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Grow or not to grow

Posted 24/10/2012 by sevans

While governments in the developed world, and even parts of the emerging economy, are forever talking about trying to restore economic growth, the real word of the moment is degrowth, or so the Worldwatch Institute would have us believe.

If everyone lived like the average American, according to the Global Footprint Network, the Earth could only sustain 1.7bn people, a somewhat smaller figure than today and certainly smaller than the 9bn figure predicted for 2050, without undermining the planet’s physical and biological systems.

In addition, the fixation with economic growth and increasing levels of consumption contribute to a whole raft of problems, according to Erik Assadourian, co-director of the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2012 project. These range from debt burdens and long working hours to increased rates of obesity, dependence on pharmaceuticals and social isolation, he believes, adding that the window to prevent runaway climate change is closing and mitigating global warming will be all but impossible without dramatic reductions in consumption,

His answer is degrowth, which he defines as the intentional contraction of over-developed economies, and, more broadly, the redirection of economies away from the perpetual pursuit of growth. And he claims that degrowth is gaining traction with specific political parties in Italy and France, attracting over 700 delegates to the recent bi-annual international  degrowth conference in Venice.

One might say that Italy, and even more so Greece are having degrowth thrust upon them by the Euro crisis, but this is not the kind of degrowth that Assadourian in looking for. ‘Moving toward degrowth will involve redefining prosperity altogether – resurrecting traditional understandings of what this word means with regard to health, social connectedness, and the freedom to work less while still earning a liveable wage,’ he says. 

But in the week that Apple opened it biggest ever store in Beijing – three floors of electronic gadgetry – what is the likelihood of the degrowth concept being accepted by the world’s population?

As Assadourian points out, degrowth means the equitable distribution of social benefits. But this means that while industrialised nations will need to curb their overconsumption, the poorest third of the global population will need to increase resource consumption at least modestly to improve their quality of life. Certainly the latter group are already trying to improve their lot but they will eventually want what everyone else has already got and seeks to augment.

Sharing out the jobs that still exist after degrowth would reduce unemployment and poverty according to degrowth supporters, who believe that such an approach would reduce the real average per-capita working week to under the 21 hours calculated by the New Economics Foundation in the UK in 2010. 

The assumption that this would also improve the quality of life of employees has to be seen as spurious as the weekly wage would also be reduced proportionately and employees would also be worried about housing and feeding their families and paying the increased taxes that degrowth would require to fund its various projects and initiatives.

War and disease have been the traditional reducers of populations and therefore consumption – but are these viable alternatives?

How do you feel about reducing your consumption, and do you believe that since we are already so far over the magical population level of 1.7bn even if we did curb our consumption the world can be saved?

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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  • Anonymous said:
    21/06/2013 03:17

    I'm rlealy, rlealy upset and worried. 4 of the recalled brands & types of cat food (since all Ziggy eats is the sliced wet food in pouches and small cans)l represents 80% of what I've fed him the last five months. I just threw out everything I had left of Iams, Eukanuba, Max and Natural Choice. A lot. I hope he doesn't get sick. I feel awful. At least I have a bunch of Purina Fancy Feast cans to give him.This sucks.Donna

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