The global conversation about climate change has revolved largely around a single, misguided idea: that we can replace carbon-intensive technologies with cleaner ones and reach the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions without fundamentally altering our economy. In other words, that we can achieve, and indefinitely maintain, green growth.
But a competing narrative argues that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible, and that even supposedly green technologies will perpetuate the extraction of natural resources and the destruction of the natural environment. Even if these technologies help us mitigate climate change to an extent, they might backfire, for example, by disrupting biodiversity. In this narrative, the underlying problem lies not in the so-called cleanliness of our technologies but in our compulsion to keep growing our economies.
Proponents of this second view argue that to preserve the planet, we must reduce our consumption of resources, a strategy that has come to be known as degrowth. This approach calls for us to shrink parts of our economy, and to move away from measures such as gross domestic product as indicators of economic health.
Ultimately, degrowth is inevitable. We will either choose this path voluntarily, or we will be forced into it violently and uncontrollably as a result of environmental disasters. If we want to prevent the suffering and tragedies that accompany such drastic shifts, we must bring about a culture of degrowth. And where the cultural winds blow, the political winds will follow.
I’ve never come across the term degrowth but it’s exactly what I’ve been thinking.