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Defending degrowth at ecomodernism’s home

Defending degrowth at ecomodernism’s home

In June, I was invited to speak at the eight annual Breakthrough Dialogue, an annual invite-only conference where accomplished thinkers debate how to achieve prosperity for humans and nature. The Breakthrough Institute, anecomodernist think-tank, welcomed my presence as a provocateur.

I was to participate in a panel called “Decoupling vs. Degrowth”. My role was the token “degrowther” making my case to a majority “decoupler” crowd. In this context, degrowth is the proposal to intentionally shrink the physical size of wealthy economies, whereas decoupling is the hope that growing economies will at last break free from growing resource use and environmental damage. The former renews environmentalism as a subversive political movement. The latter is firmly post-environmentalist, often associated with support for nuclear energy, industrial agriculture, and artificial technologies. With my mentorGiorgos Kallis, we’ve spent three years working together on a critical analysis of this post-environmentalism that emanates from the Breakthrough Institute and their self-styled ecomodernist friends.

The logo of the 2018 Breakthrough Dialogue, titled “Rising Tides.” Source: The Breakthrough Institute 

The panel and the whole event went well. I think I made a bulletproof case for degrowth. I learned lots about geoengineering, carbon capture, agricultural modernization, and other topics from brilliant thought leaders – whom Noam Chomsky might call the intelligentsia – both through their panel discussions and informal conversations. Talking with journalists and scientists who had never engaged with degrowth before made the Dialogues worthwhile. I expected to feel like a visiting team player in a hostile professional sports arena, but really it was more like being a foreigner who people are interested in but don’t always know how to interact with.

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