The degrowth movement

Jeremy Heighway, a member of the West Midlands New Economics Group who now lives and works in Leipzig, introduced news of the degrowth movement in his article about a meeting on basic income.

In this article, he pointed out that the conference had a dual aim because BI – or UBI – does not necessarily start the ecological transformation that is so urgently needed and continues, “… addressing this … needs to be thoroughly incorporated into any implementation of a basic income and its accompanying measures.” He delivered a paper: Pathways of thought: common and uncommon ground, aims and direction when it comes to the environment: Jeremy Heighway. It stressed that “the degrowth movement is a mindset; the basic income is a mechanism”.


Note also the Budapest Degrowth Conference: September 2016. More than 600 people from all around the world participated in the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest. Read about it here:

A search led to many other items worth exploring. Here we focus on the Club for Degrowth, which “works to bring the human economy back within Earth’s ecological limits, which will create security and sustainable prosperity for humanity offering writing and expertise on what life within a degrowth society and economy would look like”. It defines degrowth as an essential economic strategy to pursue in overdeveloped countries like the United States–for the well-being of the planet, of underdeveloped populations, and, yes, even of the sick, stressed, and overweight “consumer” populations of overdeveloped countries. It is also considered a movement that offers a path toward moving back to living within the limits-to-growth dilemma.


The 2014 Addicted to Growth: How to move to a Steady State Economy in Australia conference held at the Australian Academy of Science in Sydney explored how to move beyond growth economics and towards a “steady-state” economy. Highlights from Samuel Alexander’s narration follow:

“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”.

Alexander points out that the idea of the steady-state economy is somewhat misleading because it suggests that we simply need to maintain the size of the existing economy and stop seeking further growth and continues: “Given the extent of ecological overshoot – and bearing in mind that the poorest nations still need some room to develop their economies and allow the poorest billions to attain a dignified level of existence – the transition will require the richest nations to downscale radically their resource and energy demands.

“This realisation has given rise to calls for economic “degrowth”. To be distinguished from recession, degrowth means a phase of planned and equitable economic contraction in the richest nations, eventually reaching a steady state that operates within Earth’s biophysical limits”.

It would involve producing and consuming less.


Do we really need to buy all this stuff?

This would be a way of life based on modest material and energy needs but nevertheless rich in other dimensions – a life of frugal abundance. It is about creating an economy based on sufficiency, knowing how much is enough to live well, and discovering that enough is plenty.

He adds that the lifestyle implications of degrowth and sufficiency are far more radical than the “light green” forms of sustainable consumption that are widely discussed today. Turning off the lights, taking shorter showers, and recycling are all necessary parts of what sustainability will require of us, but these measures are far from enough. Alexander expands on these here:

In a degrowth society economies would be localised, reducing carbon-intensive global trade, while also building resilience in the face of an uncertain future.

He ends:

“This is not the eco-future that we are shown in glossy design magazines featuring million-dollar “green homes” that are prohibitively expensive. Degrowth offers a more humble – and I would say more realistic – vision of a sustainable future.

“”do not present these ideas under the illusion that they will be readily accepted. The ideology of growth clearly has a firm grip on our society and beyond. Rather, I hold up degrowth up as the most coherent framework for understanding the global predicament and signifying the only desirable way out of it.

The alternative is to consume ourselves to death under the false banner of “green growth”, which would not be smart economics”.





One response to “The degrowth movement

  1. Pingback: News from Pat Conaty – and his tribute to Richard Douthwaite | New Era Network

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