The Rise of Degrowth: Europe’s Radical Movement Gains Momentum

The Rise of Degrowth: Europe's Radical Movement Gains Momentum

A growing number of academics, activists, and policymakers across Europe are embracing the concept of degrowth as a response to the climate crisis and the limitations of traditional economic models.

The ninth International Degrowth Conference, held in Zagreb, Croatia, opened with a provocative request from keynote speaker Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, the vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She called on the audience to consider coordinating with governments and to explore alternative terminology for the concept of degrowth. This niche movement, which challenges the traditional pursuit of economic growth, is gaining traction among European leftists, academics, and youth activists. It is seen as a response to the urgent need for global unity in addressing the climate crisis.

The Origins and Evolution of the Degrowth Movement: The degrowth movement emerged in France in the 1970s, influenced by the Club of Rome’s report on the limits to growth. Initially focused on population growth, the movement has shifted its emphasis to per capita consumption and the need to reorient rich economies away from the pursuit of GDP growth. It gained momentum in Southern Europe following the 2008-09 financial crisis and the subsequent austerity measures. Today, degrowth encompasses a range of perspectives, including green-liberal economic reform and “socialism without growth.”

The Youth Movement and Climate Crisis: The recent surge in interest in degrowth can be attributed to the growing influence of young activists who are disillusioned with the status quo and alarmed by the future effects of climate change. The climate crisis is seen as a social problem that requires a reengineering of the global socioeconomic order. Europe’s long tradition of leftist organizing and cultural openness to challenging mainstream economics have contributed to the movement’s popularity in the region.

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The Debate Over Decoupling and Economic Slowdown: Critics of degrowth argue that decoupling economic growth from resource use and environmental impact is a more viable solution to the climate crisis. They advocate for technological advancements and policy measures to accelerate this decoupling. However, degrowthers question the feasibility and effectiveness of decoupling scenarios, pointing to the offshoring of material-intensive manufacturing and the rebound effect. They argue that a drastic reduction in material and carbon throughput is necessary to avoid the worst climate futures.

Challenges and Opportunities for Degrowth: Degrowth faces challenges in terms of language and popular appeal. The use of provocative terminology, such as “degrowth” and “communism,” can hinder the movement’s mainstream acceptance. However, proponents argue that such language is necessary to challenge the dominant paradigms and spark public debate. The movement is also grappling with the question of how to communicate its ideas to a broader audience, particularly those who may be affected by the necessity of degrowth rather than seeing it as a choice.

Conclusion: The degrowth movement in Europe is gaining momentum as academics, activists, and policymakers recognize the urgent need for a new approach to address the climate crisis. While the movement faces challenges in terms of language and popular appeal, its proponents are committed to reorienting rich economies away from the pursuit of GDP growth and towards a more sustainable and equitable future. As the world grapples with ecological decline and rising discontent, degrowth offers a potential pathway to manage the impending economic slowdown and environmental degradation.