Growth For Good Means Decades Scaling Back

Selective degrowth recognizes that society needs to manage a massive contraction of the global economy while expanding global access to basic needs, reducing greenhouse gas output, and cleaning the environment. Scholars pushing this economic philosophy argue that production should be designed globally and manufactured locally. This would reduce the amount of consumption and waste by leveraging communications to spread technological innovations, and local networks for manufacturing to reduce the environmental costs of production.   

A robust response to climate change would break the paradigm of economic growth by challenging the idea that infinite growth is possible on a planet of finite resources. No company from the modern economy would survive if the realistic financial value of natural resources and the disruption of ecosystems were accounted for in their finances. Clean water, clean soil, and clean air have more long-term value for a community than the ores extracted or the commodities produced through business operations that pollute the water, soil, and air.

The selective degrowth crowd provides anti-establishmentarians and environmentalists with a positive, practical political argument against industrial capitalism, more than simply burn it down. Selective degrowth calls for a controlled burning of the economic detritus littering society to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore the environment.  It is a demand for a response to climate change that reflects the urgency the climate data recommends. Advocates simultaneously support the growth of new institutions and industries designed to address crises of climate change, inequality, and democratic governance.

The group Research&Design held the first Degrowth conference in 2008, Paris. There have been five conferences since, the last being in Budapest in 2016. The group has developed a platform of political actions to institute planned degrowth. Platform items include encouraging local currencies, increasing the availability and use of common property, making democratic decision making more representational, reducing working hours, making businesses smaller and less profit-driven, instituting innovative housing solutions for homelessness, introducing a Universal Basic Income, embracing environmentally-friendly energy and transportation infrastructure, and limiting advertisements in public spaces. Their goals look at a current system and explore new ideas for its structure that can help solve several problems.

The abundance of personal cars would necessarily end if exposed to a society oriented toward degrowth. Roads, highways, parking lots, and clean air are the price of convenient transportation for those who can afford it. A clean, affordable, efficient public transportation system would help clean the air, save space for more efficient use, and build community by bringing people into contact more often. Applying degrowth thinking to development can address many issues at once. It is easy to scoff at this type of speculation as utopian thinking, but the line of thought is also rational.

Our society runs on debunked economic models. The unlimited growth model has held on through decades of critique based solely on convenience. The model has worked for so long and it did result in decreased poverty levels across the developing world. Measures like Gross Domestic Product were difficult to establish, and they make things sound simple so the economists are reticent to invalidate them. The model, like the Earth’s resources, will not last forever. Future generations will scrap it and curse their predecessors’ short-sightedness as they establish a society focused on selective degrowth.

Selective degrowth in the USA would drastically change the American economic landscape. Personal cars and the infrastructure surrounding them might be replaced by high-speed-rail, trams, buses, and bikes. The financial world might revert to marginally-profitable, community-based loans and savings accounts. Big agriculture might be overcome by permaculture farms using the best methods to grow abundant food and feed the species.

New technologies would be implemented where and when they were needed and this globally designed, locally manufactured culture would help the world to drastically reduce our environmental impact, and begin to restore the ecosystems whose needs were neglected through ignorance and the mechanisms of industrial capitalism.

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