The Case for Degrowth

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Why We Buy

I would like to present a case for degrowth. Further, I would like to present it as not a solution that will create poverty and going with less. Rather, it could lead to abundance. It could work as a re-focusing, and re-prioritizing of our economy.

Throughout the past centuries, our capitalist machine has grown and thrived off production, consumption, and extraction. Capitalism has brought unimaginable wealth to many. It keeps money, goods, and services flowing. It brings unbelievable innovation.

However, with capitalism comes consumerist habits. We buy large houses we can never pay off. Therefore, all that empty space then needs to be filled. We finance vehicles which bring high fuel prices, insurance, maintenance, health issues and pollution. Then, those vehicles become our sole method of getting around. The cycle of capitalism continues.

Billions of dollars are spent on marketing. Marketers study and are trained in rules of psychology to trigger emotions and feelings in advertisements. Emotions could be feelings of success, happiness, acceptance, and need. Advertisements send a message of what you could be with their product.

However, it has been repetitively proven that more stuff does not lead to happiness. The Easterlin Paradox states that after a certain point long-term growth in happiness and income is not significantly related. Rather, social comparison may be more effective in explaining correlation between income and happiness.

So, lots of income does not bring more happiness. Is there a solution to improving our well being while lessening the tight grip of capitalism?

Here is the case for degrowth. This is how it could be part of the solution for climate change.

Degrowth

Degrowth is a strategy for mitigating climate change by scaling back production and reducing consumption. Some lifestyle designs like minimalism, zero-waste, and slow-living fit with degrowth strategies.

Degrowth could be rethought or maybe reimagined. We want to degrow industries like fossil fuels, industrial animal agriculture, industrial fishing, industrial mono-farming, and any other harmful or unnecessary consumption. This leaves opportunities for growth in other places.

Degrowth may be associated with poverty, sacrifice, and unhappiness. Degrowth can provide opportunities for living a happier life rich with free time, relationships, experiences, and travel. In other words, we can still grow areas that have been proven to have more of a connection with happiness. The idea is to grow industries that directly benefit and satisfy needs, improve well-being and environmental health.

Hickel argues in ‘Less is More’ ‘In a growth-oriented economy, efficiency improvements that could help us reduce our impact are harnessed instead to advance our objectives in growth — to pull ever larger swaths of nature into circuits of extraction and production. It’s not our technology that’s the problem, it’s growth.

How to Grow when we Need Degrowth

Degrowth in Industrial Farming

It is clear that we need degrowth in our dated agriculture system. Governments hand out subsidies for growing crop staples like corn, wheat, and soy. Overgrowing of these crops is causing environmental issues like soil degradation, deforestation and pesticide use. They have lead to a decline in human health. These are commercial crops that are often used for processing or for animal feed.

We could fix our food system by prioritizing organic, local, seasonal, health foods. Plant based whole-foods can be cheaper, abundant, and accessible to all. Growth in regenerative, organic farming would benefit our economy, human health, and the environment.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Degrowth of Single Family Housing

Housing at its current state favors single family homes. These homes contribute to suburban sprawl and they are costly in energy. Urban developers need to build tons of road infrastructure, and the inhabitants need to own cars to get anywhere.

Above all, we need to grow the supply of affordable housing. Moreover, build housing that is cheap, energy efficient, and is located near schools, healthcare, parks, grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses. This would create walkable cities which would reduce the need for cars. It would contribute to our health, our economy, and our well-being.

It would make cities fiscally stronger by diversifying and densifying neighborhoods. Furthermore, cities would need less taxing road infrastructure that is built and maintained for constant car use. In addition, developers could instead build footpaths, and bike paths. These are much cheaper to build and maintain.

This would lower our taxes and our monthly expenses on energy, housing and automobiles. Therefore, people could build wealth easier, work less, and live a better life.

With these arguments it is clear that we need growth in affordable housing. Furthermore, we can do this by innovating, training, and educating for ways and techniques for building. In addition, we can learn how to make housing more energy efficient and how to build cheaper and more sustainably.

Photo by Andrea Davis on Unsplash

Growth in Health

There are 2 ways we can improve our healthcare system where we can simultaneously have growth and degrowth.

One way to improve is to focus on preventative health. As just explained, we can do this by making our cities walkable and bike friendly. Further, we can improve access, affordability and create an abundance of plant-based whole foods. This can decrease some of the biggest killers in North America like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

The second way is to make healthcare physically and financially accessible. Building more hospitals, having public clinics in all neighborhoods and, supporting them with public transportation.

Growth in Education

Getting an education in our modern society doesn’t always pay off. Students may find themselves in crippling debt just to have no job prospects at the end of it.

We can change, and grow our education system by making it cheaper and accessible for one. As technology changes rapidly, and jobs change and disappear, we need to support people by giving them the option to learn new skills or improve on existing ones.

Some subjects that educators overlook is business and personal finance. A strategy for a more eco-sustainable future involves know-how on how to be business leaders, build wealth, build income, and manage our finances.

Furthermore, we can also prioritize skills that help people offer useful service, or creation. Thanks to the internet, we have an abundance of independent course creators building courses for almost any skill.

Growth in Art

As we degrow the capitalist machine, and make basic necessities more affordable and accessible, people may be able to work less. For instance, many would find more time to create, and experiment. Creators would have time to paint, record, film, write, compose, document, and explore other endeavors.

We can support our artists by creating more public platforms to showcase and display art, make our cities more artistically free, and build artistic communities that support an artistic way of life.

Growth in Transport

Photo by veerasak Piyawatanakul: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-and-man-waiting-on-train-station-1170184/

Canada and the US have invested millions in pipelines built to carry crude oil. They pollute water systems, kill wildlife and support a polluting automobile and transport industry.

Why not invest in directly transporting people? Why not grow an electrified train, and bus industry that can transport millions throughout cities and across countries? By giving people the freedom and access to roam, we can grow GDP and increase happiness and well-being.

Growth in Services

Making our economy more service oriented could reduce carbon emissions, build wealth, and reduce the need for more stuff.

Services can solve people’s problems. Rather than buying stuff to add to our lives, we can buy useful services that reduce, take away, and fix problems.

One way to improve our service economy is by giving people access to improving skills with education. We can also improve support for small service-based businesses.

Green Growth is Not a Solution

For the record, relying solely on tech-fixes is not a solution to climate change, and is a band-aid solution at best.

Blanketing the land with solar panels and wind farms wont work with an ever increasing demand for energy.

Electrifying every single vehicle wouldn’t address our over reliance, unaffordability, of road and highw personal automobile.

And, we can’t just plant a bunch of trees, or use carbon-capture technology just to suck our environmental problems away.

This is a vision of greenwashing that benefits the energy and automobile manufacturing industries. It is a false hope that we can maintain current levels of consumption with no issues.

Scaling Back to Move Forward

The churn of our modern economy can be crippling. 40+ hour work-weeks, consumer debt, 30-year mortgages are normalized. Often, our possessions end up owning us and we work long hours to pay for them.

What if we took one giant step back and looked towards the things that actually make us happy? Moreover, asking questions like why we work to live can lead us to focus less on having and instead focus on being. We can be with people we love and do what we want to.