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Degrowth and law – how to combine these concepts?

Reconciling degrowth and law isn’t always easy, given the anarchist underpinnings and anti-statist leanings of some in the degrowth community.  One vision of a degrowth world is of decentralized, autonomous, convivial communities of people in tune with their supporting ecosystems, consuming no more than they need, sharing as much as possible and treating each other with compassion, fairness and mutual respect.  No central state power, no police, no borders, no masters and servants, no conspicuous consumption, no oppression.  This, however, doesn’t necessarily require a world without law, just a world with law that is much different from the forms of law that prevail in today’s rapacious and unjust world. Humanity’s overarching challenge is to learn how to stop individually and collectively doing harmful things we are used to and conditioned to doing.  Meeting that challenge, through degrowth or otherwise, requires some form of law.  For reasons that follow, I propose that that the emerging field of ecological law is well suited to help guide a transformation to degrowth societies.

Contemporary law, including environmental law, is anathema to degrowth. Dominant forms of law today are tied to hierarchical structures centered around states and private property, and contemporary law is a fierce handmaiden to many aspects of the prevailing neoliberal order, including capitalism, that degrowth challenges.  Environmental law is part of this contemporary law.  In calling for ecological law that transforms contemporary law, the Ecological Law and Governance Association’s (ELGA) Oslo Manifesto (2016) notes that the roots of environmental law in anthropocentrism, human-nature dualism and individualism has rendered it fragmented, reductionist, blind to ecological interdependencies and weak in comparison to law that protects private interests and state sovereignty.

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