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Dr. Halliki Kreinin gave a lecture about Degrowth on the 22nd of July, a developing practice and ideology that sees dramatic institutional and behavioral change as the only way to stabilize our societies. She is a post-doctoral researcher currently working on a EU 2020 horizon backed project called One Point Five Lifestyles. They focus their investigation on policies and tools for mainstreaming lifestyle patterns compatible with meeting the Paris Agreement goals.
The preeminent social and ethical challenge of our age is to transform the prevailing system state of the human economy to operate within the biophysical limits of the planet, allow space for human and non-human life to flourish, simultaneously distributing resources justly amongst all people. Fundamentally, Degrowth acknowledges that all our dreams and ambitions, the totality of our civilization, rests upon a stable climate, functioning ecosystems, and intimate human relationships with a rich diversity of life. To avoid driving the resilient, forgiving and familiar Earth into a radically different and inhospitable planet, Degrowth aims to do what is necessary - engage in a deliberate and planned reduction of energy and material throughput of the human economy. Degrowth maintains that this responsibility primarily lies with those currently driving net energy and material consumption: the developed industrialized powers.
Counter to status quo thinking, a Degrowth future imagines a drastic increase in well-being during this economic reorganization/transformation. Much of the Global North could live fundamentally better lives with dramatically less consumption based on a renewed institutional and cultural focus on human needs instead of capital accumulation. Many opponents call the concept of Degrowth austerity, or a political imperative akin to a global recession. However, close readers of Degrowth see it rather as a pathway to a new economy of shared public abundance.
In the current economic system, reducing aggregate output would cause an unemployment crisis. That is why Degrowth presents a new narrative of work. In a Degrowth agenda, we must first democratically redefine what is socially and ecologically useful work. This definition of useful work sets the foundation for a new federal job guarantee. With this new basic right all will have access to meaningful work that supports the common good. No longer will millions of lifetimes of alienating work serve meaningless capital accumulation. Along with this change, work time can be reduced overall, and jobs can be shared.
A great deal of this work will take place as part of another goal: universal basic services. In this model citizens receive unconditional access to a range of free, basic services: shelter, sustenance, healthcare, education, transportation, and information. The truth is, these human needs are finite and can be met - capitalism's profit prerogative can never be satisfied.
Degrowth is also not austerity. It is not “a set of economic policies that a government implements in order to control public sector debt”. On the topic of debt, Degrowth understands that the monetary system is failing us. Currently, +95% of all money is created when private commercial banks make loans. That is to say that every dollar someone has exists because someone else is in debt.
The compound interest on these debts requires substantially more money to be repaid than was created in the first place. Therefore, another loan must come into existence to pay back the first, and this money as debt cycle self-propagates in a positive feedback loop. Banks create this money only when they believe the loans will generate financial profit. Lenders rarely consider how the activity being financed can meet human and ecological needs. Therefore Degrowth understands that the deficit is a myth, and supports a sovereign monetary reform where-in we can face the truth: the real constraints aren't financial but physical. With the financial challenge dissolved, the real constraint is how quickly we can roll out renewable energy, and to what extent we can feed the population as the climate destabilizes. The constraint is not finance, but rather how quickly we can electrify, insulate homes and buildings as we wind down fossil fuels.
The theoretical basis and unique characteristic for a solidarity economy under Degrowth is clear. It is the only pathway forward to escape an increasingly probabilistic and devastating collapse of Earth's biosphere. The power analysis, political strategy, and transformational pathway towards Degrowth's goals are the real new frontier in this movement of movements and burgeoning academic field. Considerable work remains on operationalizing this vision.
How to achieve Degrowth's goals of a good life for all within planetary boundaries?
Based on the lecture "Degrowth" held by Halliki Kreinin during AEMS 2022.
Written by: Liam Considine & Pooja Patki