Why We Need Degrowth

Let me introduce you to a concept that some may not have heard about.  It is the concept of  degrowth.  
Wikipedia lists the following about degrowth:

Degrowth (in French: décroissance, in Spanish: decrecimiento, in Italian: decrescita) is a political, economic, and social movement based on Ecological economics, anti-consumerist and anti-capitalist ideas. Degrowth thinkers and activists advocate for the downscaling of production and consumption—the contraction of economies—as overconsumption lies at the root of long term environmental issues and social inequalities. Key to the concept of degrowth is that reducing consumption does not require individual martyring and a decrease in well-being. Rather, ‘degrowthists’ aim to maximize happiness and well-being through non-consumptive means—sharing work, consuming less, while devoting more time to art, music, family, culture and community.”

Sound familiar?  It is comparable to Simple Living, Voluntary Simplicity, Downshifting, Sustainable Living or even the Transition Town movements.

What ever name we give it, why do I think we need these movements?  Well, quite simply, because we live on a finite world that has limits and boundaries, therefore continues growth is not feasible.  Ergo our western lifestyle is unsustainable.   

The planet can regenerate about 2.1 global hectares per person per year on a sustainable basis.  The average Australian has an ecological footprint of 6.6 global hectares per person which is 2.8 times the average global footprint of 2.7 global hectares.  If everyone lived like this we would need four planets to sustain our lifestyle.  As there are no new planets to plunder except the one we have, we better get used to living within our means or suffer the consequences.

This means that a possible solution could be degrowth, or put in my language, to consciously reduce our  consumption.

It would be nice if ‘Buy Nothing Day’ was everyday, and we just reused and produced stuff we grew or made ourselves.  Great stuff in theory, but it would kill our current economic model.  However if you look at it closely, our current economic model is killing itself pretty much on its own because of the finite limits of our world.  

So, the more we walk away from the current economic system, the quicker it fails, which would not be good for anyone.  How do we aim for a gentle landing and not end up in a continuous downward recession/depression cycle when our economic system does fail?  This is not a rhetorical question.  I just don’t know the answer.

However, I do know that we have three possible paths that we can take from this time on.  Woody Allen once said “We have arrived at a decisive fork in the road. One path leads us to the extinction of our species and the other leads to despair.  I hope we will be able to make the right choice… “
So far, as I see it we are on the first path, taking down many other species with it.  Second path is one of negative growth history has shown to generate famine, wars, pandemics and can lead to a society controlled by fascism or totalitarian power.  No thank you very much!  I am a bit more optimistic and believe we can turn it around.
I believe there is a third path.  It one of degrowth by choosing sobriety and taking stock of our current reality.  We need to break our addiction to things.  Somehow we need to be able to change our economic system in such a way that reduced consumerism is seen as goodness and a better way of living, giving us more spare time, and wanting for less, therefore softening the impact.  We need to live within the global limits and on or below those 2.1 global hectares we each have been granted by Gaia.  It may seem very neo-hippy of me, but there has to be a better path than we one we are current embarked upon.  
I for one have chosen not to be on this train wreck any more.  Have you?  
Do you have any thoughts on possible solutions to the end of growth?


  1. says

    Great post Gavin. I think that so much money, time and effort has gone into brainwashing the population into being the consumerist wasteful society that it is that we have a long hard battle ahead. I am optimistic that it will all work out in the end but I think it will take a big event like the depression in the 1930’s to change peoples mindset. Most people will not change until they have no choice because it is easier. In the mean time we need to tell everyone who will listen.

  2. says

    I agree with everything you are saying. I agree with Kathy above and getting the concept in our heads of Enough is a good place to start. Leading by example as you try to do – as I try to do. I don’t need to or want to fill my head with to many complications of all the details. I do what I can – now. That is I consciously choose to not purchase as many things as possible that I can make myself. I reuse – choose second hand – And the list gets longer and I also share that with anyone who will listen.

  3. Derek says

    Great food for thought Gavin. Somehow I don’t see people climbing off the consumerism bandwagon anytime soon. The problem I see it that everything is interconnected and we’ve become dependent on the magic pudding that is economic growth. It supports the tax base which in turn is used to fund schools and hospitals. Our retirement savings are tied up in superannuation funds which are also dependent on growth.

    Add to that the emerging economies of China, India & Brasil. They want to live the opulent, consumer lifestyle like the West. It’s pretty shaky morally to say you can’t live the way we do. It’s even more immoral to say yes to that and consume the resources of 3 planets when we only have one.

    I don’t see people getting off that perpetual motion machine known as the growth merry-go-round without some kind of push. That push is coming in the form of peak oil. I’m heartened when you at how Cuba adapted when the Soviet oil dried up. The move to urban farming is great lesson to us all.

  4. says

    Great post! It’s a tricky thing with so many commentators on the whole sustainability/global warming/consumerist economy being either very left or very right wing in their arguments. But we are so constantly bombarded with the message, ‘just buy this and you’ll be happy’ that people don’t think about whether they really need or even want the item in question. I have no idea what the answer is, but I do think getting the message out that there is another option (however you choose to make that sustainable option – grow veg, reduce your usage, really think about what you ‘want’ and ‘need’ and reconsider how you use the worlds resources – and that option can be fun and fulfilling is part of the solution.

  5. says

    It’s so so important to be optimistic. For if we were to resort to pessimism, nothing will get done and we’re likely to continue to be taken in by the status quo–bitching and moaning about it, no doubt.

    It’s easy to be taken in by pessimism. When you’re constantly questioned and put down, being part of “that side” seems like an easier choice. However, we mustn’t waste resources being defensive and smug. We must demonstrate and educate.

  6. says

    Great post Gavin! You’ve managed to maintain an feeling of optimism rather than the doom and gloom that often goes with any mention of the limits to growth. I think degrowth is the answer too, and I’m glad to finally have a word for it! More specifically, I think permaculture has some great principles to help us design and structure communities to be more self-sufficient and self-reliant.

  7. says

    Wow this is a very powerful idea. It is such a liberating thing to free yourself of consumption desire and instead look for other ways to happiness and satisfaction.
    For me it all started with keeping my own chickens and from there has grown to working to sustain my lifestyle, instead of working to renovate and sell and upsize endlessly.

  8. says

    Train wreck is a good term for it. Slow-motion maybe but a wreck nevertheless.

    Yep, I’ve jumped off. And it’s surprisingly easy to stay off. It’s not that hard; the secret I think, is learning the meaning of enough.

Comments build lively communities. Let me know your thoughts, but keep it clean and green! Spam is removed instantly.