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Critics of ‘degrowth’ economics say it’s unworkable – but from an ecologist’s perspective, it’s inevitable

You may not have noticed, but earlier this month we passed Earth overshoot day, when humanity’s demands for ecological resources and services exceeded what our planet can regenerate annually.

Many economists criticising the developing degrowth movement fail to appreciate this critical point of Earth’s biophysical limits.

Ecologists on the other hand see the human economy as a subset of the biosphere. Their perspective highlights the urgency with which we need to reduce our demands on the biosphere to avoid a disastrous ecological collapse, with consequences for us and all other species.

Many degrowth scholars (as well as critics) focus on features of capitalism as the cause of this ecological overshoot. But while capitalism may be problematic, many civilisations destroyed ecosystems to the point of collapse long before it became our dominant economic model.

Capitalism, powered by the availability of cheap and abundant fossil energy, has indeed resulted in unprecedented and global biosphere disruption. But the direct cause remains the excessive volume and speed with which resources are extracted and wastes returned to the environment.

From an ecologist’s perspective, degrowth is inevitable on our current trajectory.

Carrying capacity

Ecology tells us that many species overshoot their environment’s carrying capacity if they have temporary access to an unusually high level of resources. Overshoot declines when those resources return to more stable levels. This often involves large-scale starvation and die-offs as populations adjust.

Access to fossil fuels has allowed us to temporarily overshoot biophysical limits. This lifted our population and demands on the biosphere past the level it can safely absorb. Barring a planned reduction of those biosphere demands, we will experience the same “adjustments” as other species.

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Feedback Loops and Unsustainable Systems

Feedback Loops and Unsustainable Systems

Mountains as seen from Tennessee Welcome Center

I have brought up feedback loops (both positive and negative) many times in this space. I’ve also brought up unsustainable systems in one way or another in practically every article, since they are endemic in human society and at the root of every predicament. It would be very simple for me to tell you that if we just eliminated every unsustainable system and replaced them with sustainable ones that most all our troubles would be resolved. Aaahhh, if only it were that simple. While there is much truth to that statement, the physical realities of replacing these systems would be a massive transformation that is prevented by the Limits to Growth – not enough energy and resources to accomplish the job due to self-reinforcing positive feedback loops which would only add fuel to the fire of the existing ecological overshoot that we are already in. Understanding how we got to this point is key in comprehending why
options on dealing with overshoot are so limited. Several different ideas revolve around the same concept of creating a “new civilization” that humans could embark on to reduce overshoot and live happily ever after. I’ve pointed out one concept known as The Venus Project which is really nothing more than pure hopium. I’ve spent the last several articles detailing the Degrowth Movement and why degrowth in and of itself isn’t enough to actually accomplish much, mainly due to a lack of acceptance from corporations and governments, which would suffer greatly as a result. Of course, we’re all going to suffer from the implications of overshoot anyway, which makes that fact more or less irrelevant in the first place. I’ve pointed out why the MEER concept is unrealistic and more fantasy than reality…

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Bargaining and Degrowth

Bargaining and Degrowth

Gazebo at Fort Macon, North Carolina

Once again, new material forces me to write a new article to disclose the new information (OK, honestly, I chose to write this article, but you already knew that). I often simply add updates (both marked and unmarked) to previous articles, but this particular scenario needed its own post as it combines more than just one topic. As is typical with the energy sector, denial of reality and optimism bias is often key as to why people can’t seem to see the writing on the wall that the idea of fossil fuel-derived devices that require the fossil fuel platform in order to continue to be maintained are not items that can exist without the fossil fuel platform; so they do not and can not replace fossil fuels; nor do they accomplish anything to reduce ecological overshoot as Steve Bull points out.

While the typical discussion regarding non-renewable “renewables” continues amassing more evidence that the entire scheme has been nothing more than about money, new material about other angles of the so-called “solutions” typically brought forth are also getting a more critical look from scholars. This is now making it clear that the ideas being marketed to the general public don’t actually solve anything but provide more money to those who will benefit from such ideas in the first place. Chris Hedges discusses some of this with Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith in this video.

I have covered some of the papers and provided videos from Simon Michaux in the past, and many of these same papers have been criticized, promulgating Michaux to provide a new paper going over these criticisms and his response to those claims (spoiler alert: those claims against his papers are proven to be without merit)…

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What is Degrowth?

What is Degrowth?

C.R. “Doodle” White Overlook, Hampton, Tennessee

I’m going to start this article with a song from Billy Joel. Those outside the United States might find the song somewhat difficult to understand. When the song came out, even I didn’t fully comprehend the implications the song brings to the forefront. The song is basically lamenting the de-industrialization that occurred in the US in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most of this was caused by degrowth stemming from the peak conventional oil reached here in the US in 1970-71 (the US has since reached a new peak, but this was only achieved with the new technology of fracking). Another factor was environmental laws and the economics surrounding inflation and the necessity of wages to increase to meet the rising cost of living. Manufacturers started realizing that they could save money by moving operations elsewhere and avoiding environmental regulations and expensive labor costs. The US began a transition from a manufacturing behemoth to a more service-oriented economy.

Billy Joel’s song pointed to several social issues above and beyond the disappearing factory jobs, such as high school education here in the US being designed more for how to do certain jobs rather than how to think critically and how to solve problems. Another issue mentioned is the lack of coal (resource decline), having mined it all out locally. Still, it is a rather bold statement regarding the times back then, not to mention what a great song it is (number 43 on Billboard’s Top 100 year end chart for 1983).

With so much talk recently about supply chain issues, inflation, the job market, the cost of groceries, cars, and houses skyrocketing, it seems that many people are finally beginning to realize that there is a serious issue going on…

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Jason Hickel: Degrowth and Ecosocialism

Jason Hickel: Degrowth and Ecosocialism

Give progress a chance: Embrace degrowth

Give progress a chance: Embrace degrowth

Continuing to prioritise economic growth is not a recipe for being a good ancestor. Nor is it a recipe for human progress, writes Jack Santa Barbara.

A large and growing number of scholars from many disciplines, are advocating for a reorientation of our social and political priorities by abandoning economic growth as our overriding priority.

Even some progressive economists are making these arguments. This degrowth movement argues for prioritising genuine progress in terms of both human wellbeing and ecological sustainability.  Indeed, these scholars argue that abandoning economic growth is essential for achieving these more important objectives.

While recognising the need for social and economic change, others, mostly economists and business leaders, argue that economic growth is essential to achieve human wellbeing and ecological sustainability. They cite examples of green growth with clean technologies as pointing the way forward.

Obviously, both groups cannot be right; their views are mutually exclusive. Green growth and degrowth cannot both provide a guiding framework for a just and sustainable future. Which is most likely to be helpful?

Given the extent of our disruption of natural systems at a planetary level, our rapidly worsening social and political problems, and the growing investments in green growth technologies, this seems an important question.

Are we basically on course with the green growth, technology-driven initiatives that most major governments have embraced? Or do we need a radical rethink of our priorities and how we organise our economies and societies, as degrowth advocates argue?

Green growth is a more comforting option, as it implies we can continue pretty much as we are, and largely rely on technology to do the heavy lifting to clean up our environment, and deliver wellbeing in all its guises.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

The degrowth propaganda squad

What degrowth thinkers can learn from free market economist Friedrich Hayek and the father of public relations, Edward Bernays.

‘There is no alternative.’ The infamous slogan used by Margaret Thatcher would often be flung in your face, explicitly or implicitly, whenever you tried, in recent decades, to resist the dominant economic system.

You were opposed to ‘capitalism’ because of its colonial roots, because it was a productivity machine that generated extreme social inequality and that was disrupting the climate and the environment at an ever-growing pace.

Readers interested in how knowledge of economics and public relations can assist in environmental activism can contact the newly formed Degrowth Propaganda Squad by emailing rydrawong@protonmail.com.

You were a part of that ‘system’, however, and, for some of us, we were also white middle-class Westerners, and we reaped some of its benefits. You only really stammered when you tried to describe that ‘alternative’.


Jason Hickel’s bestselling Less is More (2021) at least frees us from this sense of discomfort. In it, Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, not only shows irrefutably that capitalism – driven by the creation of profit and the reinvestment of that profit and thus by the idea of seemingly infinite growth – is an impossible path for the future.

In purely material terms, the planet on which and off which we live has put up several hard ecological boundaries. Crossing those boundaries, it has become increasingly clear, has extremely destructive consequences.

Drawing on indisputable data, Hickel shows that, as a new way forward, ‘green growth’ – growth decoupled from an excessive energy and material footprint – is just as likely to lead to a dead end and that technological innovation is not going to magically solve the problems.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

The planetary emergency we must avoid (spoiler alert: it’s not climate change)

The planetary emergency we must avoid (spoiler alert: it’s not climate change)

Rather than expanding our renewable electricity production and developing an EV fleet, a degrowth approach would be to initiate a massive energy conservation programme and investing in cities where we can live, work and play within 15 minutes’ walking or biking

Opinion: Purchasing an EV is something more people are doing to reduce the worst impacts of climate change. EVs are attractive and increasingly convenient.

But is this reaction to the climate crisis an example of the wrong solution to the wrong problem? Is climate change, as serious as it is, even the most important problem to address?

Climate change is certainly an existential threat and more needs to be done to mitigate its worst impacts. Yet even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, we would still face a range of environmental existential threats.

Part of the problem is we haven’t defined the problem correctly. Rather than trying to deal with specific issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and so on, there is an underlying cause that connects these threats. Understanding the cause could provide a new approach to dealing with many of these challenges.

First let’s step back and try to understand just what the threat is. As far as we know Earth is the only planet in the universe with complex living systems, with a biosphere covering its surface.

The biosphere is an intricately balanced network of living and non-living systems interacting with each other in a self-regulatory manner. This rare web of life provides for us physically, economically, aesthetically and spiritually.

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Climate Action- Right Way, Wrong Way

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Overnight Degrowth

The Degrowth movement is gaining momentum. You’ve probably read articles about it and thought “Yeah, that makes sense, but it’ll never happen”. And today, you’d be right. Any government that tried to introduce it would soon become like the parrot, an ex-government.

However, we all know that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. Perhaps you’ve read one of the reports showing that environmental damage can’t be decoupled from GDP. COP26 showed there is no time to wait for a large number of countries to agree on meaningful action.

So, imagine that you and your social media buddies launch a campaign, and Degrowth becomes a household word, understood by many, and one brave government (my money’s on the Kiwis) decides to take the plunge. They secretly make preparations then introduce it – overnight.

You’re eating your muesli and your normal radio programme is interrupted with: “We now cross to the capital where the prime minister is about to make an important announcement”.

But first, a word of warning.

Some people might find the speech confronting. Scaring people is not my aim; rather, it is to present a scenario that could actually happen quickly enough to avoid catastrophic environmental and social collapse.

Facing reality is difficult. Ignoring the problems, or believing in myths like tech-will-save-us, is so much easier. And then there are those who are happy to just blame capitalism; but simply wishing it away won’t work. Or those who say we are doomed so why bother. Perhaps we are but we owe it to our kids not to give up.

The speech begins:

The time for pretending is over.

The governor-general has signed a proclamation declaring a state of emergency.

The stock market will not open this morning, and will remain closed for one week while investors come to terms with what you are about to hear.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Life in a ‘degrowth’ economy, and why you might actually enjoy it

Time to get off the economic growth train? Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

What does genuine economic progress look like? The orthodox answer is that a bigger economy is always better, but this idea is increasingly strained by the knowledge that, on a finite planet, the economy can’t grow for ever.

This week’s Addicted to Growth conference in Sydney is exploring how to move beyond growth economics and towards a “steady-state” economy.

But what is a steady-state economy? Why it is it desirable or necessary? And what would it be like to live in?

The global predicament

We used to live on a planet that was relatively empty of humans; today it is full to overflowing, with more people consuming more resources. We would need one and a half Earths to sustain the existing economy into the future. Every year this ecological overshoot continues, the foundations of our existence, and that of other species, are undermined.

At the same time, there are great multitudes around the world who are, by any humane standard, under-consuming, and the humanitarian challenge of eliminating global poverty is likely to increase the burden on ecosystems still further.

Meanwhile the population is set to hit 11 billion this century. Despite this, the richest nations still seek to grow their economies without apparent limit.

Like a snake eating its own tail, our growth-orientated civilisation suffers from the delusion that there are no environmental limits to growth. But rethinking growth in an age of limits cannot be avoided. The only question is whether it will be by design or disaster.

Degrowth to a steady-state economy

The idea of the steady-state economy presents us with an alternative. This term is somewhat misleading, however, because it suggests that we simply need to maintain the size of the existing economy and stop seeking further growth.

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

Life in ‘Degrowth’ Economy: Envisioning a Prosperous Descent (Part IV of Ecological Civilisation)

Life in ‘Degrowth’ Economy: Envisioning a Prosperous Descent (Part IV of Ecological Civilisation)

Geopolitics and Degrowth

Geopolitics and Degrowth

The Geopolitics of Degrowth holds that real power flows not from waste, centralization and coercion but from decentralization, relocalization and the free flow of value.

Conventional geopolitics is all about more: more military power, more sanctions, more coercion, more influence.

The Geopolitics of Degrowth is all about the the power of less: wasting less, consuming less, needing less from other nations, reducing dependence on rivals, reducing coercion and centralized over-reach.

Conventional geopolitics concentrates wealth and political power in a giant dam on the biggest river. Centralized control of massed power is considered the acme of geopolitical strength. Everyone is coerced into funding and relying on the dam.

But this has it backwards: when the centralized dam bursts, the nation is in ruins. This vulnerability isn’t power, it’s weakness. The Degrowth model of strength is to make local use of every rivulet, stream and tributary, carefully shepherding its sustainability and use.

Unbeknownst to the mainstream, the world has entered an era of scarcity. The current abundance is a temporary flush of the last of the cheap-to-extract resources. Once this illusory abundance has been consumed, all that’s left is hard-to-extract, costly resources.

In an era of scarcity, power flows not from coercion but from needing less by consuming less by eliminating the tremendous waste and friction that consumes resources, capital and time without generating any positive returns.

The conventional mindset is deadset on maintaining this waste and friction, as if it was positive rather than negative. By focusing on “growth” in GDP, our system optimizes waste, fraud, friction and a throwaway mentality. The reality that 40% of everything we consume is wasted is not even recognized. In the conventional mindset, the goal is to waste more by accelerating The Landfill Economy of buying some product that fails or is obsoleted even faster than the previous generation.

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

Cultural Causes of Climate Injustice

Cultural Causes of Climate Injustice

Growth economics has changed the status of money, from being a useful tool nowadays it is often regarded as an end in itself. The illusion that money is needed to feed us is a dangerous one. What is really needed to sustain us is a stable climate and environment. That fact has become obscured by the industrial food-production which occurs at such a distance to our city-dwellers who only ever obtain food by spending their money.

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This disconnect from Nature, and the fact that modern lifestyles have many ‘anaesthetic’ qualities which result in the suppression of emotions like fear, anxiety, anger, hate, guilt and blame, mean that the majority of people are still not adequately aware of the escalating existential crises to the extent that they are motivated to take significant action.

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All money originates from natural resources of some sort. We rely on biodiversity and a stable climate in order to manufacture food. However inhabitants of the modern world are not directly aware how dependent we are on these things. We have put ourselves in a precarious position that is now in the process of collapse.

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Judgement and Trust

The hype and the artificial messages from the advertising has taught us to distrust the sincerity of anyone who is imparting information. In a world steered by people who are seeking monetary profit whenever we enter into a relationship we have learnt to ask ‘what is their motive?’.

Addressing Climate Injustice

Respect for monetary profit as an end in itself is very deeply ingrained in our modern society. To successfully address climate injustice we shall need to move away from this dangerous prioritisation of a bartering tool which is increasingly at risk of devaluing rapidly. There are five key themes that would help this culture shift to happen.

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Degrowth is the Future.

The question is not whether we will face degrowth, but what we choose to degrow.

Photo by Thom Milkovic on Unsplash

“Many of the objections to degrowth have to do with the term itself. Some people worry that degrowth introduces confusion because it is not, in fact, the opposite of growth. When people say ‘growth’ they normally mean growth in GDP, so one might reasonably assume that degrowth is likewise focused on reducing GDP. Proponents of degrowth are therefore condemned to perpetually clarify that degrowth is not about reducing GDP, but rather about reducing material and energy throughput.”

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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