From Growth to Degrowth: a Brief History
Live simply so others may simply live.
Degrowth challenges both capitalism and socialism, and the political left and right. It questions any civilization that conceives freedom and emancipation as something achieved by tearing oneself away from and dominating nature, and that sacrifices individual and collective autonomy on the altar of unlimited production and the consumption of material wealth
Degrowth is not an economic concept: it involves the whole of society, its representations and values. It questions the Western norm of progress and its imposition on the entire planet. Degrowth is based on the relocalization of activities, the redistribution of wealth, recovering the meaning of work, convivial and soft technologies, slowing down and giving power back to grassroots communities.
Degrowth is the expression of several currents of critical thought: the critique of the market and globalization; of excess; of technology and techno-science; of anthropocentrism and instrumental rationality; of homo economicus and utilitarianism.
Degrowth is embodied by the social movements that reject acceleration, economic and financial globalization, the massive extraction of natural resources, the blind headlong rush on energy issues, advertising and consumerism, and social and environmental injustice.
Critics of growth, particularly those in left-wing circles, are often portrayed as denying the humanity of the peoples of the South. This amounts to saying that growth is founded in nature and constitutes the only way humans can free themselves from a sub-human condition. The dehumanization of Western societies expose, in part, the fallacy of such arguments.
Several social movements are part of the degrowth matrix, even though they do not necessarily claim the notion as theirs: the ones focusing on North-South relations and the pillaging of resources; farmers movements that reject productivism and promote “peasant agriculture”; movements fighting to cancel the debt that forces countries to export excessive amounts of raw materials at the expense of ecosystems; movements to reclaim land; the commons movement; movements for access to water; environmental justice movements; resistance to unnecessary large-scale projects (megadams, airports, highways, high speed trains, giant shopping centers); movements to decentralize energy and in favor of transition towns, Slow Food, Slow Science, Slow Cities, low tech instead of high tech, deglobalization, local food and the broader localization movement.
These resistance struggles and experiences are already tracing the path to other possible worlds. They are initiating a kind of change from below without which no social and political transformation is even thinkable. Is that enough? Where can we find leverage for broader transformations? While it is relatively simple to understand and agree on the need to change our vision, it is difficult to imagine what the transition towards a post-growth society looks like. This raises numerous questions. Degrowth of what, where and how? What kind of diversified policies and on what scale? How do we envisage solidarity and justice without economic growth? What are the milestones? What steps should we take? How can we organize industrial reconversion?
The alternatives to growth and productivism must be complementary at all levels: individual, local, national and global.