Sunday, June 27, 2010

Economic Degrowth for Sustainability and Equity

Faced with the multiple and complex challenges of climate change and social inequities (among others) due to Western consumption patterns, degrowth is about a voluntary reduction of the size of the economic system, proposing a framework for transformation to a lower and sustainable level and mode of production and consumption. Alongside this reduction of scale, degrowth is also about decolonising the imaginary, shifting values from ‘more is better’ towards qualitative relations and behaviour, as well as decommodifying and pushing back the market rationality that dominates most societies around the world.

In general, de-growth is the state of that which "de-grows", i.e. reduces.

More specifically, de-growth presents two aspects:
  1. As a slogan which calls into question the consensus for growth (including economic growth).
    • It is a question then of a key word to defy, amongst other things, economicism (merchandisation of nature and human relations) and the growth fetish (the belief that any economy should increase the value of it’s exchanges and production to avoid crisis or disaster).
    • The goal today is to launch a debate in society.

  2. As a concrete and voluntary process toward a just and ecologically sustainable society. To expand, de-growth represents a multitude of individual (voluntary simplicity) and collective steps, based on the reduction:
    • of direct appropriation, or via intermediary products or services, of natural resources, i.e. of materials, energy and space (physical de-growth)
    • of the capacity for appropriation of natural resources (economic de-growth). It is too risky that a capacity for appropriation of resources be transformed into an effective appropriation in the form of a "rebound effect".

As a political project in the broad sense, de-growth is directed at individual, local, regional and world levels, and is understood at the same time as sustainable, balanced, democratic, convivial, ecological, social, positive, cultural, equitable, innovative, diversified, targeted, local, global and transitory.

Let us elaborate:
  • Sustainable (supportable) growth in a finite world leads us either to crises or general collapse, to a "modern feudalism", with an increasingly smaller privileged minority continuing "to grow", while misbelieving it will protect itself from crises, from environmental damage and from the poor majority.
  • The idea of this intentional sustainable de-growth is to avoid these unbearable recessions and feudalism, while safeguarding human rights and ecosystems, through:
    • balance (in harmonious proportion). To avoid crises, and so that no one is excluded, three processes must combine simultaneously: reduction of consumption (of the "desire to purchase"), reduction of production, and sharing (of work in particular);
    • democracy (empowerment of all humans). Reorganization at various levels of society and sharing require more democracy: more participatory and more direct.
    • conviviality (taking account the interests of others as much as one’s own), ecological (respect for ecosystems), social (respect between humans), positive, cultural (...) Physical and economic de-growth must leave space for many other growths (mainly qualitative): disinterested relations, time for oneself and for others, equity, minimal public services, health, human rights, women’s and minority rights, nonviolence, human warmth, nature, security, art, perception of the world surrounding us, poetry, empathy and all this in large variety...
    • equity (from the Latin oequitas, equality). It applies in the first place to the 20% most favoured of this world mainly based in industrialized countries, but concerns everyone when it is a question "of decolonizing the imaginary" linked to consumerist and productivist models. It is about a differentiated de-growth, in order to move towards a more just society in industrialized countries and universally;
    • innovation (introducing novelties). It is about a questioning of the current situation (with for example motorways and nuclear power plants..), in order to live with a minimum consumption of resources. Innovation thus integrates the concept of limits, rather than attempts at withdrawal;
      Innovations should be the object of democratic debates and can be refused if they suppress ethical or ecological limits (as may be the case with GMOs, nuclear, arms, nanotechnologies, cloning, etc.).
    • diversification. The goal of de-growth is to reach a sustainable society where each lifestyle is unique, while being potentially generalizable. The urgency and gravity of our eco-social problems implies steps with diverse scopes and time frames. Diversity also includes ideological or spiritual beliefs or non-beliefs, without any one being favoured;
    • targeted intervention. It does not imply de-growth on all levels taken separately. Instead sustainable alternatives (for example organic agriculture, renewable energy, or sustainable transport (bicycles, public transport...)) should grow, but by creating a greater reduction of the unsustainable portions of the economy (e.g.: chemical agriculture, nuclear or fossil fuel energy, automobile or air transport...);
    • local and global foci. Based on open local economies ("neo-localism"), but including a global level. For this reason local de-growth which involves growth elsewhere, or in the future, is not de-growth;
    • transition. De-growth constitutes a stage toward a sustainable, just, ecologically lasting, democratic, participative, responsive to human needs, localised, everywhere culturally, ecologically and ethnically diverse, global, open society - whose capacity of appropriation of natural resources is stabilized on a viable level which allows their renewal. This sustainable society constitutes a "realizable, renewable, constantly renewing Utopia", whose specific characteristics are readjusted repeatedly.