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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.

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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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#221. Strategies for a post-growth economy

#221. Strategies for a post-growth economy

PART ONE: BUSINESS IN A NEW ERA

Under current conditions, it’s increasingly hard to understand why the inevitability of economic contraction remains so very much a minority point of view.

None of this has to be a disaster, but the management of involuntary economic ‘de-growth’ requires innovative strategies, most obviously in business and government.

The aim here is to concentrate on the PNFC (private non-financial corporate) sector, evaluating strategies that could mitigate the worst effects of economic contraction.

Other sectors – government, households and the financial system – may be the subject of future instalments, whilst the role of technology might merit separate discussion.

Don’t over-simplify

Readers are reminded that this site does not provide investment advice, and must not be used for this purpose.

In any case, it would be an over-simplification to assume that the decline in prosperity must crush discretionary sectors whilst leaving suppliers of essentials largely unscathed.

In fact, suppliers of intermediate (and intermediary) services are at even greater risk than businesses which supply products and services that the consumer might want, but doesn’t need.

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Degrowth economy: The climate solution no one is talking about

For all the talk of renewable energy, electric vehicles and plant-based diets, there’s a gaping hole in the way we’re trying to solve accelerating climate change. We will not stay below 2°C of warming while pursuing economic growth — yet barely anyone talks about it.

Since the end of World War II, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has been the metric of human prosperity in Western nations, the idea being that if the productivity of the economy increases so will the wellbeing of the people within that economy. And for a while, that was the case. But since the 1970s, increases in GDP have, on average, failed to translate into increases in wellbeing and happiness.

It is not surprising. Research has shown that once a certain GDP threshold, or level of wellbeing, has been met people gain little from consuming more “stuff” — a necessary requirement for continuous GDP growth.

Robert F Kennedy eloquently summed up the inadequacy of GDP as a metric of wellbeing at a speech he gave in 1968:

…the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

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The Political Economy of Degrowth

Abstract

What is degrowth and what are its implications for political economy? Divided in three parts, this dissertation explores the why, what, and how of degrowth. The first part (Of growth and limits) studies the nature, causes, and consequences of economic growth. Chapter 1: Understanding economic growth answers a series of questions about the nature of economic growth: What is it exactly that grows? By how much does it grow? When and where does it grow? How does it grow? And why should it grow? The three following chapters develop a triple objection to economic growth as no longer possible (Chapter 2: Biophysical limits to growth), plausible (Chapter 3: Socioeconomic limits to growth), and desirable (Chapter 4: Social limits of growth). The second part (Elements of degrowth) is about the idea of degrowth, especially its history, theoretical foundations, and controversies. Chapter 5: Origins and definitions traces the history of the concept from 1968 to 2018. Chapter 6: Theoretical foundations presents a normative theory of degrowth as de-economisation, that is a reduction in importance of economic thoughts and practices. Chapter 7: Controversies reviews the attacks the concept has received. Whereas the first part diagnosed economic growth as the problem, this part offers a solution. The take- home message is that degrowth is not only a critique but also a fully-fledged alternative to the growth society. The third part (Recipes for degrowth) is about the transition from a growth economy to a degrowth society. It opens with an inventory of the policies that have been mobilised by degrowthers until today (Chapter 8: Strategies for change). The three following chapters on property (Chapter 9: Transforming property), work (Chapter 10: Transforming work), and money (Chapter 11: Transforming money) go from theory to practice and translate the values and principles of degrowth into operational transition strategies. Chapter 12: Transition strategy presents a method to study the interactions between degrowth policies in order to craft effective transition strategies. The central claim of this final part is that degrowth is a powerful conceptual tool to think about societal transformations for social-ecological justice.

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Putting Post Growth Theory Into Practice

The Post Growth Entrepreneurship Incubator helps founders break free from traditional business models and implement sustainable non-extractive practices.

Annie Spratt via Unsplash

How do you define Post Growth Entrepreneurship?

A three-minute Post Growth Entrepreneurship primer

What brought you to post growth thinking and approaches?

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The Selling of Degrowth

Over the last three decades, a growing number of scientists and ecologists have argued that economic growth has long outstripped the capacity of the planetary ecosystem. They have developed numerous sophisticated models to demonstrate their point. They have boiled down the technical information—about the availability of mineral resources, the limits of energy generation, the constraints of food production, the effects of biodiversity loss, and of course the impact of climate change—into accessible texts. They have lobbied governments, and they have crafted soundbites for the media.

Despite these efforts, economic growth remains at the heart of virtually every government’s national policy. Even the various Green New Deals that have been put forward around the world are wedded to notions of economic expansion. At the heart of these more recent attempts to bring carbon emissions under control is the concept of “green growth,” which has become the current mantra. So, inevitably, advocates of degrowth have addressed this new version of “sustainable” economic expansion.

“We have to continue to pound away with articles and social media to dispel that fuzzy and oxymoronic notion of ‘green growth,’ that there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment,” observes Brian Czech, the founder of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) in Washington, DC.

The evidence that economic growth is associated not only with climate change but all the other ills of resource depletion is overwhelming. But evidence is not enough. “When we look at the discourses at the international and even at the national level, the recourse to the evidence is not what is necessarily moving the argument,” points out ecological economist Katharine Farrell of the Universidad del Rosario  in Colombia…

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Investing in Degrowth


Released 13 December 2021, Investing in Degrowth is a first-of-its-kind white paper drawing attention to the emerging degrowth economy, setting out the rationale for investing in degrowth-compatible enterprises and laying down the groundwork for deciding the core characteristics of degrowth investing.

Co-authors Jennifer Wilkins, founder of Heliocene, and Bill Murphy, Executive Director of Purpose Capital, call for New Zealand’s sustainable investing and finance communities to consider the feasibility of funding the transition to a new economy that no longer supports economic activities that fall outside safe ecological and fair social boundaries.

David Woods, a leader in impact investing and sustainable finance in New Zealand, writes in the foreword:

“We’re on an exciting journey as capitalism rediscovers itself, and it goes far beyond just greening the economy. Degrowth (including, for instance, circularity) is a significant part of this journey, and this thought-provoking white paper is a welcome addition to the canon of ideas for our country and our world.”

Download Investing in Degrowth:

On the Virtues of Self-delusion—or maybe not!

On the Virtues of Self-delusion—or maybe not!

Prepare developed democracies for long-run economic slowdowns

Prepare developed democracies for long-run economic slowdowns

Developed democracies proliferated over the past two centuries during an unprecedented era of economic growth, which may be ending. Macroeconomic forecasts predict slowing growth throughout the twenty-first century for structural reasons such as ageing populations, shifts from goods to services, slowing innovation, and debt. Long-run effects of COVID-19 and climate change could further slow growth. Some sustainability scientists assert that slower growth, stagnation or de-growth is an envi-ronmental imperative, especially in developed countries. Whether slow growth is inevitable or planned, we argue that devel-oped democracies should prepare for additional fiscal and social stress, some of which is already apparent. We call for a ‘guided civic revival’, including government and civic efforts aimed at reducing inequality, socially integrating diverse populations and building shared identities, increasing economic opportunity for youth, improving return on investment in taxation and public spending, strengthening formal democratic institutions and investing to improve non-economic drivers of subjective well-being.

Modern liberal democracies—with broad economic and political freedom and stability—predominate in today’s developed world, but they are a historical anomaly. Before the Industrial Revolutions, there was both little per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) growth and little democracy (Fig. 1a). Since the Industrial Revolutions, most countries have escaped the ‘Malthusian trap’—where land productivity growth led to growth in population but not affluence1—and global affluence has increased by more than a factor of ten1,2. This unprecedented global growth has temporally coincided with the global proliferation of democracy (Fig. 1a). In the early nineteenth century, less than 1% of the world’s population lived in a democracy, compared with about 55% today3. There is some evidence of bidirectional causality: on average (with some exceptions), open, democratic institutions promote growth4–6, and long-run growth and affluence promote the formation of democratic institutions7,8…

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Degrowth–the promising climate change strategy no politician wants to handle

Degrowth – the promising climate change strategy no politician wants to handle?

 

Can the Green New Deal save us? No it can’t.

Advocates for a Green New Deal are for a collection of admirable goals which it is usually taken for granted can be achieved within a capitalist economy and while the pursuit of economic growth continues.  Here is an indication of the main reasons why these assumptions are totally mistaken.

The fundamental assumption underlying these beliefs is that economic growth can be “decoupled” from resource and ecological demands and impacts. That is, it is claimed that the rate of production and consumption can continue to increase while the resources needed to do this can be reduced to sustainable levels, along with the environmental damage it causes. This comforting faith is widely held, including by major global institutions.

It is disturbing that this tech-fix faith persists despite the mountain of evidence that it is wrong. Anyone still unaware of this should consult the massive studies by Hickel and Kallis, Parrique et al., and Haberle et al.  The second lists over 300 studies and the third lists over 850.

There are some areas in which production is being achieved and/or could be with reduced impacts, and transition to renewable energy is an important instance.  But what matters is whether the overall output of an economy can be reduced as its GDP rises, which is “absolute” decoupling. The above reviews conclude emphatically that despite constant effort to increase efficiency and cut costs absolute de-coupling of resource use and environmental impact from GDP growth is not occurring, and that greater recycling effort and transition to “service and information economies” are not at all likely to achieve it. Despite constant effort to improve productivity and efficiency, in general growth of GDP is accompanied by growth in resource use.

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Degrowth and Decolonisation in the Red Zone

Hello world. Welcome to Glasgow. Welcome to Scotland. We are drawing on Glasgow’s radical past to inject hope and urgency into the moribund COP process.

YOUR VISION OF our country may be an idealised one of lochs brimming with salmon and glens filled with deer, but in reality we’re a petro-chemical economy being held ransom by the British State. Our most famous icons and exports – our salmon and deer and grouse – are really symbols of a country disfigured by landed power. We remain a semi-feudal nation with one of the most unequal distributions of land ownership in the world.

In Gaelic, Glasgow means ‘Dear Green Place’, but Glasgow was also known from the 19th century as the Second City of the Empire, a city that became synonymous with massive expansion, global trade, industry, invention, and shipbuilding.

For almost 200 years, the statue of the celebrated Scottish inventor and engineer James Watt has stood in George Square. Every schoolchild is taught about the invention of the steam engine in 1776, which was fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution across the world. What’s less well known is that Watt’s father was a slave trader, a colonial merchant who subsidised his son. The development of the steam engine was funded by slavery. Watt himself was involved in colonial commerce and played a direct role in the trafficking of enslaved people.

With Glasgow playing host to the COP in 2021, we have historical symmetry. It’s more of a loop than a continuum; as the world faces climate catastrophe, the same city that was pivotal in the Industrial Revolution, colonisation, and Empire is the city that must now be the pivot towards decolonisation and degrowth.

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Returning to a 1970s Economy Could Save Our Future

Returning to a 1970s Economy Could Save Our Future

We’d contract energy use by half. Shrinking consumption is the solution we can actually live with. Second of two.

[Editor’s note: Read part one of this two-parter here.]

Thanks to bright green technologies, we can continuously grow the level of consumption on planet Earth and deliver a bloated North American lifestyle to all without inviting climate catastrophe or a general breakdown of natural ecosystems that support all living things.

That’s the big bold lie that politicians are telling themselves this week at yet another climate conference. Greta Thunberg calls such dissembling just so much “blah, blah, blah.”

As I’ll share in this piece, a number of brilliant energy critics from Vaclav Smil to William Rees have done the figuring, acknowledged the physical limits of things, and told us the truth. A truth that is not as uncomfortable as you might think.

It is this. We must contract the global economy, restructure technological society and restore what’s left of natural ecosystems if we want to live and breathe.

The appeal of the “tech will save us” charade crosses ideological lines. No sacrifice is necessary; no wisdom is required; no change is necessary. Both Green New Dealers and the Business-as-Usual Crowd believe a variety of so-called green technologies forged by the burning of more fossil fuels will save the day and postpone what is already happening: a great unsettling.

These green illusions, as I explained yesterday, represent the worst kind of falsehood. Many of these techno fixes, such as direct air capture, are largely unproven, don’t scale up or will invite bankruptcy.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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