Economists have long been debating whether we can grow our economies forever without destroying the planet. A variety of answers exists and one in particular captures the imagination of an increasing number of people. It is called degrowth.
The idea of degrowth is simple. Instead of aiming for endless growth of GDP we should consider what really matters for the wellbeing of people and the planet while supporting equality and acknowledging the diversity of worldviews across the globe.
A new article in Ecological Economics suggests it is time for degrowth to be taken seriously by both scientists and members of the public. The issue is no longer about proving the limits of green growth or searching for alternative measures of wellbeing. Instead, it is time to focus on more subtle aspects, which have received little enough attention in the past.
It is important to ensure that our transition towards sustainability doesn’t lose its actual meaning. The researchers hope that using the lens of degrowth can help us keep an eye on what really matters. They suggest a research agenda that can help bring about the necessary change, integrating “a plurality of genders, ethnicities, cultural and geographical backgrounds”.
Foremost, argue the researchers, we need to start looking into the relevance of degrowth in countries of the Global South. The region that has been previously less industrialized is now catching up quickly both in its consumption patterns and pressures on nature. Thus, it is time for policymakers to critically rethink regional development policies and indices of wellbeing by making them more locally suitable.
This change is tightly linked to bringing the discussion on ecologically unequal exchange to the international level. It is important that in an era of ecosystem destruction the Global South does not get depleted of its rich resource base still left for the often questionable remuneration.
Communities should be given the opportunity to decide how to lead their lives and what to do with their natural assets instead of just pursuing large-scale development projects. While fast urbanization is often presented as a benefit for people and nature alike, it is often linked to the destruction of ecosystems and a loss of traditions that are crucial for sustaining vibrant and prosperous communities.
Last but not least, the experts emphasize that current development policies often lead to the reproduction of inequality on a large scale. Values and mindsets are widely recognized as factors shaping our political decisions so a broader diversity of perspectives and improved gender equality are urgently needed. This can help to make our political agendas more humane, aware and ecologically benign, aligning them with planetary limits.
As people across the globe are rethinking their lifestyles, changes in consumer habits and green initiatives are just part of the story. Downsizing, voluntary simplicity, slowing down and rethinking some of our economic activities might ultimately help us do better with less.
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