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Portrayals of Degrowth in the Press: ‘Free market magic’ vs ‘Radical doomsayers’

In October 2020, I analysed press coverage of degrowth in Western European (English language) newspapers and magazines between January 2015 and October 2020.  Using media theory concepts such as agenda setting and framing, my research explored how degrowth is being considered in the press, particularly as a potential response to climate change.

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Are you a fanatic, a fetishist or a member of a cult?  If you are a supporter of degrowth, then you are likely to be portrayed that way in the press.  My research found that degrowth is not yet on the media agenda, except in a very limited and mostly dismissive way.  The English-language press is not informing the public thoughtfully of alternatives to our current political-economic system or the impact of unfettered growth on the planet.

Greta Thunberg gave a stirring speech to the United Nations in 2019, challenging the leaders of the world to think differently about their approach to climate change.  In her direct style, she delivered a stinging rebuke of governments’ emphasis on continuous economic growth, telling the gathering:  “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”

Thunberg echoes the degrowth movement – an increasing body of academics and activists, who argue that economic growth cannot be decoupled from increased greenhouse gas emissions.  Instead, they advocate for degrowth as a potential solution to climate change.  An open letter proposing putting degrowth principles at the root of a new economy attracted over 2,000 signatories and has been translated into 18 languages.  Academic interest in degrowth appears to have increased significantly in recent years.

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