Little Vade Mecum for the Growth Objector
By Yves-Marie Abraham, HEC Montréal
1. What is degrowth?
- This is not an economic depression, nor a recession, but a decline in the importance of the economy itself in our lives and our societies.
- This is not the decline of GDP, but the end of GDP and all other quantitative measures used as indicators of well being.
- This is not a decline in population size, but a questioning of humanity's self-destructive lifestyle.
- This is not a step backwards, but an invitation to step aside, out of the race in pursuit of excessiveness.
- This is not nostalgia for some golden age, but an unprecedented project to invent creative ways of living together.
- This is not degrowth imposed by the depletion of the biosphere's resources, but a voluntary degrowth, to live better here and now, preserving the conditions necessary for the long-term survival of humanity.
- This is not an end in itself, but a necessary step in the search for models depicting free societies, liberated from the dogma of growth.
- This is not a project of voluntary deprivation and impoverishment, but an attempt to find a "better life", based on simplicity, restraint, and sharing.
- This is not "sustainable development", but a rejection of capitalism, no matter if it is "green" or "socially just", and no matter if it has State-run or private enterprises.
- This is not ecofascism, but a call for a democratic revolution to end our productivist-consumerist model of society.
- This is not voluntary simplicity, but a revolutionary political project that implies the adoption of the principles of voluntary simplicity on the individual level.
- This is not is not an "anti-modern" movement, but a "neo-modern" movement, based on respect for the values of freedom and equality.
In summary, degrowth is a call for a radical break from traditional growth-based models of society, no matter if these models are "left" or "right", to invent new ways of living together in a true democracy, respectful of the values of equality and freedom, based on sharing and cooperation, and with sufficiently moderate consumption so as to be sustainable.
2. Why extol degrowth?
Because infinite growth in a limited world is impossible, degrowth will be imposed anyway sooner or later; it's better to choose than to be forced.
- Artificial capital cannot be entirely substituted with natural capital – how to replace potable water, clean air, and fertile soil? By exploring the universe? When, and at what cost to whom?
- In a growth-based world, technological innovations that allow us to reduce consumption and the use of resources, whether renewable or otherwise, still contributes to an increase in this consumption; it is the rebound effect.
- The dematerialization of our economies remains very relative (relocation of industry away from the West) and is not accompanied by a reduction of our ecological footprint – there is no decoupling between our economy and our ecological impact.
Because growth is not keeping its promises to improve our collective wellbeing.
- Growth no longer guarantees us better material living conditions. As growth increases, we observe the same trends in pollution, obesity, depression, counterproductive techniques, and shorter life expectancies…
- Growth does not guarantee increased equality. Growth in recent decades has in fact been accompanied by the significant widening of our society's inequalities.
- Growth does not guarantee more freedom. Founded on techno-scientific progress, it increases our dependence on the technological, and our subjection to the "megamachine".
Because the quest for continued growth is exhausting.
- Growth is exhausting the biosphere through an overexploitation of resources and an overproduction of waste; it is as if we were burning the walls of our house to warm ourselves.
- Growth is exhausting our societies, where social cohesion is continually endangered by a war of everyone against everyone, on which rests the search for exponential economic growth.
- Growth is exhausting the people living in these societies, as they must tirelessly work to produce goods that others will want to buy, under penalty of losing their place and being completely marginalized.
3. Why be against sustainable development?
- Because sustainable development does not bring into question the quest for continuous growth; it is a limitless quest bringing humanity to its doom.
- Because it is a project suggesting that infinite growth in a finite world is possible; the notion of sustainable development is an oxymoron, a contradiction, an antinomy.
- Because it is at best a reformist project that fundamentally seeks to organize our world to make it last – pollute less, so that we can pollute for longer!
- Because it is a notion that involves a culture of growth ("development"), and thus can be easily embraced by all those who don't want our world to change.
- Because it is an idea that diverts too many good intentions from the drastic actions that are required by the urgency of the situation.
4. Why do we need the word "degrowth" (or "décroissance")?
- A defensive word against the obvious that we want to pulverise: the necessity of continued economic growth.
- An iconoclastic word whose adoption necessitates the decolonization of our growth-based culture.
- A word that cannot be recycled by those who seek to prolong the model of society which we no longer want (as opposed to "sustainable development").
- A harsh word that attacks the root of most of our problems; the quest for continuous growth.
- A word that unambiguously challenges our productivist-consumerist world, yet leaves open for discussion how to build the new world that we seek.
- A "dirty word" that disturbs, that stimulates a reaction and that starts debate concerning the dogma of growth, the primary concern of the "growth objectors".
- A word that cannot and should not be agreed upon in a world that remains fundamentally growth-based.
- A word that is easier to pronounce than "a-growth", which is possibly more appropriate on a semantic level.
simple word, with value as a slogan, a banner, and a rallying cry –
more than a concept or a program – for all those who refuse to accept
our current model of a productivist-consumerist society.
Last updated: 22/08/11