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Reprinted from www.theecologist.org with author permission
Many of the scientists here have calculated that we are looking at a collapse of society within this century if we continue on this growth path
Ten years ago only a few professors and some activists used the word "degrowth" as alternative to the neoliberal model of perpetual economic growth. Today, "degrowth economics" is an activist academic discipline with dozens of top-quality peer reviewed papers, widely translated books like Degrowth. A Vocabulary for a new era and massive bi-annual conferences - like the ongoing 2016 Budapest Degrowth Conference and Week.
At least one thing unites those activists and scholars: they all agree that the basic assumption of the necessity of economic growth is fatally flawed and in urgent need of correction simply because it undermines the conditions for humanity to thrive.
Sustainable degrowth challenges inequalities and the environmental destruction caused by a growth-oriented development paradigm; it calls for a downscaling of production and consumption, but also a rethinking of human and planetary wellbeing. It calls for a future where societies live within their ecological means, with open, localized economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institutions.
Degrowth is relevant in North and South alike
To get to this degrowth society, we first need to recognise that we live in a neoliberal dystopia. Then we need to build new narratives and defend those that have been silenced or swept away, like those of repressed Indigenous communities. Then, we need to critically articulate them in diversity and solidarity.
This process caught on in Europe in the past years and the degrowth movement is now finding allies beyond Europe as well. Federico Demaria, researcher at Research and Degrowth and co-organiser of the conference says: "We don't want to export degrowth. It started in Europe and mostly applies to the so-called developed (or industrialized) countries. But we are discussing the synergies between the degrowth movements in Europe, the global environmental justice movement and others. An example is the growing alliance with the climate justice movement, as shown during the Climate Camp in Germany in these last two years at least. We all say - we need system change, not climate change."
Daniela Del Bene, Phd researcher at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, says the degrowth debate is also relevant in the Global South as there too "growth" has not necessarily meant improvement of people's living conditions. Think of expropriation of land for mining, the consolidation of arrogant elites detaining political power and huge wealth divides defended by violence and criminalization of environmental justice activists. This is not due to bad management or unfortunate accidents it's the necessary condition for the "easy growth" of some elites.
Ashish Kothari, Indian activist and author of Churning the Earth, voiced a very similar pro-degrowth argument. He said that the focus on GDP growth in India since around 1991 "has not only not helped but further marginalised those who were self-sufficient before."
He calculated that in India, in the past half century over 60 million were physically displaced while some 100 to 200 million people stayed in places where land was taken away from them. This comes on top of the 300 to 400 million who were already in the margins. "You also have to realise that in India, only 7% of all jobs are in the formal sector and that the whole GDP growth was there in that little bubble, often at the expense of the rest. We figured out that in the past 20 years GDP growth in India created only 3 million new jobs while 120 new people needed a job."
But Ashish Kothari has been very active in uniting different communities around India fighting for a different economy. According to Kothari, no resistance can win without an alternative vision. "From the bottom-up, a new world view is created and it's based on values like generosity, respecting diversity, ecological resilience, equality and justice."
A different kind of democracy
Jason Hickel from the London School of Economics recently wrote for The Ecologist that we must end growth - not just to save our planet but to refocus the economy on meeting human needs. Many academics in Budapest would agree and add that it's not just a moral question but a scientific question: what if the world's best political compromise, the so called "green growth" advocated in many UN circles, is physically impossible according to hard core natural science?