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Presidents Day: Carter’s Prescient Farewell Address in 1981

Presidents Day: Carter’s Prescient Farewell Address in 1981

Regardless of our opinions about President Carter and his legacy, his Farewell Address is worthy of our attention and study.

On Presidents Day 2021, I invite you to read/watch President Carter’s Farewell Address from 40 years ago. As a Washington outsider, Carter was relentlessly mocked and undermined by the Establishment, as insiders’ loathing of outsiders knows no bounds.

In a similar fashion, the loathing of the corrupt and self-absorbed for the faithful aspiring to better world despite our weaknesses and flaws also knows no bounds, and so the establishment insiders that run the nation had no use for Carter other than as a handy whipping post.

President Carter was not the only outsider president reviled by the Washington elites, of course; outsiders of both parties draw the fierce fire of a corrupt Establishment fearful of exposure.

Although many reckon it good sport to make fun of President Carter’s initiatives (along with his grin, hair, accent, etc. etc. etc.), a strong case can be made that he was the first and only 21st century President the nation has elected. Every president since, regardless of party or ideology or canned speeches (Soaring Rhetoric (TM), has been embedded in a continuation of the 20th century economy, politics and Imperial Project.

Carter was the first and only president to address DeGrowth, though the word had yet to be coined: DeGrowth is the idea that resources would eventually become scarce and thus unaffordable, and rather then pursue the insane fantasy of eternal growth on a finite planet, a new arrangement that did more with less would be needed.

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Degrowing for peace? Tackling structural violence and climate resilience

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda sets out global priorities, calling on countries to take “transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path”. The Agenda seeks to strengthen universal peace as part of a holistic agenda, bringing together social, environmental, and economic goals for sustainable development. Globally and in our local communities, we face complex challenges of how to address these different facets of sustainability.This historic decision is far reaching, including not least goals to build sustainable peace and take urgent climate action. Climate change is both an ecological and political problem, bringing broad impacts for human societies, including negative consequences for health, infrastructure, and security. These impacts have consequences for peace, affecting dynamics of violent conflict and (re)producing situations of vulnerability (consider for example humanitarian consequences of climate change). Climate change makes it clear that achieving peace entails not only ending violent wars, but also addressing structural violence – systemic harms perpetrated by situations of vulnerability or privilege shaped by societal power structures.

In a recent article published in Sustainability Science, I explore how climate action and peace can be advanced simultaneously. Finding an answer, I suggest, lies in making space to imagine alternatives to our current sustainability approach: transitioning to a different economic system that focuses on people rather than profit, foregrounding broad understandings of peace, and pursuing societal change. Seeds of such change, lie with degrowth, activities and policies that recenter the economy on ecological and human well-being. Examples of degrowth provide a starting point for considering concrete steps toward tackling structural violence, fostering climate resilience, and advancing peace.

Peace, climate, and the economy

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 The Degrowth platform of the CUP for Catalonia

(Adapted from a previous version in Galician published at El Salto. Translated and adapted by Mark Burton and Salvador Lladó.)“By speaking of degrowth, you don’t win elections”, said Juan Carlos Monedero, one of the most charismatic members of the Spanish political party Podemos, a few years ago. But the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy; Catalan political party) does not seem afraid to present a degrowth program in the next Catalan elections.

In environmentalist circles, the position of many political leaders is often seen as cynical. The reason for that opinion is that despite being aware that the civilizing cul-de-sac in which we find ourselves would require policies for an organized and fair degrowth in the economic sphere, they end up arguing in defense of the maintenance of policies aimed at permanently increasing the value of Gross Domestic Product. Unfortunately, the vast majority of politicians still believe that people would not accept alternative policies and thereby they would be condemned to electoral collapse.  This would be the so-called Carter effect, recalling the electoral defeat of the former US president a few years after a televised speech about the need for sacrifice for the sake of sustainability.  However, there is a political force in Catalunya (recently also with representation in the Spanish Congress)) that has for several years been moving in a very different direction. Thus, including in its electoral programs what they recognize in both their own internal debate and with the scientific and activist community, the need to imagine economies beyond growth.

This is the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy), which has just presented a program for its joint candidacy with the Guanyem Catalunya (a small, radical municipalist party), which expressly includes what are explicitly degrowth proposals, within the section on “Ecosocial Transition” as:

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Material challenges of bicycle manufacturing in a post-growth world

The idea of a world based on active transport, and on cycling in particular, is a recurring theme in thinking on degrowth. This was one of the proposed transformative paths of the Manifesto of the Mouvement québécois pour une décroissance conviviale[1] and this notion also plays an important role in the reflections of the Degrowth.info group, based in Germany[2]. The mainstream media also associate degrowth with cycling.[3]

Most degrowth advocates agree that the bicycle is a useful and desirable tool in a post-growth world, although some favour the promotion of walking.[4] One of the precursors of the philosophy of degrowth, Ivan Illich, describes the bicycle as the ecological machine par excellence:

The bicycle and the motor vehicle were invented by the same generation, but they are symbols of two opposing uses of modern advancement. […] It is a wonderful tool that takes full advantage of metabolic energy to speed up locomotion. On flat ground, the cyclist goes three or four times faster than the pedestrian, using five times less calories.[5]

French engineer Philippe Bihouix, for his part, sees it as an example of a low-tech machine, despite the relative technical complexity involved in  its manufacture. Even a simple model, he points out, contains several hundred technically complex basic parts, which are difficult to produce locally. The processes include metallurgy of alloys and different metals, the machining and fitting of parts, vulcanizing tire rubber, producing anti-corrosion paints, and grease for the chain. Once built, however, “it is clearly possible for ordinary people to fully understand how it works, to tinker with it […] to keep it in good condition for many years, not to say almost indefinitely”[6] (translation).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 “The Necessary Alternative to Growth is Degrowth”

A Review of Degrowth by Giorgos Kallis (2018)

In Europe, “degrowth” is actually a movement, while in the US it is barely mentionable in polite society. To question “growth” would be the death knell for any serious politician. So what’s going on here? We live in the same world and face the same reality of “limits-to-growth” – a very popular concept in the US 50 years ago.

Well, since Earth Day, 1970, there has been a lot of “water under the bridge”, to be sure, but more to the point “oil in the pipeline”, especially in petro-states like the US. We may not be as dependent on oil as the other two big petro-states – the Saudis and the Russians – but it still skews our politics and our culture far more than most people realize. But Europe is not so well endowed with fossil fuels. That’s exactly the point of reading the European scholar Giorgos Kallis on degrowth. He’s not sidelined for painting a more sober view of the 21st century:

“Either we find a way to stop those who are plundering the earth and share the limited planet that we have, or we will enter a New Dark Age of humanity… There will never be enough until we share what there is… Degrowth marks a ruthless critique of the dogma of economic growth”.

Note the utopian element, which Kallis readily acknowledges: It’s not just about long-term economic contraction – that we must learn to live within our planetary means. That will happen one way or another anyway. He calls us to do all we can to avoid both catastrophe and plutocracy – the brutal dog-eat-dog and win-lose scenarios. Think of his solution as “resilience” plus “sharing”. And forget about the fiction of “green growth”.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Reflecting on the emerging strategy debate in the degrowth movement

This piece will close the ten-part degrowth.info series on strategy, highlighting some of the key insights and charting the development of the strategy debate within degrowth. We will then offer some insights on how our own understanding of strategy and degrowth has changed over the last two years since we first urged the community to engage with this topic more. Finally, we will consider the promising idea of a Degrowth International and offer some potential pathways forward for the degrowth movement.

The blog series on the role of strategy in the degrowth movement was sparked by an initial piece authored by some of us who discussed the topic in 2018 at the degrowth summer school in Barcelona. We were frustrated with the lack of serious consideration in the degrowth movement of the how questionOur thoughts were influenced by critiques from scholars such as Blühdorn, which argued that degrowth did not adequately consider why transformation has not happened so far (and why it seems unlikely to soon). Thus, the title of our original piece which sparked this series attempted to highlight this gap in degrowth thinking: Beyond Visions and Projects: the need for a debate on strategy in the degrowth movement.

We argued that degrowth had an excellent analysis of multi-dimensional crisis and was able to offer a desirable utopian alternative, but had been unable to coherently articulate a strategy (or strategies) for bringing this into reality. Furthermore, we argued that there were lingering contradictions and tensions within the degrowth movement in regards to perspectives on transformation, which was one of the reasons this question had been avoided; it risked fracturing the movement.

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Pausing the game of growth

I feel personally guilty for the pandemic. At the beginning of March, I published my PhD dissertation “The Political Economy of Degrowth”, whose introduction ended with the following words: “Let me invite you into a wild thought experiment. Imagine that in one year, it will all stop. In precisely 365 days, the economy will come to a halt. Imagine the economy gone and all of us frozen in social time, suspended between the past and the future. A societal time is up.”

I may have been wrong about forecast (not a surprise, I was trained as an economist), but my thought experiment has never felt as real as in the three months I spent under total lockdown in France. In the first quarter of 2020, French GDP decreased by 5.8%. This is the steepest fall since the beginning of national accounting back in 1949, almost four times as large as the one experienced during the first quarter of 2009 in the midst of the financial crisis. During the lockdown, 12 million private sector workers were put in technical unemployment, almost half of the working population. This is big. Economy-wise, it was the equivalent of turning off the light.

Left at home (unemployed), I found myself reflecting on this exceptional event and what it means for the future. This is what I came up with: the economy is a bit like a game. There are players, rules, objectives, and, ultimately, winners and losers. In today’s economy (let’s call it capitalism for short), points are counted in money and the goal of the game is to gather as many of them as possible.

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The Political Economy of Deep Decarbonization: Tradable Energy Quotas for Energy Descent Futures

This paper reviews and analyses a decarbonization policy called the Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) system developed by David Fleming. The TEQs system involves rationing fossil fuel energy use for a nation on the basis of either a contracting carbon emission budget or scarce fuel availability, or both simultaneously, distributing budgets equitably amongst energy-users. Entitlements can be traded to incentivize demand reduction and to maximize efficient use of the limited entitlements. We situate this analysis in the context of Joseph Tainter’s theory about the development and collapse of complex societies. Tainter argues that societies become more socio-politically and technologically ‘complex’ as they solve the problems they face and that such complexification drives increased energy use. For a society to sustain itself, therefore, it must secure the energy needed to solve the range of societal problems that emerge. However, what if, as a result of deep decarbonization, there is less energy available in the future not more? We argue that TEQs offers a practical means of managing energy descent futures. The policy can facilitate controlled reduction of socio-political complexity via processes of ‘voluntary simplification’ (the result being ‘degrowth’ or controlled contraction at the scale of the physical economy).

1. Introduction

In this paper we offer a new analysis of the policy of Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs), developed by David Fleming [1]. The TEQs system involves rationing fossil fuel energy use for a nation on the basis of either a contracting carbon emission budget or scarce fuel availability, or both simultaneously, distributing budgets equitably amongst energy-users. The goal is to equitably meet climate change mitigation targets [2] and/or fossil energy depletion realities [3,4] within a nationally-agreed and cooperative framework, in a manner ‘green growth’ strategies seem unable to achieve [5].

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Political Economy of Deep Decarbonization: Tradable Energy Quotas for Energy Descent Futures

Abstract

This paper reviews and analyses a decarbonization policy called the Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) system developed by David Fleming. The TEQs system involves rationing fossil fuel energy use for a nation on the basis of either a contracting carbon emission budget or scarce fuel availability, or both simultaneously, distributing budgets equitably amongst energy-users. Entitlements can be traded to incentivize demand reduction and to maximize efficient use of the limited entitlements. We situate this analysis in the context of Joseph Tainter’s theory about the development and collapse of complex societies. Tainter argues that societies become more socio-politically and technologically ‘complex’ as they solve the problems they face and that such complexification drives increased energy use. For a society to sustain itself, therefore, it must secure the energy needed to solve the range of societal problems that emerge. However, what if, as a result of deep decarbonization, there is less energy available in the future not more? We argue that TEQs offers a practical means of managing energy descent futures. The policy can facilitate controlled reduction of socio-political complexity via processes of ‘voluntary simplification’ (the result being ‘degrowth’ or controlled contraction at the scale of the physical economy).

1. Introduction

In this paper we offer a new analysis of the policy of Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs), developed by David Fleming [1]. The TEQs system involves rationing fossil fuel energy use for a nation on the basis of either a contracting carbon emission budget or scarce fuel availability, or both simultaneously, distributing budgets equitably amongst energy-users. The goal is to equitably meet climate change mitigation targets [2] and/or fossil energy depletion realities [3,4] within a nationally-agreed and cooperative framework, in a manner ‘green growth’ strategies seem unable to achieve [5].

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Can Changing Habits for Self-Reliance and Resilience help society avoid the worst of unfortunate futures?

Our release of chapter 25 from RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future as a free downloadable pdf is another small gesture to spread positive messages in a time of pandemic. This is especially so for all those locked down in Melbourne, the geographic focus of the book and our further efforts to stimulate a wider a retrosuburban response in the wake of the pandemic. While our primary appeal is to people already voting with their feet to retrofit their own lives, not having these strategies recognised, let alone debated, in the mainstream media continues to act as a break on their wider adoption. Even the much-vaunted capacities of social media to allow communities of interest to share and adapt their activities are increasingly constrained by corporate and other powerful interests’ ability to manage and manipulate the proliferation of content through social media platforms.

A lesser recognised constraint is the dearth of academic investigation of options for more radical behaviour change. It is still true that most ideas to change society get a good working over in academia and policy think tanks before they surface in the mainstream media. For example, mainstream media discussion of the concept of “degrowth” is recent and introductory, even if the academic discourse and activism in this field has been intense for nearly twenty years.

Permaculture was unusual in the way it burst into public consciousness after very little exploration in academia. Research and investigation into the logic behind permaculture strategies has always been sparse, but in recent years we are starting to see increasing recognition that permaculture (including retrosuburbia) is more than a fringe green lifestyle choice. Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary is the first academic book to recognise the critical nature of retrosuburbia and kindred strategies in dealing with the Limits to Growth crisis.

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You don’t have to live like this—review of Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living

You don’t have to live like this—review of Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living

In her new book, Post-Growth Living: For an Alternative Hedonism, Kate Soper calls for a vision of the good life not reliant on endless economic growth and points us to the ways in which our current patterns of living are not only environmentally harmful, but also make us miserable. A provocative and necessary book, Nick Taylor writes, that provides us with the means to rethink consumption, work and sustainable prosperity without losing sight of what makes us feel good. (This blog also appeared on the PERC website.)

CC-BY-NC 2.0 :: Pete/Flickr

What kind of changes will the Covid-19 pandemic bring about over the long-term? While this question is on the minds of many, for those who study and work towards making our societies and economies more sustainable it brings particular concerns. Global emissions have seen a record-breaking drop during the pandemic, but not enough to slow the overall trend in atmospheric CO2 concentration, which reached its highest ever level in May, and not even enough to bring us close to meeting the 1.5C global warming target. How we respond to and attempt to recover from the deepest recession on record in a way that is not simply about restoring GDP growth is a question that should involve us all.

For critics, the pandemic has made an easy but misleading target of the post-growth or degrowth movement. They falsely equate the social and economic devastation wrought by coronavirus with the planned, long-term downscaling of society’s throughput (the materials and energy a society metabolises) that degrowth advocates argue for. Sceptics of ‘growth as prosperity’ do not want a recession, or, as is looking increasingly likely, a depression. Indeed at their most compelling, arguments for moving beyond growth as an overarching economic, social and political goal draw on the promise that a sustainable society can and should be a better, more equal and more prosperous society.

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Strategies for Cultural Change: Degrowth and the Use of Space

Strategies for Cultural Change: Degrowth and the Use of Space

Degrowth addresses the negative consequences of consumerism (psychological stress, long working hours and positional competition) and discusses the benefits of frugal lifestyles. Henri Lefebvre, a French philosopher from the 20th century, argues that if ideas or values are not physically implemented in space, they become mere fantasies. As such, if degrowth wishes to prevail, it has to leave its mark on space, just as consumerism has successfully done. This article considers ideas of creating space and human-nature connectedness, which in combination, seem to be a perfect match in forming a strategy for degrowth.

Consumption Culture

Supermarkets, drugstores and bazaars have all kinds of techniques to make consumers want stuff that they do not need. The placement of toys at children’s eye level or sweets near checkout counters are just two examples. These are processes of rationalization according to Henri Lefebvre. Rationalization leads consumers into buying more than they intend to. On the other hand, there is something that Lefebvre calls enchantment. Processes of enchantment make consumption seem more attractive to consumers by branding the product as artisanal, locally sourced or socially conscious. An example of this would be McDonald’s creation of a ‘rustic’ burger.

Through the interplay between rationalization and enchantment, people are constantly lured into the role of a consumer.

If the consumption paradigm is secretly oppressing consumers, why do individuals not break free from this role? All they have to do, so it seems, is stop purchasing superfluous goods. In other words, one might wonder, are consumers not responsible for their own oppression? According to Lefebvre, individuals occupy space the way it is offered to them. People are constantly stimulated to exercise their individual freedom by means of purchasing a variety of goods. Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, perceived consumption as a collective behaviour that has been forced upon humankind.

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The urban drivers of economic growth

The urban drivers of economic growth

In the 1980s, cities were defined as the ‘growth machines’ of the economy (Molotch, 1976). Today, urban economists epitomize them as economic ‘triumphs’ (Glaeser, 2011). Cities, intended as dense and mixed forms of urban living organized in agglomerations of economic activities, are presented as the solution to many of contemporary socio-ecological problems. They are viewed as the location of the so called ‘energy transition’, ‘social innovation’ or the ‘clean economy of knowledge’.

Cities have been a central topic in degrowth scholarship, although never put at the forefront of the debate. Latouche (2014) portraits the ‘degrowth city’ looking at the Mediterranean way of life of small towns. He called for a regional economy of sufficiency. Many degrowers explicitly advocate the need for changing the mobility infrastructure in order to reach some kind of slow mobility, and they promote the collectivization of public and housing spaces to be used as forms of commoning. Practices of repair, energy sufficiency, food coops, urban gardening and many more are properly ‘urban’ practices, because they interrupt the fast and productive use of city space.

Why then it is so hard to make those practices multiply and enable a more systemic transition to a degrowth society? Planning scholars have for years studied and criticized the mechanisms of urban land transformation that drive national economic growth. Urbanization is not the consequence of economic growth but the actual driver of it. The enlargement of cities, their number of jobs, estates and infrastructures, is a driving force behind growth. Already in the early 90s, after the fall of the Fordist economic system, it has become clear – for national governments as much as multinational corporations – that cities were becoming a new market where to invest surplus capital (primarily industrial capital) and gain rich returns.

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Defending degrowth is not Malthusian

Defending degrowth is not Malthusian

 Jenny Downing

Self-limitation is not about constraining, but about defining collectively as societies our limits.

Political ecology ‘has made strong arguments against natural limits’ and is in friction with ‘degrowth’s .. urgency of less’, writes Paul Robbins. Indeed, political ecologists developed the field as a response to 1970s neo-Malthusianism. Nancy PelusoLyla Mehta or Betsy Hartmann have exposed the racist, classist and patriarchal underpinnings of neo-Malthusian discourses of environmental degradation, overpopulation, or scarcity.

I am a political ecologist. I love these books. How do I square then this with my defense of limits and degrowth?

It took me sixteen years after my PhD to figure it out. We should distinguish, I always felt, reactionary notions of limits, like the ‘coming anarchy’ of prophets of doom like Robert Kaplan or Garett Hardin; and limits like those defended from activists at places like Standing Rock. Lumping all defenses of limits as Malthusian is analytically sloppy and politically wrong.

I felt this in my skin when, as a late-night twitter intellectual, I was told by fellow travelers that I am a baby-killer and a Malthusian (Me, a Malthusian?!). But the catalyst that got me going was an essay by Gareth Dale, in which I learned that Malthus was actually in favour of growth, not limits.

Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population is one of those classic works that academics feel comfortable citing without taking the trouble to read. I followed Gareth’s lead and sat down to read it again – line by line. And here is the story I have to tell.

First, Malthus was not a Malthusian, he was an economist. Second, radical environmentalism has always been romantic – and romantics were the fiercest critics of Malthus.

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The Radical Plan to Save the Planet by Working Less

The Radical Plan to Save the Planet by Working Less

The degrowth movement wants to intentionally shrink the economy to address climate change, and create lives with less stuff, less work, and better well-being. But is it a utopian fantasy?

In 1972, a team at MIT published The Limits to Growth, a report that predicted what would happen to human civilization as the economy and population continued to grow. What their computer simulation found was pretty straightforward: On a planet of finite resources, infinite exponential growth isn’t possible. Eventually, non-renewable resources, like oil, would run out.

Historically, we have considered growth a positive thing, synonymous with job security and prosperity. Since World War II, the gross domestic product (GDP) measure has been used as “the ultimate measure of a country’s overall welfare.” One of John F. Kennedy’s staff economists, Arthur Okun, theorized that for every 3-point rise in GDP, unemployment would fall a percentage point—one reason why presidential campaigns fixate on the measure.

But growth has led to other problems, such as the warming of the planet due to carbon emissions, and the extreme weather and loss of biodiversityand agriculture that comes along with that. Consequently some activists, researchers, and policy makers are questioning the dogma of growth as good. This skepticism has led to the degrowth movement, which says the growth of the economy is inextricably tied to an increase in carbon emissions. It calls for a dramatic reduction in energy and material use, which would inevitably shrink GDP. 

The Green New Deal, popularized by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, seeks to decrease carbon by growing the renewable energy industry. But the degrowth movement believes we need to take this further, by designing a social upheaval that disentangles the idea of progress and economic growth once and for all.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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