The planet would be richer for it
Decades of economic expansion have come at the expense of developing countries and at enormous cost to the planet. Degrowth is a healthier option for the future, writes Erin Remblance.
THOUGHT of a degrowth economy can be scary. We all grew up in a society where growth is good and failure to grow – the recession – is bad.
Recession means unemployment, financial hardship and increasing poverty. Why would anyone choose this? But decrease does not mean recession. Degrowth is a conscious set of policies designed to optimize human and planetary well-being while minimizing inequalities, poverty and environmental damage. It is recognizing that “more” does not mean better and that, despite decades of economic growth, on average, we are not happier.
Degrowth recognizes that economic growth in predominantly Western countries has come at the expense of developing countries and at enormous cost to the planet and its ability to sustain life – and now we are on the brink of unimaginable catastrophe. .
So what might a world look like that is not obsessed with growing gross domestic product (GDP)? In his book, Less is more: how degrowth will save the world, Jason Hickel advocates many policies, including:
- put an end to the planned obsolescence of products such as household appliances, technological devices, furniture, houses, cars, etc. ;
- cut advertising;
- moving from ownership to ‘use’ – think of all the ‘things’ we own that spend most of the year idling, especially cars;
- end food waste;
- reduce environmentally destructive industries such as fossil fuels, beef, private jets, weapons, single-use plastics, fast fashion, disposable coffee mugs, oversized new construction, new stadiums for the Olympics and world cups, the commercial airline industry, industries with long distance supply chains, etc.
- shorter working weeks and job guarantees for the entire workforce;
- decommodify public goods and expand public services including health care, education, public transportation, affordable housing, basic energy, water and internet quotas, public libraries, parks and sports fields;
- get governments to create money rather than banks and the government to spend it instead of lending it into existence as banks currently do;
- reduce income and wealth inequalities; and
- debt cancellation.
In short, living in a shrinking economy would imply less work and more time together. Less individual ownership and more sharing. Less debt and more government services for everyone.
It’s a “back to basics” approach with more time in nature doing things we love with people we love – less time working to pay for things we don’t have. need or which we don’t use very often. We will have more meaning in our lives because we will have a greater sense of community, cooperation and connection, rather than the current emphasis on individualism and the perpetual pursuit of happiness on our next purchase, vacation or experience.
The things we build and create will be built to last and will not be replaced too soon in the name of economic growth. We will become more than a “human resource” existing only to create more and more capital.
In a declining economy, we will have the time, space, and security to explore as yet untapped parts of our humanity. Knowing that our basic needs are met and having a more equitable distribution of wealth and income will mean that the social anxiety of having to “follow the Joneses” will decrease and our social bonds will strengthen. We would appreciate different things in a declining economy and define success differently. A decreasing economy does not necessarily mean a decreasing lifestyle – indeed, we could be richer for that.
It has been widely noted that degrowth will be politically difficult to achieve. But why? Cancer patients don’t like the idea of chemotherapy, but they do it because they understand that the alternative is, usually, much worse. This analogy is slightly unfair because chemotherapy is generally unpleasant where the transition to a decaying economy doesn’t need to be – and after chemotherapy life often returns to “normal” while in a decaying economy, we might find that we are happier and healthier.
Climate change is a huge motivator to pursue a shrinking economy, but we should be pursuing it anyway – it makes perfect sense to maximize the well-being of people and the planet rather than just focusing on the growth of the value of financial transactions in an economy.
Adopting a degrowth economy will require a huge cultural shift. In fact, we probably need to “decolonize” our minds and start thinking like the native cultures that make decisions about the next seven generations. To imagine! The Australian government does not make decisions with the next generation in mind, let alone multiple generations!
But don’t be fooled into thinking this is the human condition and that we are a greedy and selfish species. This is simply not true. Neoliberalism – and the artificial scarcity that capitalism feeds on – brings out this side in too many of us. That’s why we have a federal government in power today that still refuses to adhere to even the least controversial of climate goals – zero net carbon emissions by 2050.
But that’s only one side of us, and we also have immense abilities to cooperate and take care of each other. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, environmental economist Tim Jackson argues that it is cooperation, rather than competition, that has enabled us to evolve as a species.
But if you think creating this cultural shift is next to impossible, wait until you hear about the technology we rely on instead of this cultural shift. Not a single one of the 222 scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report with a warming of 1.5 ° C, projects a trajectory of GDP decline – in fact, they all predict a continued growth in GDP.
At the same time, they all rely on controversial amounts of carbon dioxide removal and / or unprecedented technological changes. It seems imprudent, even absurd, to rely on technology that “Faces substantial uncertainty, as well as sustainability and feasibility issues”, rather than reducing our emissions today. Consider that if the richest 10 percent (who are responsible for half of all global emissions) cut their emissions to that of the average European (who barely lives on a subsistence), we could reduce emissions by one. third and we could do that pretty quickly.
There are many good reasons to embrace a degrowth economy, not the least of which is that we can achieve more meaning and happiness in our lives. But perhaps the most important reason to embrace degrowth is that the future doesn’t look like today.
Our choice is not “more of the same” or “decrease”. There is no option to continue to grow the economy with the material footprint that cannot be divorced from this economy and believe that all will be well. We can either choose degrowth and actively work on it, or we can choose collapse by continuing as if nothing had happened.
Parents want a long and happy life for their children, so this seems like an obvious choice.
Erin Remblance is a Sydney-based mother of three who works in reducing carbon emissions, is a climate activist and studies welfare economies. You can follow Erin on Twitter @remblance_erin.
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