The case for degrowth

Infinite growth on a finite planet is alarming and doesn’t even make us better off. A new book argues we must shed the ideology of “growthism”

Why degrowth is the worst idea on the planet

Despite still growing over the last 50 years, we already figured out how to reduce our impact on Earth. So let’s do that.

Podcast: Joanna Pope zu Degrowth & Akzelerationismus

Kann es so etwas geben wie nachhaltiges Wachstum? Oder sollten wir uns nicht vielmehr vom Prinzip des Wachstums an sich trennen und stattdessen andere Vorstellungen des guten Lebens entwickeln?

A Green New Deal without growth?

The IPCC warns that in order to keep global warming under 1.5°, global emissions must be cut to zero by 2050. Policymakers and scholars debate how best to decarbonise the energy system, and what socio-economic changes might be necessary. Here we review the strengths, weaknesses, and synergies of two prominent climate change mitigation narratives: the Green New Deal and degrowth. Green New Deal advocates propose a plan to coordinate and finance a large-scale overhaul of the energy system. Some see economic growth as crucial to financing this transition, and claim that the Green New Deal will further stimulate growth. By contrast, proponents of degrowth maintain that growth makes it more difficult to accomplish emissions reductions, and argue for reducing the scale of energy use to enable a rapid energy transition. The two narratives converge on the importance of public investments for financing the energy transition, industrial policies to lead the decarbonisation of the economy, socializing the energy sector to allow longer investment horizons, and expanding the welfare state to increase social protection. We conclude that despite important tensions, there is room for synthesizing Green New Deal and degrowth-minded approaches into a ‘Green New Deal without growth’.

Ecological Economics, vol. 179, 2021

Degrowth business framework: Implications for sustainable development

Abstract: Recent years have seen a revival in growth scepticism, yet degrowth in relation to the macroeconomic level has received almost exclusive attention. This resulted in a lack of literature on how post-growth and specifically degrowth visions of economy could be implemented, including from the perspective of firms and other organisations. This paper focuses on degrowth literature and fields of knowledge which share a similar or sympathetic perspective regarding the undesirability of economic growth and desirability of living within planetary boundaries while pursuing wellbeing. It then applies degrowth vision to firms and identifies potential elements of a business for a degrowth economy, here referred to as a degrowth business. These elements comprise a degrowth business framework. The framework is centred around the following groups: (1) environment, (2) people and non-humans, and (3) deviation from profit maximisation imperative. It aims to contribute to an emerging discussion on what firms should be like for a degrowth economy and society to be possible.

Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 262, 20 July 2020

Degrowth Vienna 2020 – Agrowth, Degrowth, Postwachstum…Was!? Eine Einführung

Workshop

In diesem Einführungsworkshop machen wir uns mit den Steigerungszwängen der kapitalistischen Gesellschaftsordnung und dem Denken von wachstumskritischen Ansätzen vertraut. Was sind die Ursprünge, Eigenheiten und Ziele der verschiedenen Strömungen? Dabei schauen wir auf Gefahren und Potentiale der verschiedenen Perspektiven für einen emanzipatorischen Wandel zum Guten Leben für Alle! Letztlich stellt sich uns dann die Frage: Lässt sich mit diesen Debatten was bewegen? Und wenn ja, was?

Presenters: Maria Paulitsch (Radix Kollektiv für transformative Bildung), Sven-David Pfau (Radix Kollektiv für transformative Bildung)

Language: German

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Degrowth Conference Budapest, 2016 – On degrowth in the South: The Case of India

A thorough and detailed overview of the socioeconomic situation in India and the extent to which the Degrowth discourse can be extended in countries beyond the Global North. The speaker explores the aftermath of the neoliberalization of India: from GDP and billionaires growth to the extreme wealth gap alongside increasing inequality, unemployment, extreme air pollution, fossil fuels consumption, waste, diseases alongside social plagues such as dispossession and displacement. However, it also shows how everything is not happening unquestioned: social and environmental movements are operating themselves to have a voice in the crowd and they represent the alternative to what looks like a set path everywhere in the world, the westernized neoliberal growth fetish. Still the degrowth discourse must be careful and not reduce the issue to that same fetish alone, neglecting imperialism, extreme poverty and denied basic needs.

‘The economy’ as if people mattered: revisiting critiques of economic growth in a time of crisis

Coronavirus (COVID-19) policy shut down the world economy with a range of government actions unprecedented outside of wartime. In this paper, economic systems dominated by a capital accumulating growth imperative are shown to have had their structural weaknesses exposed, revealing numerous problems including unstable supply chains, unjust social provisioning of essentials, profiteering, precarious employment, inequities and pollution. Such phenomena must be understood in the context of long standing critiques relating to the limits of economic systems, their consumerist values and divorce from biophysical reality. Critical reflection on the Coronavirus pandemic is combined with a review of how economists have defended economic growth as sustainable, Green and inclusive regardless of systemic limits and multiple crises – climate emergency, economic crash and pandemic. Instead of rebuilding the old flawed political economy again, what the world needs now is a more robust, just, ethical and equitable social-ecological economy.

Globalizations, May 2020

The Simpler Way: Collected Writings of Ted Trainer

Ted Trainer is an Australian scholar-activist who for decades has been defending and practising an ‘eco-anarchist’ perspective he describes as the Simpler Way. His vision is of a world where self-governing communities live materially simple but sufficient lives, in harmony with ecological limits.

This anthology contains some of Trainer’s most insightful and provocative essays, covering all aspects of his challenging but inspiring vision of a just and sustainable society. Topics include a radical critique of consumer-capitalism, the need for fundamental system change, and a transition theory based on building a new society within the shell of the old. Trainer also presents detailed descriptions of the Simpler Way society based on low energy requirements; explains why frugal but sufficient material living standards are necessary to live within planetary limits; and shows why technology alone is unable to resolve environmental problems. He also shares strategic advice on how to contribute positively to societal change, while also critically engaging some green and left strategies. Far from involving deprivation and hardship, Trainer argues that a Simpler Way society would enable liberation to a much higher quality of life for all.

As the first collection of Trainer’s work, this book gives due attention to one of Australia’s most insightful, but under-appreciated, thinkers.

Arithmetic, Population and Energy

Professor Bartlett has given his celebrated one-hour lecture, “Arithmetic, Population and Energy: Sustainability 101” over 1,742 times times to audiences with an average attendance of 80 in the United States and world-wide. His audiences have ranged from junior high school and college students to corporate executives and scientists, and to congressional staffs. He first gave the talk in September, 1969, and subsequently has presented it an average of once every 8.5 days for 36 years. His talk is based on his paper, “Forgotten Fundamentals of the Energy Crisis,” originally published in the American Journal of Physics, and revised in the Journal of Geological Education.

Professor Al Bartlett began his one-hour talk with the statement, “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”

He then gave a basic introduction to the arithmetic of steady growth, including an explanation of the concept of doubling time. He explained the impact of unending steady growth on the population of Boulder, of Colorado, and of the world. He then examined the consequences steady growth in a finite environment and observed this growth as applied to fossil fuel consumption, the lifetime of which is much shorter than the optimistic figures most often quoted.

He proceeded to examine oddly reassuring statements from “experts”, the media and political leaders – statements that are dramatically inconsistent with the facts. He discussed the widespread worship of economic growth and population growth in western society. Professor Bartlett explaind “sustainability” in the context of the First Law of Sustainability:

“You cannot sustain population growth and / or growth in the rates of consumption of resources.”

The talk brought the listener to understand and appreciate the implications of unending growth on a finite planet, and closed noting the crucial need for education on the topic.

Techno-socialism or de-growth?

The second in a three-part interview on capitalism and climate breakdown from Political Economy for the End Times.

Biodiversity policy beyond economic growth

Increasing evidence—synthesized in this paper—shows that economic growth contributes to biodiversity loss via greater resource consumption and higher emissions. Nonetheless, a review of international biodiversity and sustainability policies shows that the majority advocate economic growth. Since improvements in resource use efficiency have so far not allowed for absolute global reductions in resource use and pollution, we question the support for economic growth in these policies, where inadequate attention is paid to the question of how growth can be decoupled from biodiversity loss. Drawing on the literature about alternatives to economic growth, we explore this contradiction and suggest ways forward to halt global biodiversity decline. These include policy proposals to move beyond the growth paradigm while enhancing overall prosperity, which can be implemented by combining top‐down and bottom‐up governance across scales. Finally, we call the attention of researchers and policy makers to two immediate steps: acknowledge the conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation in future policies; and explore socioeconomic trajectories beyond economic growth in the next generation of biodiversity scenarios.

Conservation Letters, April 2020

Sustainable futures: replacing growth imperative and hierarchies with sustainable ways

This book identifies two features of all modern industrial cultures as the root causes for unsustainability: the growth imperative and hierarchic structures. Alternatives are presented for both, and the changes that would result are discussed.

Energy, property, and the industrial revolution narrative

Abstract: The Industrial Revolution (IR) story is the core of a mainstream economic history narrative of energy/development relationships, celebrating Modern Economic Growth (MEG) as the increase in per capita energy consumption in the last two centuries. Such a narrative emphasizes mineral technology and private property as the key elements of growth processes. I will criticize the above narrative, from a socio-environmental history perspective, for its inability to account for two crucial aspects of energy history: 1. the role of social power as key determinant in how energy sources are used and to what ends; 2. the socio-ecological costs associated with the increase of energy consumption. I will then review Environmental History studies on energy/industrialization and highlight possible future developments in the field. The article makes a strong point for the need to look at energy transitions as social processes, and to include the unequal distribution of environmental, health, and social costs of mineral energy into global history narratives.

Ecological Economics, Volume 70, Issue 7, 15 May 2011, Pages 1309-1315