02 Aug Could Degrowth Really Save the World?
Right now, the world is sort of heading for disaster. Basically, capitalist society is racing towards an unsustainable future where the limits of productivity are surpassed… and humanity ultimately suffers a severe meltdown.
Okay no need to panic, but let’s just glance over the reasoning:
- Earth is finite in size and therefore has finite resources.
- As capitalist growth continues so too does society’s demand for products.
- While industrial growth expands to meet consumer demand it puts immense strain on Earth’s resources and the environment.
- Technology and science cannot mitigate the exponential growth of this strain on the planet indefinitely.
- Earth’s ecology will eventually be exhausted and growth will reach its limit.
- The standards of living rapidly decline amid full-scale ecological disaster.
It’s been a decade since the term ‘degrowth’ – a so-called ‘missile concept’– was put forward to challenge the de-politicization of environmentalism and attack the “oxymoron of sustainable development” (Latouche, 2009, see Fournier, 2008).
So what is degrowth? Essentially, degrowth is an anti-capitalist ideology that believes that overconsumption is the cause of social inequality and environmental problems.
According to Giorgos Kallis “the use of a negative word for a positive project was intentional: by subverting the desirability of growth, degrowth aimed to identify and question the ideology that must be confronted in order to transition to a truly sustainable world: the ideology of growth. Degrowth theorists call for an ‘exit from the economy’, an invitation to abandon economistic thinking and construct viable alternatives to capitalism. However, proposing alternative economic models is not enough. We must also question the existence of an autonomous sphere called ‘the economy’. The ‘free market’ is not a natural process; it has been constructed through deliberate governmental intervention. Repoliticization of the economy will require hard-fought institutional change to return it to democratic control” (Online: 2015).
Rather than continue on our current trajectory, degrowth advocates the downscaling of production and inessential consumption so that humans may live in a state of endurance and sufficiency. It promotes community-driven sharing and sustainable development while striving for the rejection of consumerism and materialism.
Well, that got all Marxist utopian.
Degrowth alternatives have started to make an impact as the formal economy has fallen into crisis. These include: food production in urban gardens; co-housing and ecocommunes; alternative food networks, producer-consumer cooperatives, and communal kitchens; health care, elder care, and child care cooperatives; open software; and decentralized forms of renewable energy production and distribution. These alternatives are often accompanied, or even supported, by new forms of exchange such as community currencies, barter markets, time banks, financial cooperatives, and ethical banks (Conill et al., 2006, Gibson-Graham, 2006).
So basically, if the whole world embraced a culture of enough, there would be no need for want, because we’d be happy. The end of needless production would relieve the strain on our environment and we would be able to live a good, sustainable quality of life.
Not going to lie, it’s a little idealistic. But then as Mark A. Burch points out, so is the idea of an infinitely bountiful Earth. There are problems either way. The fact is that at some point growth will reach its limit.
Whether that’s by disaster or design remains to be seen.