The Rise of Degrowth: Challenging the Paradigm of Endless Economic Growth

The Rise of Degrowth: Challenging the Paradigm of Endless Economic Growth

The European movement for degrowth gains momentum as a radical response to the climate crisis and growing disillusionment with capitalism.

The ninth International Degrowth Conference, held in Zagreb, Croatia, opened with a provocation. Keynote speaker Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), urged the audience to consider a different word than “degrowth” to describe their movement. This niche, academic, and politically radical conference has seen a rising minority of European leftists embracing the term “degrowth” as an attraction rather than a turnoff. The movement, which challenges the pursuit of endless economic growth, is gaining momentum among academics, youth activists, and policymakers across Europe.

The Brussels Push: The degrowth movement has gained unprecedented buy-in from elected officials in Europe. The European Parliament hosted its second Beyond Growth Conference in May, with a significant number of politicians endorsing the movement. The event saw a new wave of activists, NGOs, academics, and elected officials, totaling around 7,000 attendees. The growing interest in degrowth is attributed to the climate crisis and the increasing vulnerability of the younger generation to its future effects.

Challenging Postwar Economics: The degrowth movement, rooted in direct democracy and anti-capitalism, challenges the central tenet of postwar economics that further increases in GDP lead to advances in social and individual well-being. Instead, degrowth advocates argue that addressing the climate crisis requires reengineering the entire global socioeconomic order, particularly in the wealthy global north.

The European Context: Europe’s long tradition of leftist organizing and cultural openness to restraining the excesses of capitalism has contributed to the rise of the degrowth movement. The continent’s regulatory approach to capitalism and the creation of space for noncommercial activities have made it more receptive to questioning mainstream economics and the growth paradigm. Additionally, the continent’s history of inequality and recent economic slowdowns have fueled disillusionment and a search for alternative economic models.

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Diverse Perspectives: The degrowth movement encompasses a range of perspectives, including green-liberal economic reform and “socialism without growth.” These currents within the movement advocate for different approaches to achieving degrowth, such as market mechanisms, taxation and regulation, or fundamental changes to distribution and ownership. The movement also engages with concepts like conviviality, frugal abundance, and well-being, while emphasizing the need for ecological limits and a secure well-being.

Managing Pessimism: The surge in interest in degrowth can be attributed to a combination of pessimism about the current conditions of the world and the promise of political solutions. Young people, in particular, are disillusioned and alarmed by the status quo, as they face a future marked by the effects of climate change. Degrowth offers them a provocative environmental necessity and a platform to work on solutions.

The Language Challenge: The degrowth movement faces challenges in effectively communicating its ideas to a broader audience. The movement’s terminology, including the term “degrowth” itself, can be off-putting to the general public. Finding alternative ways to frame the movement’s goals and concepts is crucial for broader appeal. However, some argue that the provocative language serves an important purpose, preventing greenwashing and challenging the status quo.

Conclusion:

The rise of the degrowth movement in Europe reflects growing disillusionment with the pursuit of endless economic growth and a response to the climate crisis. The movement challenges the postwar economic paradigm and calls for a reengineering of the global socioeconomic order. While the movement faces challenges in effectively communicating its ideas, it has gained momentum among academics, youth activists, and policymakers. As the world grapples with ecological decline and rising discontent, degrowth offers a radical yet necessary alternative to the current economic model.

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