Degrowth: A dangerous idea or the answer to the world’s biggest problem?

Business CNN

Conventional economic logic rests on a core assumption: The bigger the economy, the better, and finding a way to maintain or increase growth very important to improve society.

But what if growth Is it at best doing little to fix the world’s problems, and at worst fostering the destruction of the planet and jeopardizing its future?

That’s the radical message of the “degrowth” movement, which has spent decades on the political fringes with warnings that unlimited growth must end. Now, after the pandemic has given people in various parts of the world the opportunity to rethink what makes them happy, and as the scale of change is needed deal with the climate crisis became clearer, his ideas gained more mainstream recognition – despite the anxiety of building what could have been pain. global recession.

For economists and politicians of all stripes, growth is long overdue served as the North Star. It is a vehicle for creating jobs and generating taxes for public services, increasing prosperity in rich countries and reducing poverty and hunger in poorer ones.

London's financial district can be seen in the distance beyond the housing development on October 8, 2022.

But degrowthers argue that the endless desire for more – bigger national economies, greater consumption, heftier corporate profits – is myopic, misguided and ultimately harmful. Gross domestic productor GDP, is a bad metric for social well-being, they stress.

Plus, they see the growing global economy already double in size from 2005 – and, in growth of 2% annually, will be more than seven times larger in a century – put the emission goals needed to save the world out of reach.

“A 2 or 3% plain per year, that’s a huge amount of growth – cumulative growth, compound growth – over time,” said Giorgos Kallis, a senior degrowth scholar based at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. “I don’t see it matching the physical reality of the planet.”

The solution, according to the degrowth movement, is to limit the production of unnecessary goods, and try to reduce the demand for goods that are not needed.

This unorthodox school of thought is not without its critics. Bill Gates has called unrealistic degrowthers, emphasizing that asking people to consume less for the sake of the climate is a losing battle. Even believers admit that the framework could be a political nonstarter, given how hard it is to imagine what it will look like in practice.

“The fact that it’s an unappealing concept, it’s both a strength and a weakness,” says Gabriela Cabaña, a degrowth advocate from Chile and a doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics.

But in some corners, it is becoming less taboo, especially as government and industry fall back in their efforts to stop the planet from warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, after some effects of climate change will be irreversible.

Climate activists, including degrowth advocates, gathered in Munich on November 12, 2021.

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just quoted degrowth in the main report. European Research Council just allocated about $10 million to Kallis and two peers to explore practical “post-growth” policies. And the European Parliament is planning a conference called “Beyond Growth” next spring. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to attend.

Even some on Wall Street are starting to pay closer attention. Investment bank Jefferies said investors should consider what happens if degrowth gathers steam, noting the “climate-worried” younger generation has different consumer values.

In the debate about how to avoid climate disasters, there is a key point of consensus: If the worst effects of global warming must be avoided, the world needs to slash annual carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. After that, they must resist. steeply, and quickly.

Most roadmaps laying out plans to achieve this involve a dramatic reconfiguration of the economy around clean energy and other emission reduction solutions, while promoting new technologies and market innovations that make them more affordable. This will allow the global economy to continue to grow, but in a “green” way.

Yet proponents of degrowth are skeptical that the world can reduce emissions in time – and maintain delicate, interconnected ecological systems – while pursuing unlimited economic expansion, which they argue will inevitably require the use of more energy.

A construction site in Belgrade, Serbia under heavy smog on November 1, 2022.

“More growth means more energy use, and more energy use makes it more difficult to decarbonize the energy system in the short time we have left,” said Jason Hickel, a degrowth expert who is part of a team that received funding from European Research. Council. “It’s like trying to run an escalator that’s accelerating upwards against you.”

Although energy can be green, growth also requires natural resources such as water, minerals and timber.

It is a concern expressed by Greta Thunberg, perhaps the most famous climate activist. She be censured “Tales of non-existent technological solutions” and “eternal economic growth”. And he touches on another point of degrowthers: Is our current system, which produces great inequality, even working for us?

This question resonates in the Global South, where there are fears that the green energy revolution may simply replicate the pattern of exploitation and extraction of excessive existing resources, but with minerals like nickel or cobalt – the key component of batteries – instead of oil.

“The love for growth,” said Felipe Milanez, a professor and degrowth advocate based in the state of Bahia, Brazil, “is very violent and racist, and it has just reproduced a form of local colonialism.”

Degrowth can be difficult to talk about, especially as fears grow about a global recession, with all its pain lost jobs and shattered efforts that lead.

But advocates, who often talk about recessions as symptoms of a broken system, make it clear that they are not promoting austerity, or telling developing countries that want to raise living standards they should not reap the benefits of economic development.

Instead, they talk about sharing more goods, reducing food waste, moving away from privatized transportation or health care and making products last longer, so they don’t have to buy them at such regular intervals. It’s about “thinking in terms of sufficiency,” Cabaña said.

A car drives in New Jersey on April 22, 2022. The United States is the second largest contributor to CO2 emissions.

Adopting degrowth will require a dramatic rethink of the market capitalism that has been embraced by almost every society on the planet in recent decades.

But some proposals may be in the current system. Universal basic income – where everyone receives a lump sum payment regardless of employment status, allowing the economy to reduce its dependence on polluting industries – is often mentioned. As well as a four day work week.

“When people have more economic security and have more economic freedom, they make better decisions,” Cabaña said.

The latest report from the IPCC – the United Nations authority on global warming – states that “solving inequality and many forms of status consumption and focusing on well-being supports efforts to mitigate climate change,” a nod to one of the biggest goals of degrowth. This movement is also name checked.

But degrowth is also the subject of significant opposition, even from climate scholars and activists with the same goals.

“Degrowth people are living a fantasy where they think that if you make the pie smaller, then for some reason, the poorest will get a bigger share,” said Per Espen Stoknes, director of the Center for Green Growth at BI. Norwegian Business School. “That has never happened in history.”

Steam and smoke rise from the Belchatow Power Plant in Rogowiec, Poland.  The station emits about 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Proponents of green growth believe the strategy can work. They quote a promising example of decoupling GDP gains from emissions, from the United Kingdom to Costa Rica, and to the rapid rise in the affordability of renewable energy.

Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft who prioritizes investing in climate innovation, admits that overhauling the global energy system is a Herculean task. But he thinks boosting the accessibility of the right technology can still get there.

Degrowthers know their criticism is controversial, although in some ways, that’s the point. They think a more revolutionary and more revolutionary approach is needed because the United Nations estimates that global warming is caused by between 2.1 and 2.9 degrees Celsius, based on the promise of the current world climate.

“Lack of time [that] left now, more radical changes are needed,” said Kohei Saito, a professor at the University of Tokyo.

Can the growing cohort agree? In 2020, his book on degrowth from a Marxist perspective became a surprise in Japan, where concerns about the consequences of stagnant growth have dominated the country’s politics for years. “Capital in the Anthropocene” has sold almost 500,000 copies.

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