Degrowth & The Future Of Society

An Economic Model That Accounts For Climate Science

degrowthThe belief that economic theories overrule environmental science is an obstacle for any system that would allow humanity to keep living on this planet. The chances of humanity addressing and overcoming this obstacle seem small. The concept of degrowth counters the idea that increasing consumption undoubtedly benefits humanity.

Separating public welfare from economic growth will take sustained efforts to redesign economies. They will need to account for the actual costs of natural resources and the amount of resources a society can harvest without reducing future harvests of those resources.   

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the current measure of economic performance. The more economic activity the healthier the society. A hurricane that causes billions of dollars in damage is good for GDP. A borrowed library book or a community garden on the other hand adds nothing to the GDP. A healthy GDP is a growing GDP.


The GDP growth model needs to be reevaluated by society to reflect the reality of resource-limits and material disparities across the world. Questions of fairness need to guide this reevaluation. What would a fair distribution of resources across the world look like? How much space and resources can humanity realistically exploit before it hinders the survival of the rest of life on Earth? And how many resources does a person need to survive? To thrive?

Definition Of Degrowth

The academics working on degrowth define it like this:

“Sustainable degrowth is a downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet. 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. Such societies will no longer have to “grow or die.”

degrowth“Material accumulation will no longer hold a prime position in the population’s cultural imaginary. The primacy of efficiency will be substituted by a focus on sufficiency, and innovation will no longer focus on technology for technology’s sake but will concentrate on new social and technical arrangements that will enable us to live convivially and frugally. Degrowth does not only challenge the centrality of GDP as an overarching policy objective but proposes a framework for transformation to a lower and sustainable level of production and consumption, a shrinking of the economic system to leave more space for human cooperation and ecosystems.”

There will be three Research & Degrowth conferences in 2018. One in Sweden in August, another in Mexico in June, and another in Belgium in September.

They discuss how to implement degrowth strategies and how to fight the growth paradigm. The website mentions the perspectives people come at degrowth from. They ask questions about fighting the infrastructure that thrives on growth. Some scholars look at pushing new infrastructures that would facilitate degrowth such as permaculture and bike paths. One question is where action should come from: the local, national, or international level? Also, should action be collective or individual? 

These questions need to be asked. Degrowth will be instituted on earth with or without a conscious effort from us. The difference would be how strong of a society humanity is able to retain as we come to grips with our overconsumption. Anyone who hopes for a bright future for the species needs to either get behind the degrowth movement or start figuring out how to use magic to create the resources we need.

For more information on Research & Degrowth visit their website.


Notes from a degrowth panel at the 2016 conference in Budapest.

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