Can A Degrowth Economy Save Us From An Environmental Crisis?

There are no two ways about it- climate change is real and we will have to change the way we live if we want to put up a winning fight. Whether it is preparing for poor weather conditions, changing our diet, or using cleaner energy, each small step has an impactful effect in curtaining global warming. 

But, what if there was a larger solution? What if we adopted a slower-growing economy as a means to combat climate change?

Let’s find out. 

What Is Degrowth?

Degrowth is a concept that advocates for the reduction in certain areas of production to reduce or limit its detrimental effects on the environment. It puts forward a new economic model that can help to tackle the way our current economies use natural resources and challenges the archaic notion of how “economic success” is measured using Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Timothee Parrique, an environmental economist explains the concept of degrowth in his 2019 paper, “Decoupling debunked: Why green growth is not enough.” He compares our economic systems to people with metabolisms – as an adolescent we need to intake a lot of food which results in the production of lots of waste, but in the process makes us big and strong. But when you cross into adulthood, your metabolism slows down and you need a diet that is balanced and sustains your body’s current requirements. 

This when viewed in the context of economies, he says that though our economic systems have advanced into adulthood they are still continuing with a diet that’s fit for an adolescent. 

This translates into some serious issues with the economy such as income inequality, poverty, overworked workforce, rising costs of living with stagnant pay, etc. This means that if our economies continue to consume our resources at this rate, we’re soon going to run out of places to put the waste that we’ve generated. 

Does Degrowth Mean Economic Stagnation? 

No, degrowth in no way means economic recession or stagnation. Parrique equates an economic recession to a crash diet where you consume very few calories to lose weight. But as soon as your crash diet is over, you go back to your unhealthy habits, sometimes at an even higher intensity. 

Degrowth, on the other hand, is finding a sustainable, healthy diet and sticking to it to see results gradually over time.

Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist at the London School of Economics, adds that degrowth need not be applied to everything all at once. Certain economies such as renewable energy, meat alternatives, public transit, etc., need to keep growing for a healthy sustainable future. But on the other hand, there are industries (private jets, industrial beef, fast fashion, automobiles, etc.) that only exist to exclusively pump up corporate profits and elite consumption. Not only are these totally irrelevant to a majority of human beings across the globe but they are the biggest reason for the climate crisis we are in today. 

The ultimate aim of a degrowth economy is to abandon growth in terms of numbers but instead focus on reorganizing the economy to improve the livelihoods and well-being of people instead of capital consumption. 

What Is The Future Of A Degrowth Economy?

A common misconception that surrounds the degrowth economy is that many people wrongly perceive it to be halting innovation. Rather, it simply means regulating the resources and emissions we use. 

Some countries such as Scotland, Iceland, and New Zealand have already adopted the degrowth ideal of measuring social wellbeing over GDP growth. Environmental ecologists are hopeful that other larger economies such as the US also follow suit and focus on their people’s needs instead of capital consumption. 

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