Degrowth can work

“The global economy is structured around growth — the idea that firms, industries and nations must increase production every year, regardless of whether it is needed. This dynamic is driving climate change and ecological breakdown. High-income economies, and the corporations and wealthy classes that dominate them, are mainly responsible for this problem and consume energy and materials at unsustainable rates.”

Researchers in ecological economics call for a different approach — degrowth. Degrowth policies to support such a strategy include the following.

Reduce less-necessary production. This means scaling down destructive sectors such as fossil fuels, mass-produced meat and dairy, fast fashion, advertising, cars and aviation, including private jets. At the same time, there is a need to end the planned obsolescence of products, lengthen their lifespans and reduce the purchasing power of the rich.

Improve public services. It is necessary to ensure universal access to high-quality health care, education, housing, transportation, Internet, renewable energy and nutritious food. Universal public services can deliver strong social outcomes without high levels of resource use.

Aubagne in France is one of almost 100 places worldwide offering free public transport.
Credit: Viennaslide/Alamy

Introduce a green jobs guarantee. This would train and mobilize labour around urgent social and ecological objectives, such as installing renewables, insulating buildings, regenerating ecosystems and improving social care. A programme of this type would end unemployment and ensure a just transition out of jobs for workers in declining industries or ‘sunset sectors’, such as those contingent on fossil fuels. It could be paired with a universal income policy.

Getting children into primary schools is within reach, but most of the Sustainable Development Goals will not be met by 2030 on current trends.
Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty

Reduce working time. This could be achieved by lowering the retirement age, encouraging part-time working or adopting a four-day working week. These measures would lower carbon emissions and free people to engage in care and other welfare-improving activities. They would also stabilize employment as less-necessary production declines.

Enable sustainable development. This requires cancelling unfair and unpayable debts of low- and middle-income countries, curbing unequal exchange in international trade and creating conditions for productive capacity to be reoriented towards achieving social objectives.

Policies that support degrowth include the provision of high-quality, affordable public housing, such as that in Vienna.
Credit: Rafael Wiedenmeier/Getty

Strong social movements are necessary. Forms of decision-making that are decentralized, small-scale and direct, such as citizens’ assemblies, would help to highlight public views about more equitable economies.

Lead author Donella Meadows wrote that the book The Limits to Growth “was written not to predict doom but to challenge people to find ways of living that are consistent with the laws of the planet”.
Credit: Alamy

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