Open letter by Marga Mediavilla to Fridays For A Future. reposted from 15/15\15.
“There is one thing that worries me. In your speeches on climate change you can find demands for very ambitious decarbonization objectives…..
According to my knowledge and according to the studies we are making in our group, such ambitious goals as these would require very drastic measures which go far beyond the usual proposals such as investment in renewable energy, electric vehicles or energy saving and efficiency.
Therefore, I think we have to be very realistic about the decarbonization objectives and the measures we demand in order to achieve them. If we do not, our leaders can happily silence the protests, by using exclusively technological cosmetic measures that do not solve anything, and the hopes of many young people with good intentions may be frustrated.”
Mediavilla goes on to explore decarbonisation scenarios using the MEDEAS simulation model. The findings indicate the relevance of the degrowth perspective rather than technological optimism.
This interesting interview appeared in the Australian journal, Overland. It is relevant to many of the concerns discussed here. Frankel’s open access book, Fictions of Sustainability, is very good.
Thanks to Zacharias Szumer for this. Here is the beginning of the interview – follow the link at the end for the rest of it.
Is utopian thinking akin to casting a net into the ether – collecting the unimaginable and dragging it into the realm of the possible? Or, by neglecting to consider any parameters of the possible, is it a fanciful distraction from meaningful politics? Well, perhaps it depends on the type of utopian thinking. In Fictions of Sustainability: The Politics of Growth and Post-Capitalist Futures, social theorist Boris Frankel takes aim at certain types of utopian thinking: proposals that he argues are unrealisable or unsustainable regardless of whether political obstacles have been removed or transformed. Throughout the book, which was released earlier this year, Professor Frankel seeks to ask the difficult questions surrounding concepts such as green growth, degrowth and post-scarcity, not with the aim of opposing radical solutions, but to facilitate the development of more plausible and effective policies. Political-economic dilettante Zacharias Szumer met with Frankel recently to try to get his head around this somewhat heavy going but important book.
ZS: In the conclusion of Fictions of Sustainability, you write that one of your aims in writing the book was to “bridge the political and theoretical chasm or ‘analytical apartheid’ that characterizes so much socio-economic policy on the one side and environmental analyses on the other.” What do you mean by analytical apartheid? And how did you attempt to bridge this chasm?
BF: In the past, conservatives, liberal Keynesians, Marxists and anarchists were divided over how to analyse capitalism and debated its virtues and failings. Today, it is not enough to have a knowledge of political economy, whatever the political perspective, if it excludes crucial environmental issues. On the other hand, you’ve got many people who are active and concerned about environmental issues, but who neglect political economy. The ‘analytical apartheid’ I refer to is that environmental issues cannot be separated from political economy yet, political economists and environmentalists talk past one another and rarely consider one another’s issues and positions. Despite environmental crises being highlighted for over fifty years, traditional political economists and many on the left still treat environmental issues as marginal to the main issue of capital versus labour. This is now changing. But you’ll still find many leading political economists are completely silent on environmental issues. It’s important to bridge these two worlds. Similarly, many committed environmentalists have a detailed understanding of the damage being done to so many ecological habitats and the need to transform existing consumption and production. But apart from generalised ‘wish lists’ have a very limited understanding of how existing political institutions and the economy of capitalism works. So, in order to achieve their environmental goals, it’s critical that they become more familiar with the political economic debates that have been developed by non-environmentalists. Click this link for the full interview on Overland.
See also this article by list member Andrea Grainger: In defence of degrowth: The climate movement and socialist movements must come together to build a new progressive movement. Open Democracy, 5 September, 2019.
In his latest article, Leigh Phillips, a strong advocate of ‘Socialist Growth’ and ‘Luxury Communism’ condemns the Degrowth Movement as delusional with an array of arguments that suggest unlimited growth is technologically feasible.
As a result, ecological debtor nations are highly dependent on less developed ecological creditor regions for materials and resources in order to sustain and maintain their unsustainable economies. In turn, these import dependancies and the vulnerabilities that they create gives rise to Western foreign interference, whether through the market or through military or diplomatic intervention, in order to appropriate, protect and distribute raw materials into ecological debtor nations.
Unambiguously, the Degrowth Movement recognises this vicious circle which emerges from ecological debt, a vicious circle which not only seeks to sustain the unsustainable through the appropriation and exploitation of foreign resources but also seeks to limit the ability of weaker nations and their impoverished populations to sustainably develop adequate infrastructure that enables them a dignified and secure way of life.
By ignoring the ramifications of ecological debt, Leigh unwittingly justifies the market and military interventions that keep millions of people impoverished whilst rich nations copiously consume.
Since non renewable resources are by definition not renewable and therefore finite in quantity and quality, the international Degrowth Movement advocates a just and equitable contraction and convergence of
in order to help bring ecological debtor nations back into ecological credit. Through the communicative tool of IM=PACT, the main intention is to allow less developed ecological creditor nations to use their resources for their own development rather than them being used for the continued growth of unsustainable ecological debtor nations such as the UK, the US and other major European nations. As such, in opposition to Leigh’s assertions, the Degrowth Movement advocates human impact contraction because it recognises that the planet is home to a diverse array of limitations which cannot be transcended by technology.
Leigh’s article argues the opposite. It proposes that the limitations posed by the availability of non renewable resources can be overcome by technology without specifying how except through human ingenuity. In essence, the author is claiming that technology will avail us of our natural, societal and human limitations by being able to produce a diverse array of unlimited materials from the atmosphere we breathe.
This of course is an intriguing science fiction idea and would no doubt if realised bring some relief to growing global resource scarcity and a growing global ecological debt but unfortunately he does not explain how the impacts of an atmosphere that is transformed into tangible substances will affect ecospheric processes so perhaps should be viewed with extreme caution.
Meanwhile, whilst waiting for this ground breaking technology, humanity is faced with the hard realities of limitations and the fact that global ecological debt needs to be reversed if human flourishing on a global scale is to be sustained. This means focusing our attention and our national policies towards ways of life that are materially sufficient for our needs and our development rather than orientated towards unlimited growth. See https://goodlife.leeds.ac.uk/
It is clearly unjust for countries which are in ecological debt to appropriate resources from nations in ecological credit when their basic infrastructures, infrastructures which we take for granted, are hardly in place whilst in comparison, we enjoy unimaginable luxury. This therefore means a strategy of contraction and convergence so that limited global resources are equitably shared for the utilitarian benefit of all.
Ultimately, PACT contraction is unavoidable even if we choose to continue using economic and military power to appropriate ecological credit solely for ourselves since eventually these resources will too run out. In other words, unlimited growth can only ever lead to collapse.
The only logical alternative to growth is sufficiency, however much it might pain us to let go and sacrifice our unsustainable ways of life for the global common good. So the Degrowth advocate Jason Hickel, is correct, we must rid ourselves of the unnecessary and build our systems around what is necessary for a dignified life for all.
In this regard, Degrowth literature is rich in diverse ideas by which to navigate the difficult and sacrificial path towards sufficiency which Leigh has conveniently referenced in his techno-utopianism piece. So for all those willing to take the sacrificial degrowth path, we need all hands and heads on task if we are to avert a climatic, environmental and ecological disaster of our own unintentional making.
Do you have a response to Philips or other misconceptions and misrepresentations of degrowth / post growth thinking? We’d be interested in covering them.
The call for subthemes generated a great deal of interest. We have consolidated them into 14 themes: see the conference website. The open call for contributions will be announced there in later January / early February.
The 7th International Degrowth and 16th International Society for Ecological Economics Joint Conference – Manchester
Building Alternative Livelihoods in Times of Ecological and Political Crisis
Call for sub-themes
updated with some missing text, 19/9/19
We are delighted to announce that the first ever joint conference between the International Degrowth Research Network and the International Society for Ecological Economics will take place 1-5 September 2020 in Manchester, UK. This conference will bring together academics from the Degrowth and Ecological Economics communities, voices from the Global North and Global South, civil society actors, activists, artists and policy-makers. It aims to break down silos and stimulate dialogues between and within different perspectives, disciplines and social movements.
Building Alternative Livelihoods in times of ecological and political crisis is the overarching theme of the conference. Economic systems have always co-evolved with social, environmental and technological systems. The worsening ecological and climate crisis means we must urgently abandon practices of production and consumption that drive ecological degradation and that rely on unsustainable extractivism. We must develop alternative livelihoods which are harmonious with planetary limits and safeguard material living conditions. We must invent and trial new ways of working, providing for everyone’s needs, caring for each other and democratising the economy. We must seek clarity about the systems of provisioning which will be utilised in a society beyond growth where states and markets play more peripheral roles in the allocation of resources. In short, we must ask what are the alternative livelihoods which ensure the future conditions of societal wellbeing.
The construction of alternative livelihoods entails a radical transformation of economy, culture and society. What are the institutional arrangements which safely provide for basic needs, social stability and democratic legitimacy in the transition to environmental sustainability? How can both social and ecological justice for the populations of the Global North and the Global South be ensured? How can political support be mobilised for the necessary transformations? How can the transition to environmental sustainability be made politically viable and democratically legitimate?
We list below some of the topics that the conference could cover. We also look forward to ideas beyond these, which would expand the geographical and thematic scope of degrowth, as well as advance and further substantiate current debates and dialogue within and between degrowth and ecological economics.
the economy beyond states and markets
the future of employment, work and care
debates on degrowth, green growth, the circular economy, and decoupling
the democratisation of the economy and alternative models and forms of organisation
the production and conservation of energy
low carbon and low energy futures
forms of decommodification and non-capitalist modes of resource allocation
money, debt and the financial system
financing the (transition to a) post-growth society
monetary and non-monetary measures of prosperity and well-being
a universal basic income or universal basic services
the green new deal
the decentralisation of power
decolonization and feminist economics as challenges to power
post- growth policy-making, law and governance
how to respond to the ethno-nationalist environmentalism and anti-environmentalism of ascendant populist groups
the politics of transitions to sustainability and the lessons to be learned from past socio-economic and cultural transformation
spatial issues: planning, housing and the future of cities
diversity: class, race, gender, abilities
Sustainable Development Goals
conflict resolution processes and socio-ecological transformations
biodiversity, ecosystem services, and sustainable livelihoods
political economy and ecological economics/degrowth
sustainable livelihoods and ecological sufficiency
languages of valuation and ecological conflicts
extractivism, environmental justice and illicit activities
social ecological economics
production and consumption
slow science and degrowth of publication economy
strategies for degrowth transformation: lessons from the Vienna conference
There will be two stages for the call for academic and activist contributions. The first stage is a call for sub-theme conveners. Academics and activists who wish to actively participate in these sub-themes or suggest new sub-themes for inclusion in the conference should submit a proposal by 30th September 2019. Descriptions of the sub-themes should speak to the overall conference theme. It should be sent to email@example.com
Each sub-theme can go from one to four sessions, with up to four papers or other contributions per session. There are many formats which a session can adopt, including the traditional format of paper presentations with a specific thematic focus, roundtable discussions, and participatory sessions encouraging reflection on a particular topic using an open format (e.g. discussion workshops, dialogical/reading/planning sessions, walks, etc.). Sub-theme conveners will be given full autonomy and responsibility for the organisation of sub-themes.
Sub-theme conveners should present the following information in their proposal:
presenters/roundtable participants anticipated;
subtheme abstract (1 paragraph, maximum 250 words);
how does this subtheme relate to the overall conference theme (maximum 100 words);
format (paper presentation, round-table debate, etc.);
live or remote or both;
number of 1-2 hour sessions anticipated.
Successful sub theme proposers will hear by 30th October 2019
Once sub-themes have been selected, we will announce a second deadline for individual papers. The main language of the conference is English, but we will review submissions in other languages also. For any questions, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Come to Manchester in September 2020 to meet with other activists, artists and scholars to explore how alternative livelihoods can respond to the worsening ecological and climate crisis.
We face a worsening ecological and climate crisis and that requires an urgent transformation of the the ways we organise, produce and consume. Alternative livelihoods could be the key to this in a democratic society that has gone beyond economic growth.
How can we ensure both social justice and ecological justice for the peoples of the Global South and North? How can we mobilise political support for the necessary transformations? How can we make the transition environmentally and socially sustainable, politically viable and democratically legitimate?
This conference will bring together academics, policy-makers, artists and activists in order to discuss these many challenges. There will be workshops, debates and discussions, artistic performances, walking tours and installations on the themes of the conference. It will also seek to contribute to local activist initiatives. It will strive not only to demonstrate and explore cutting-edge thinking on alternative sustainable livelihoods but also encourage political mobilisation amongst academics, activists, artists and policy practitioners.
The conference will include events and discussions, all underpinned by the search for social and ecological justice, will include topics such as,
The future of states and markets,
The future of employment and work,
Cutting carbon emissions: degrowth versus green growth,
The production and conservation of energy
Non-capitalist modes of resource allocation
Democratising the economy and alternative forms of business ownership
Re-commoning and de-commodifying resources,
Non-monetary measures of prosperity and well-being,,
Welfare arrangements such as basic income or jobs guarantee
How to respond to the threat of racist, nationalist populism,
The politics of transitions to sustainability
The lessons to be learned from past socio-economic and cultural conflicts.
The idea of a Green New Deal (or New Green Deal), despite first appearing more than 10 years ago, has become very popular in recent months. These Green New Deals “make an analogy to the response to the Depression of the 1930s with an idea today that with greater state expenditure a huge effort can be put into developing the infrastructure of an economy based on renewables and a decarbonised energy system. This would simultaneously create jobs...”(1). There is a lot to agree with, given that a massive transformation is needed towards a clean economy. However, these proposals all assume continued economic growth, albeit “green growth”, and as we know, this is problematic since the material and energy flows entailed are what got us into ecological overshoot in the first place. A number of pieces from across the degrowth community have raised various questions about these Green Deals and we thought it would be worth putting together a collection of links (3). If you spot others, do let us know and we’ll add them.
A Green New Deal for an ecological economy.Leah Temper and Sam Bliss at degrowth.info Explores what the discipline of ecological economics (degrowth’s academic cousin) can bring to the formulation and implementation of Green New Deals.
A Green New Deal Between Whom and For What? by Nicholas Beuret at Viewpoint Magazine. More recent than most of these cited here, so it includes many of the points made in others while offering a very good overview of the concept and its problems.
Between the Devil and the Green New Deal– by Jasper Bernes. From Commune magazine. A forceful critique that pulls together a number of themes including the reliance of the GND on unprecedented and carbon-intensive mineral extraction and manufacture and its political and economic implausibility under capitalism. This version lacks references unfortunately.
Degrowth and the Green New Deal. Another article comparing and contrasting the two and distinguishing among variants of the Green New Deal, by Gareth Dale in The Ecologist.
John Bellamy Foster, while not specifically allying himself with the degrowth movement, makes a number of similar points to those in the more explicit degrowth pieces collected here. In his Monthly Review piece, On Fire This Time, focussing on GND proposals in the USA, he distinguishes between the original Keynesian New Green Deal, and the more radical variants emerging from a variety of social movements. It is capitalism itself that imposes the limits of possibility for the GND.
False hopes for a Green New Deal. by Rufus Jordana on Open Democracy. “If the ‘Green New Deal’ is our best answer to the climate crisis, then we have no answer to the climate crisis.”
The problems of eco-capitalism. By Calvin Jones at Undod: Radical Independence for Wales. Calvin problematises the GND a modified form of capitalism which is supposed to rescue us from the destruction brought by capitalism’s endless accumulation. He also brings in a radical localist, Welsh, dimension.
For a collection of well argued critical material on Green Growth, there is this excellent book:
Dale, G., Mathai, M. V., & Puppim de Oliveira, J. A. (Eds.). (2016). Green growth: Ideology, political economy and the alternatives. London: Zed Books.
None of us are saying that the degrowth alternative is an easy option. It is just that the biophysical realities mean that the New Green Deal could inadvertently make the situation worse by continuing to destroy the physical and biological systems on which life depends.
What we need to work on is an ecologically and economically literate Green Deal. The expertise is there in the degrowth movement, so what’s stopping us? Perhaps the arguments are getting through: the Green Deal for Europe consultation paper, released September, 2019, includes this intriguing passage.
“In addition to phasing out Europe’s existing carbon-intensive energy systems and infrastructure, aggregate energy demand must also be reduced by scaling down material production and throughput. The [Green Public Works] supports this transition by shifting income and welfare creation from industrial production to social and environmental reproduction: maintenance, recycling, repair, and restoration of environmental and infrastructural resources, as well as education, culture and care — for both people and planet.”
post updated 18 May, 2020
The quotation is from Brian Davey’s piece, quoted above.
The NLR articles are behind a paywall. If you can’t access them, then contact us and we can help.
Thanks to Riccardo Mastini for spotting some of these and sharing them on twitter.
Suburban affluence is the defining image of the good life under capitalism, commonly held up as a model to which all humanity should aspire.
More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Yet with the global economy already in gross ecological overshoot, and a world population heading for more than 11 billion, this way of living is neither fair nor sustainable.
To live within our environmental means, the richest nations will need to embrace a planned process of economic “degrowth”. This is not an unplanned recession, but a deliberate downscaling of economic activity and the closely correlated consumption of fossil energy. We don’t argue this is likely, only that it is necessary.
The well-known documentary The End of Suburbia presented a coherent narrative of a post-petroleum future, but got at least one thing wrong. There is not a single end to suburbia; there are many ends of suburbia (as we know it).
Reimagining the suburbs beyond fossil fuels
Suburban catastrophists such as James Kunstler argue that fossil fuel depletion will turn our suburbs into urban wastelands. But we see the suburbs as an ideal place to begin retrofitting our cities.
This won’t involve tearing them down and starting again. Typically, Australia’s built environment is turned over at less than 5% per year. The challenge is to reinhabit, not rebuild, the suburban landscape. Here are some of the key features of this reinvigorated landscape:
Households must be encouraged to downshift consumerism, swapping superfluous “stuff” for more free time and other sources of meaning and well-being. An economics of sufficiency involves borrowing and sharing rather than always buying and upscaling.
We should reclaim and reimagine areas of the built environment that are misused or underused. The vast areas dedicated to car parking are but one example.
Finally, and most importantly, we should realise that change must come via grassroots political organisation, rather than waiting for growth-fixated governments to lead the way. This is not to deny the need for “top-down” structural change. Our argument is simply that the necessary action from governments will not arrive until there is an active culture of sufficiency that demands it.
What social forces might produce this necessary but elusive urban transformation? We think it can be driven by two broad social groups: the disillusioned middle class and the exploited working class. These two groups, which already blur together along a spectrum, can potentially become a cohesive urban social movement of transformative economic and political significance.
The disillusioned middle class: radical downshifters
Our first groups consists of employed professionals, bureaucrats, and tradespeople who have secure housing, earn decent wages, and can direct significant portions of their income to discretionary spending. This sector of society participates, consciously or unconsciously, in what is often called “consumer culture”.
This consumerism often fails to fulfil its promise of a rich and meaningful life. The consumer class has been sold a lie, and many affluent consumers are now developing what social scientist Ronald Inglehart calls “post-materialist” goals and values. This emerging way of life involves seeking purpose and satisfaction in life through things other than material riches, including deeper community engagement, more time to pursue private passions, or even increased political action.
This is significant, for three reasons. First, history shows that social movements tend to be sparked by dissatisfaction with the status quo – otherwise, why would people resist or seek alternatives? The deep disillusionment with materialistic lifestyles provides an incentive to explore alternative, more satisfying ways to live and self-provide.
Second, by withdrawing their spending from the market economy, this emerging social movement can undermine that economy and fast-track its transformation.
Finally, a “radical downshifting” in consumption could allow people to free up their time by working less. This will provide people with more time to participate in building new forms of economy and engaging in collective action for change. The “voluntary simplicity movement” already numbers as many as 200 million people, although its potential depends on more organised and radical expressions.
The exploited working class: economic builders
Radical downshifters will never transform the economy on their own, and this is where our second group comes in. Working-class urbanites, while also drifting into superfluous consumption, are typically characterised as individuals and households who are “battling” to make ends meet.
Again, a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo provides the incentive to seek and participate in fundamental change. We are often told that Australia’s economy has grown uninterrupted for a quarter-century, yet many people feel their personal circumstances have stagnated.
There has indeed been growth, yet almost all the benefits have been siphoned away by the wealthy. Why would the working class owe any allegiance to a system that only benefits the rich? As the battlers realise they are being oppressed and duped by an unjust system, they threaten to become a dynamite class of explosive potential.
As economic crises threaten to intensify in coming years – including the challenge of automation – we maintain that the exploited working class may be driven to explore alternative ways to self-provide. As incomes become more meagre and jobs less secure, more people will need to seek alternative ways of meeting economic needs “beyond the market”.
Whether through necessity or choice, we foresee a growing number of people beginning to participate in informal, non-monetary, and local economies, including the sharing economy. Just as radical middle-class downshifters will help stifle economic growth by withdrawing their discretionary spending, those who are less affluent could begin to lay alternative economic foundations, and provide a post-capitalist social safety net.
We contend that these two social groups – the disillusioned middle class and the exploited working class – can conceivably form a cohesive movement with similar goals. The capitalist system isn’t working for many people, even those who are “winning” the rat race. Furthermore, historic growth trajectories seem to be coming to an end, due to both financial and ecological constraints.
There is the small but vocal “save our suburbs” network, in which we see the seeds of something more progressive. And it includes the energy frugal households quietly moving towards solar, batteries and increased energy self-suffiency. One by one, these households are undermining the fossil fuel industry and subtly disrupting the status quo.
As financial and ecological crises deepen in coming years, the social consciousness needed to develop new systems of production and cultures of consumption will become compelling. Together these social groups (and others not yet imagined) could form an urban social movement that withdraws support for the existing system and begins building new economies on our suburban streets.