Decrease to live better on a planet whose habitability is deteriorating

The world revolves around the idea that we can always grow: businesses, nations, economies, individuals. Productivism and consumerism linked to our economic system have degraded the habitability of our planet for this sacrosanct growth, without making inequalities between humans disappear. We become ever more cogs in the great machine that produces goods.

One of the most read articles of 2023 from the famous magazine Nature focused on a concept that is gaining more and more followers: degrowth. This is the idea that high-income countries could prosper and reduce inequality while using less energy and generating less waste. Proponents of degrowth believe that the perpetual increase in pecuniary wealth does not necessarily lead to greater collective well-being. What if we could be happier without seeking economic growth at all costs?

The article of Nature, written by a collective of ecological economics researchers in late 2022, argues that it would not only be desirable, but feasible to slow down. We should first reduce the most destructive sectors of the economy such as fossil fuels, private jets or mass meat production. It would also be necessary to train a sustainable workforce in “green” jobs, such as the installation of renewable energies, the insulation of buildings or the regeneration of ecosystems, for a transition of jobs from one sector to another. ‘other.

It would not be enough to shrink the economy: it would also be necessary to reduce working hours by encouraging part-time work or the four-day week and lowering the retirement age. In terms of international solidarity, unjust or illegal debts should be canceled to reduce the tax burden on countries in the Global South. A big program.

The objective is not to put our economies into recession, but to voluntarily and collectively exit the race for economic growth, to try to build post-growth societies which would be more sustainable, more just and more democratic. For Yves-Marie Abraham, who conducts research on this theme at HEC Montréal, the road map to follow to get out of this crazy race consists of three points: produce less, share more, decide together.

Sustainable development or decline?

According to the “growth objectors”, solutions that simply aim to reform the current economic model such as sustainable development or green growth are just band-aids on a gaping wound. To date, these attempts have had only minimal ecological or inequalities effects. Growth, even low growth, inexorably results in environmental degradation.

Moreover, not everyone can decrease equally, especially if we take into account the ecological debt of industrialized countries towards the countries of the Global South, a debt for having destroyed the planet for their growth. The text in Nature argues that we should not let less industrialized countries depend on others for technology and energy, but allow them controlled growth. But they should not copy the productivist model of more industrialized countries, at the risk of destroying the planet even more.

These ideas which seemed radical just a few years ago are enjoying renewed interest following the forced pause of the pandemic. Recognized institutions are starting to promote it, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. A recent study carried out in 34 European countries revealed that around 61% of the population of these countries were in favor of post-growth.

According to the American sociologist Erik Olin Wright, a replacement society must meet three criteria: desirability (lead to desirable social change), viability (work both in theory and in practice) and feasibility (be feasible depending on the powers in place).

Obviously, it is desirable to slow down a little. When it comes to viability, there is a long way to go. We will have to at least reduce our dependence on non-renewable resources, tax the wealthy, regulate polluting companies, limit profits to redistribute to workers, and so goes the wind. The authors of Nature still manage to advance the debate to prove the viability of degrowth. It remains to prove its feasibility, which will require making the political forces in place accept the premises of degrowth. Easier said than done.

However, it is not necessary to wait for the great evening of the revolution to begin this decline. Many concrete initiatives are part of this perspective, whether it is the movement of slow cities, local currencies, the “commons” or the reduction of working hours. Taking part and supporting them is already a way of setting a course towards a post-growth world. It also remains to imagine the end of the road: what could societies freed from the burden of the race for growth and desirable by all look like? We just need to put our imaginations to work.

To watch on video

source site-40