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Degrowth: the necessary climate solution no-one is talking about

The Necessary Climate Solution No-one is Talking About   https://www.tasmaniantimes.com/2021/08/degrowth-necessary-climate-solution-no-one-is-talking-about/ Erin Remblance 1 Aug 21,

For all the talk of renewable energy, electric vehicles and plant-based diets, there’s a gaping hole in the way we’re trying to solve accelerating climate change.

We will not stay below 2°C of warming while pursuing economic growth – yet barely anyone talks about it.

 Since the end of World War II Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has been the metric of human prosperity in Western nations – the idea being that if the productivity of the economy increases so will the wellbeing of the people within that economy. And for a while that was the case – but since the 1970’s increases in GDP have, on average, failed to translate into increases in wellbeing and happiness.

It is not surprising. Research has shown that once a certain GDP threshold, or level of wellbeing, has been met people gain little from consuming more ‘stuff’ – a necessary requirement for continuous GDP growth.

 Robert F Kennedy eloquently summed up the inadequacy of GDP as a metric of wellbeing at a speech he gave in 1968:t]

The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

What’s more, GDP has never been, and can’t be, decoupled from material footprint, including energy[i]. This means we cannot roll out renewable energy fast enough to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement – to keep warming below 2°C – if we continue growing our economy.

Three percent growth every year for the rest of this decade is 30% growth by 2030. Achieving a 75% reduction on 2005 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 is a Herculean effort already, let alone if the economy is 30% bigger by that time. And surely, given the urgency with which we must decarbonise, reducing energy demand must be a part of the mix, even if it means reducing GDP?

There are nearly 8 billion people in the world today – but they haven’t all contributed equally to the climate crisis. Between 1990 and 2015 the world’s wealthiest 1% were responsible for double the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the poorest 50%. Over that same period, the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population were responsible for 52% of the world’s GHG emissions, while the poorest 50% were responsible for only 7% of the world’s GHG emissions.

Degrowing our economy to fit back within the planetary boundaries will also allow people living below satisfactory standards of human wellbeing to improve their living conditions. Data from 2016 showed that 940 million people still didn’t have access to electricity, and 3 billion people didn’t have access to clean fuels for cooking. These people don’t even own a washing machine, let alone a car and they certainly aren’t flying anywhere. Degrowth is not only necessary to solve the climate crisis, it’s the only way to address widening inequality across the globe.

For all the talk of renewable energy, electric vehicles and plant-based diets, there’s a gaping hole in the way we’re trying to solve accelerating climate change.

We will not stay below 2°C of warming while pursuing economic growth – yet barely anyone talks about it.

 Since the end of World War II Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has been the metric of human prosperity in Western nations – the idea being that if the productivity of the economy increases so will the wellbeing of the people within that economy. And for a while that was the case – but since the 1970’s increases in GDP have, on average, failed to translate into increases in wellbeing and happiness.

 It is not surprising. Research has shown that once a certain GDP threshold, or level of wellbeing, has been met people gain little from consuming more ‘stuff’ – a necessary requirement for continuous GDP growth.

 Robert F Kennedy eloquently summed up the inadequacy of GDP as a metric of wellbeing at a speech he gave in 1968:t]he gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

What’s more, GDP has never been, and can’t be, decoupled from material footprint, including energy[i]. This means we cannot roll out renewable energy fast enough to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement – to keep warming below 2°C – if we continue growing our economy.

Three percent growth every year for the rest of this decade is 30% growth by 2030. Achieving a 75% reduction on 2005 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 is a Herculean effort already, let alone if the economy is 30% bigger by that time. And surely, given the urgency with which we must decarbonise, reducing energy demand must be a part of the mix, even if it means reducing GDP?

There are nearly 8 billion people in the world today – but they haven’t all contributed equally to the climate crisis. Between 1990 and 2015 the world’s wealthiest 1% were responsible for double the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the poorest 50%. Over that same period, the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population were responsible for 52% of the world’s GHG emissions, while the poorest 50% were responsible for only 7% of the world’s GHG emissions.

Degrowing our economy to fit back within the planetary boundaries will also allow people living below satisfactory standards of human wellbeing to improve their living conditions. Data from 2016 showed that 940 million people still didn’t have access to electricity, and 3 billion people didn’t have access to clean fuels for cooking. These people don’t even own a washing machine, let alone a car and they certainly aren’t flying anywhere. Degrowth is not only necessary to solve the climate crisis, it’s the only way to address widening inequality across the globe.

What could life in a degrowth economy look like? It would involve shorter working weeks and less commuting, giving us more time to do things we enjoy. Less individual ownership and more sharing. Less debt and more services provided by the government. A focus on community and connection rather than individualism and perpetually trying to find happiness through our next purchase, holiday or experience.In a degrowth economy environmentally destructive and resource intensive industries would be scaled back, and more people would be working in jobs that benefited one another and the planet, putting more meaning and purpose into our lives.



We would value different things in a degrowth economy and define success differently. A degrowth economy does not need to mean a degrowth lifestyle, indeed we could be richer for it.

It’s probably tempting to define a ‘degrowth’ economy as socialism, but it’s a false binary that an economic system is either capitalism or socialism. All economies are a mix of both, often with other bits of ‘isms’ thrown in for good measure. Let’s use our imaginations and contemplate what life could look like if we focused on the things that really matter, and not simply the amount of growth in our economy.

In the end, the economy is a man-made construct. It can be changed. The laws of nature, however, cannot. It would be tragic to look back and think we gave it all up because we weren’t brave enough to challenge the insane notion of endless growth on a finite planet with the urgency it deserves.

 [i] Chart page 102, Less is More, Jason Hickel Global GDP & Material Footprint.

Erin Remblance is a mother-of-three who works in carbon reduction, is a climate activist and is studying wellbeing economies.

August 2, 2021 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs, climate change

1 Comment »

  1. We beed government regulation go scale back. Vehicle production should be stopped for five years. Limits put on production on other items and imports. Air travel scaled back by 80 per cent. No more building infrastructure with steel, plastic and cement. Cut fossil fuel usage by 80 per cent. There are many more things to be done along those lines, but those are some examples. The developing countries cannot grow to meet our level of emissions, , we, the developed counties will have to scale back toward their level. It is either that or human extinction. Nor an easy choice but one which should be made

    Comment by OG | August 2, 2021 | Reply


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