The Stirrings of a "Degrowth Movement"

If economic growth and planetary survival are on an inexorable collision course — as Peak Oil, global warming, species extinctions and many other trends suggest — then what is the path forward?

In April 2008, more than 140 researchers in economics, the environmental sciences and social sciences from 30 countries converged on Paris for the first conference on “Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity.” Now the proceedings from that epochal event are available online as a pdf file. The 322-page document is probably one of the best single collections of timely, authoritative writings on “steady state” or “no-growth economics.”

The core question of the conference — and of a proto-movement with strong support in France, Italy and other European nations — is how to imagine a world that is not based on indefinite economic and material growth. “Is degrowth of industrialised countries possible in the present context?” asks the conference website. “What are the social and institutional conditions required for a fair and sustainable economic de-growth process?”

Of course, merely asking this heretical question immediately raises a host of additional questions: How should progress in achieving degrowth be measured? How does the global South regard degrowth? What effects would degrowth have on consumption, production and the distribution of wealth? How could degrowth, social equity and sustainability be achieved in a coordinated way?

In the context of conventional economics, even asking questions like these is considered incendiary. The fact that there is now a committed international corps of thinkers collaborating in trying to answer such questions is a hopeful sign indeed.

Browsing the conference proceedings yields a number of interesting articles:

The planet’s various ecological crises will surely have to get worse before the premises of the Degrowth conference will receive a fair and open hearing. Still, I am encouraged that a degrowth conversation has begun. I know that readers of OntheCommons.org are not timid or parochial, so you will probably enjoy the formal declaration that was ratified by conference participants:

We, participants in the Economic De-Growth For Ecological Sustainability And Social Equity Conference held in Paris on April 18-19, 2008 make the following declaration:

1. Economic growth (as indicated by increasing real GDP or GNP)

2. Despite improvements in the ecological efficiency of the

3. Global economic growth has not succeeded in reducing poverty

4. As the established principles of physics and ecology demonstrate,

5. The best available scientific evidence indicates that the global

6. There is also mounting evidence that global growth in production

7. By using more than their legitimate share of global environmental

8. If we do not respond to this situation by bringing global economic

We therefore call for a paradigm shift from the general and unlimited pursuit of economic growth to a concept of “right-sizing” the global and national economies.

1. At the global level, “right-sizing” means reducing the global

2. In countries where the per capita footprint is greater than the

3. In countries where severe poverty remains, right-sizing implies

4. This will require increasing economic activity in some cases; but

The paradigm shift involves degrowth in wealthy parts of the world.

1. The process by which right-sizing may be achieved in the

2. We define degrowth as a voluntary transition towards a just,

3. The objectives of degrowth are to meet basic human needs and

4. Degrowth requires a transformation of the global economic system

5. Once right-sizing has been achieved through the process of

6. In general, the process of degrowth is characterised by:

— an emphasis on quality of life rather than quantity of consumption;

— the fulfilment of basic human needs for all;

— societal change based on a range of diverse individual and

— substantially reduced dependence on economic activity, and an

— encouragement of self-reflection, balance, creativity,

— observation of the principles of equity, participatory democracy,

7. Progress towards degrowth requires immediate steps towards efforts

Originally published by David Bollier at Onthecommons.org under a Creative Commons Attribution license.