of these schemes at a local level, analysing data and information gathered from four municipalities in Spain. Findings indicate that UP schemes can provide a more balanced payment system for local residents, and help reducing free-rider behaviours associated with illegal and improper disposal practices. In addition, findings provide empirical evidence of the importance of grassroots initiatives in relation to increasing awareness regarding environmental issues among the public, and in view of facilitating change towards more sustainable practices within local communities. Conclusions gathered from this study offer valuable insights to local and national policymakers with regard to the design and delivery of UP schemes in waste management services.

Ecological Economics, vol. 156, February 2019, pp. 306-317

Future green economies and regional development: a research agenda

Future green economies and regional development: a research agenda. Regional Studies. The past 30 years have seen an explosion of interest and concern over the detrimental impacts of economic and industrial development. Despite this, the environmental agenda has not featured substantially in the regional studies literature. This paper explores a range of options for regional futures from a ‘clean-tech’ economy and the promise of renewed accumulation through to more radical degrowth concepts focused on altering existing modes of production and consumption, ecological sustainability and social justice. In so doing, it investigates the potential role of regions as drivers of the new green economy, drawing on research into sustainability transitions.

Regional Studies, Vol. 51, pp. 161-173, 2017

An Anarchism for Today: The Simpler Way

Abstract: A sustainable and just world cannot be achieved without enormous structural and cultural change. The argument presented below is that when our situation is understood in terms of resource and ecological limits, it is evident firstly that getting rid of capitalism is not sufficient. A satisfactory alternative society cannot be highly industrialised or centralised, and it must involve highly self-sufficient local economies and largely self-governing communities that prioritise cooperation and participation. Above all, there must be degrowth to a far lower GDP per capita than that exists in rich countries today, with a concomitant embracing of very frugal material “living standards.” Only a basically anarchist society can meet these conditions satisfactorily. Secondly, given this goal the transition to it can only be achieved via an anarchist strategy. Both these themes point to the need for substantial rethinking of essential elements in mainstream socialist and Marxist theory.

Capitalism Nature Socialism, June 2018

Scenarios of energetic and societal transitions: potentials and impacts of a sustainable regional economic system

In 2012, the NGO Virage-énergie Nord-Pas de Calais started a research project focused on energetic, societal and economic transitions within the Nord-Pas de Calais region in France, in partnership with two academic laboratories: TVES (University of Lille 1 – Science and Technologies) and Ceraps (University of Lille 2 – Health and Law). The aim of this research was to evaluate, using data models and hypotheses, the socioeconomic impacts and the potentials for energy savings resulting from public policies and lifestyle transitions toward sustainable networks of consumption, production and exchange.

Depending on changes in cultural practices, economic organisations and social structures, three scenarios for 2025 and 2050 have been created and applied on four sectors: agriculture, industry, building and transport. Economic impacts of environnemental innovation and societal transitions (developing renewable energy and energy efficiency, changing food habits, reducing consumption of industrial goods, sharing and pooling equipments…) have been studied for more than hundred economic activities.

With a net creation of 67 000 jobs by 2050 for the most ambitious scenario (on a regional total of 1.47 million in 2015), the results highlight the role of energetic and societal transitions in building a sustainable economic model. Job losses caused in industry and market services by lifestyles and politics of sufficiency are compensated by the development of relocalisations, agroecological technics, local shops and new forms of services. These visions provide trends and indicators of skills, trainings and qualifications required to build environmentally sound economies.

This media entry was a contribution to the special session „Scenarios of energetic and societal transitions: potentials and impacts of a sustainable regional economic system“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.

In search for sustainable local food systems: Sociometabolic perspectives

During the last century, we have witnessed an unprecedented growth in both global food production and associated environmental, social, and economic problems connected to the increasingly industrialized and globalised food production system; projections for the future foresee a continuation of the rising food demand. While sustainable food production is a global challenge, it has an inevitable local dimension; it is the local level where people live and work, where environmental, economic, social, cultural and institutional issues are interlocked and where the food is produced, processed, transported, traded and consumed or wasted. Rising academic attention is devoted, among others, to so-called local food systems; localised food production is supposed to bring benefits such as lower transport dependence resulting in less consumption of fossil fuels, lower CO2 emissions, less waste from packaging, and more closed cycles of matter and energy within the production system. However, material data are still missing to critically assess the real sustainability benefits and trade-offs of food localisation. The framework of social metabolism can provide essential insights to the biophysical dimension of local food systems, and thus help to assess their contribution to deteriorating or improving sustainability. This special session aims to bring together case studies using the social metabolism framework applied on local level (i.e. lower-than-national) to food production (and the following stages of food life-cycle); the sociometabolic reading of a diverse range of local cases will help to carve out promises and pitfalls for sustainable pathways in food production for the future.

This media entry was a contribution to the special session „In search for sustainable local food systems: Sociometabolic perspectives“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.

How can local Network growth economy serve to global degrowth?

An average village in India does not really benefit from the current economic system. The story of Kuthumbakkam, a village in Tamil Nadu, shows how people can locally create viable economy based on the regional sources and inter-village exchange. Main charasteristics of the Network growth economy are high localisation of production and consumption and focus on self-sufficiency.
Initial conceptual foundation could be found in marxism and even more in gandhian economics (Kumarappa). The focus was gradually moving from goals of infrastructure creation and employment at all costs to different goals. These are decent life for all, end of migration to cities and self-sufficiency in terms of energy and majority of other economic sectors. Economics in the village tend more to a solidarity economy, changing cycles of production, creating local employment in environmentally sound production. Kuthumbakkam is unique also regarding the empowerment of people and especially regarding overcoming the obstacles of the caste system.
I explore the connections between global transition strategies and this village community. I believe some important lessons can be learnt from Kuthumbakkam – not only for other states of India but also for transition practices around the world. The Network growth economy can be very inspiring for a conceptualisation of the society which does not depend on economic growth.
As Elango Ramaswamy, the community leader, says:
“The Network Economy concentrates on prosperity creation rather than poverty eradication. This initiative focuses on evolving self-dependent economy in the rural areas rather than worry about their place in the global market”

This media entry was a contribution to the special session „How can local Network growth economy serve to global degrowth?“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.

How to turn an ocean liner: a proposal for voluntary degrowth by redesigning money for sustainability, justice, and resilience

Abstract: This article argues that many destructive aspects of the contemporary global economy are consequences of the use of general-purpose money to organize social and human-environmental relations, and that the political ideals of sustainability, justice, and resilience will only be feasible if money itself is redesigned. The argument is based on the conviction that human artifacts such as money play a crucial role in organizing society, and that closer attention should be paid to the design and logic of key artifacts, rather than devoting disproportionate intellectual energy to theorizing their complex systemic repercussions. What is generally referred to as “capitalism” is the aggregate logic of human decisions about the management of money. Visions of a post-capitalist society using money the way it is used now is thus a contradiction in terms. The article sketches a possible redesign of money based on the idea that each country establishes a complementary currency for local use only, which is distributed to all its residents as a basic income. The distinction between two separate spheres of exchange would insulate local sustainability and resilience from the deleterious effects of globalization and financial speculation. To indicate that the suggestion is not as unrealistic as it may seem at first sight, the article briefly and provisionally responds to some of the many questions raised by the proposal.

This is the twelth article in Lisa L. Gezon and Susan Paulson (eds.) 2017. “Degrowth, culture and power”, Special Section of the Journal of Political Ecology, 24: 425-666.

> Introduction and overview over other articles of the Special Section

Going for “the simpler way”

Summary: In his contribution to the series Ecology after capitalism, Ted Trainer argues that ecosocialism is not the answer and calls for the left and degrowthers to embrace all the radical implications of the “limits to growth” analysis. This implies following “the simpler way”, his own proposal for achieving a post-capitalist society based on the principles of eco-anarchism.

To save humanity and the planet, we must redesign money

From the text: The solution requires us to recognise that the operation of markets and money is socially constructed. The rules of the game can be rewritten. To acknowledge the extent to which the destiny of human society and the biosphere has been delegated to the mindless logic of objects like money and technology is like snapping out of a delusion. To fathom the implications of this delusion would make us more receptive to the idea of a fundamentally reorganised economy.

The Geography of Energy Transitions. The emergence of local contexts as main actors of a sustainable turn

Abstract: Since the 1973’s oil crisis everyone on the planet was well aware of the economic development’s dependence from fossil fuels supply and their producers. Nowadays, just like then, an economic and energy crisis has once again highlighted this unsolved dependence. Dealing with such a complex dynamic implies a substantial shift in every country’s societal structure aspects: economic, political and cultural. Such a shift towards a substantially new energy regime cannot be managed recurring to the traditional management tools (traditional regulation, policy and market measures), but requires an effective societal restructuring: a transition.
However, there is still a wide debate concerning the localisation of these processes. While such profound changes must run over complex systems that involve at least national level structures, empirical analysis reveal that at such level wide participation is weakened and transition initiatives tend to be driven by the powerful regime actors of the involved sector (e.g. corporations) (Kemp, Rotmans, & Loorbach, 2007).
In this paper, given the recent democratic developments and pressures towards power decentralisation, I challenge the application of energy transition initiatives only at the national level. Pushing further this assumption, I tried to understand how narrower contexts can interpret transitions and create networks of transitions experiences, developing a multi-scalar perspective and analysing the application of transition methods on the regional and local level.
I analysed the small Southern-Italian municipality of Melpignano, where has been recently established a community-cooperative in charge of the creation and management of a wide network of solar panels over local buildings through the active involvement of the local community. Using both the literature on Transition Management (Rotmans, Loorbach, & van Asselt, 2001) and Transition Culture (Hopkins, 2008) as useful interpreting tools, and previous researches on localisation of transitions (Späth & Rohracher, 2010), through qualitative research methods, I investigated the structure of this narrow transitional process, the role of central government, the pressures on stakeholders and institutions to design shared transitional paths (e.g. technological, economic, socio-political, environmental), the level and the methods of stakeholders involvement in the processes, and their perception of them.
The main aim of this work is therefore to contribute to a deeper understanding of lower- scale initiatives’ potential to initiate energy transition processes.
The overall results of the research pointed out how, even if participation is more likely to be facilitated at a narrower scale level, the intervention of national authorities providing a set of measures across the territory (i.e. feed-in-tariffs schemes) are needed and preconditions to substantial transition initiatives. Moreover, the local contexts are perceived as the best available backgrounds where participated energy policies can be designed and implemented and tend to be seen as far more efficient in opening networking spaces where heterogeneous subjects cooperate, confront each other, and design shared paths towards more sustainable energy structures. On the other hand the lack of political national sensibility and political planning towards this topic is perceived as the main barrier to the implementation of these processes, limiting the chances of structural success of localised initiatives. This immobile national context leads to perceive the local scale as a political substitute to the absence of national political action and likely to challenge the traditional hierarchical political cascade creating a bottom-up pressure process through which to scale up successful initiatives.

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

Relocation and social federalist against the relocation nationalist

From the introduction: Regulatory policy can develop relocated to reduce the carbon footprint and ecological footprint and various pollutants. Regulation relocated, also promotes economic and political autonomy, locality, region or country. Local economic
development, social and environmental, must take into account the cultural identity, autonomy and basic needs according Preiswerk. Development (qualitative) and growth (quantitative) is needed in the countries and populations for which the satisfaction of basic needs has not been reached and that the ecological footprint per capita is below the maximum threshold the Per capita ecological footprint (1.8 ha/capita in 2005). Face control relocated environmentalists, some forms of anti-globalization brought by associations such Attac promote the strengthening of international organizations such as the UN and runs the risk of excessive centralism. Internationalism, tends to dissolve nations to create a humanity under the direction of a global government and non-government international, which implies that there are still nations.
However, economic autonomy, regulation and social ecologist relocated, does not mean nationalistic egoism. A share of the wealth, production and services can continue to be exchanged between countries, with the aim of solidarity (without interference) and produce essential goods that can not be created on the spot. Redistribution of wealth in local, regional, national and international goes along with the regulation and relocated some protectionism. In contrast, the latter and the redistribution should not be diverted and loans should not become debt to ensure political and economic domination, as is the case of the IMF to the poorest countries and now some European nations.

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

The transition towards a bioregional model: the case of Friuli Venezia Giulia

Abstract: Studies on the possibility to provide food for populations through local production and consumption circuits are spreading to different parts of the world even in the “developed” countries. The main obstacle to food system localization is the adaptability of intensive commodity agriculture towards a local development model. There are multiple approaches to food system localization, bioregionalism is one. Berg (1978) considered the bioregion (in an ecological sense) as a particular set of environmental features located in an area. Later on, disciplines such as planning and economics contributed to the discussion.
In particular this research focuses on local food systems, mainly discussing problems concerning the transition away from intensive commodity agriculture territory. The re-localization of food systems is a process that reverses the trend of globalization in favor of food sovereignty. Many studies and practical experiences related to this are being developing in different areas of the world in response to the economic crisis.
This paper examines the possibility for practical implementation (theory of reality) of a transition phase towards a bio-region in Friuli Venezia Giulia.

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

Why the Economy Should Stop Growing—And Just Grow Up

Teaser: “How do we grow the economy?” is an obsolete question. Local initiatives across the world are looking for maturity instead as they rebuild caring, place-based communities and economies.

From the text: . . . But children and adolescents grow. Adults mature. It is time to reframe the debate to recognize that we have pushed growth in material consumption beyond Earth’s environmental limits. We must now shift our economic priority from growth to maturity—meeting the needs of all within the limits of what Earth can provide. . . .
The step to maturity depends on rebuilding caring, place-based communities and economies and restoring to them the power that global corporations and financial markets have usurped. Local initiatives toward this end are already underway throughout the world. . . .