No one really told us what organizing a degrowth conference would entail. We simply knew we wanted to do it. Two years of organizing, meeting, discussing and struggling have passed and now we’re less than seven weeks away from the first day of the conference.
Recently, an article on degrowth appeared in Harvard Business Review (hereafter HBR). Rather than offering a critique of capitalism, the article proposes that degrowth may not be a threat to business after all, and in fact, there are burgeoning degrowth markets waiting to be tapped into by the risk averse. Although we applaud the authors in getting the word “degrowth” into the illustrious pages of HBR, we take serious issue with the all too familiar ways in which this word and its radical connotations have been stretched.
Degrowth imagines a radically different future, which is why so many have connected to its message. But it is a future which seems very distant from today’s political, economic and social system. So what does it mean, in practical terms, to organize towards a degrowth future in a highly commodified and competitive present?
Some people object to the concept of “natural capital” because they say it reduces nature to the status of a commodity to be marketed at its exchange value. This indeed is a danger, well discussed by George Monbiot. Monbiot’s criticism rightly focuses on the monetary pricing of natural capital. But it is worth clarifying that the word “capital” in its original non-monetary sense means “a stock or fund that yields a flow of useful goods or services into the future.” The word “capital” derives from “capita” meaning “heads,” referring to heads of cattle in a herd. The herd is the capital stock; the sustainable annual increase in the herd is the flow of useful goods or “income” yielded by the capital stock–all in physical, not monetary, terms. read more