Choosing between our economy and our future

12 02 2015

Christiane Kliemann

A guest post from Christiane Kliemann who writes on postgrowth, alternative economy and societal change. She is a member of the Degrowth 2014 team

The new year has just begun and we’re already inundated with horrible news: two new reports have collected further evidence that human economic activity puts life on Earth at risk, and another shocked us with the fact that the 85 richest people on the planet are as wealthy as the poorest 50% – and that the gap between them is still widening. Not to mention the brutal attack on the Charlie Hebdo office, the ongoing wars and conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine and the devastating situation of refugees.

At the same time, a lot of effort is being spent to reassure us that economic growth and a capitalist economy are essential for solving what some call the “crisis of civilization”.

Growth is the perennial buzzword of the World Economic Forum – and this year is no exception. Delegates keep assuring us that their own profitability is vital for safeguarding humanity, while we ordinary people go about our day-to-day lives: we happily drive our cars, book flights to our next holiday destination and raise our children as we’ve always done.

It seems that we are in collective denial about the threatening implications of reality. We still trust in the old narratives that growth and competition are good, that technology and experts will fix it and that capitalism is history’s ultimate victor.

Not only ecological limits and growing social inequality, but also the increasing violence of fundamentalists of all sorts indicates that it is high time for a new economic and social narrative. An economy that is essentially based on competition will always perpetuate violence and hatred.

Wanted: new economic narratives

Before a new narrative – degrowth, for example – can gain ground, we have to accept that there are only radical options left. We have to choose between our economy and our future.

Even now, degrowth is already appealing to a growing number of people, as last year’s Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Leipzig proved.

It embraces many aspects that are common to a rising number of social and ecological grassroots-initiatives around the globe:

  • Integrating social and ecological issues instead of playing them off against each other
  • Replacing economic growth with a holistic idea of wellbeing
  • Turning away from resource-intensive production and industrial agriculture
  • Claiming more democratic participation and co-creation
  • Preferring small and decentralized solutions with short feedback-loops, re-localization of economic cycles and decentralization
  • Prioritizing sufficiency and resilience
  • Creating resilient livelihoods instead of unstable jobs in fragile globalized supply chains

In circles closer to the mainstream, I have personally observed that criticizing the dependence on economic growth and calling for a social-ecological transformation of the economy is welcomed by many.

Doubts and reluctance stem from the widespread perception that transforming the system is unrealistic, given the powerful interests of the elites.

Ordinary people feel subject to, rather than masters of, their circumstances.

In order for the vision of a degrowth society to become broadly accepted as a realistic option, we need to agree on the following points:

  • Growth and climate stability are incompatible
  • Continuous growth does not increase prosperity
  • Growth will soon come to an end anyway
  • After a certain point, the ecological and social price paid for keeping up growth becomes unacceptable
  • Growth and Western consumption patterns are increasingly resented in the Southern Hemisphere
  • The “trickle down” effect has been proven wrong
  • There is no such thing as “green growth
  • Degrowth does not only mean less, but differently, i.e. meeting everyone’s needs more sustainably and equitably with fewer resources
  • Degrowth is not against innovative technologies, but requires them to be administered democratically and “convivially” based on the precautionary principle

It is high time to shape a broad social movement

Despite what corporate interest groups say, we can all understand that a good life does not require ever more traffic, bigger houses, and greater quantities of waste. We cannot square the benefits of “more stuff” when it threatens our ecosystem and coincides with extreme poverty in some parts of the planet.

A good life requires long-term security in meeting everyone’s basic needs: food, shelter, affection, leisure, protection, understanding, health, participation, creation and freedom. All of these requirements are dependent on a healthy planet.

If we take our oft-cited Western values seriously, there is no doubt that we have to change our ways and ensure that our values come before any corporate or private profit.

It is high time to shape a broad social movement that pressures governments and businesses to help adjust consumption and production habits to allow the good life for everyone. We want cooperation instead of competition, common instead of corporate interest, solidarity instead of greed, strong social relationships instead of meaningless consumption, mindful resource stewardship instead of extractivism and compassion instead of indifference. We demand less traffic, fewer mega-projects and more community-based policy.

It is high time to take our future in our own hands and to realize that our current economy is part of the problem and cannot be part of the solution.

Originally published in the Guardian.

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7 responses

12 02 2015
Ruth Lipscombe

Why aren’t we talking about our obscene world population and the effect it is having on the environment???

12 02 2015
John Weber

Ruth beat to it. Population pressure and population density both have to be considered.

12 02 2015
Florence nee Fedup

Quickest way to slow population increase, is raised wages and standard of living.

12 02 2015
John Doyle

There is no way to do this gracefully. Degrowth will be just pulling the plug on civilization and letting it run out. Population has to crash and the more precipitous the better [for the planet] A manageable slow decline is theoretically possible but unlikely as the sums don’t add up. Population is the killer ingredient.

12 02 2015
Susmind

When did the world become human overpopulated ? One hundred million people would be more than one could ever know so we’d have to consider that we’re way beyond overpopulation now.

12 02 2015
mikestasse

Overpopulation, it could be argued, started with the invention of agriculture. But it went into overdrive when the industrial revolution increased agricultural outputs by orders of magnitude…..

13 02 2015
rabiddoomsayer

We always have been a very destructive species, ever since the the naked ape exploded out of Africa. The non African mega fauna was always hunted out wherever the naked ape went. Then we learned of agriculture and of all day toil and the damage accelerated. Now we do industry and are busily destroying the little that is left.

Population will collapse, it will inevitably be very nasty. Perhaps we are not doomed to extinction, but it could be a very close call. The Passenger Pigeon was so numerous that extinction could not be contemplated, but it is gone.

Our capitalist economy cannot do sustainable, cannot do no growth. There is only growth or collapse. We have gone well past the boundaries of growth and now rely on bullshit, smoke and mirrors to maintain the illusion of growth. Even the dumbest will soon see through the illusion.

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