One could argue (and many have) that the solution to global warming would be to radically stop anything that creates more CO2, such as flying (or traveling, in general), eating meat, going to work in an office (i.e. work IRL rather than virtual), and so on. In fact, this is one of the key themes in Dave Egger’s recent science-fiction book, “The Every” (which is very much a must-read).
I get this question during my talks all the time, and I often comment that growth is very much something that is inherently human – we have children, we invent new stuff, we expand – and we still love to travel and meet each other; we love to connect physically no matter what it takes. I also think that even if degrowth was indeed the key to addressing the catastrophic global warming emergency, asking for degrowth as a guiding principle for the future seems like a huge stretch, and (imho) a political ‘Mission Impossible’. Read more about that here and here (Gerdfeed quotes).
I think we’re better off to establish some strong and enforceable rules on holistic and sustainable growth, and on mandatory circular frameworks. Here are some ideas that I’ve been looking at:
- Invest in technologies that dramatically increase efficiency and reduce (or even repair) the side-effects aka ‘externalities’ of our growth, such as pollution and extraction / depletion of rare earth materials. In other words, we need to find new ways to grow while reducing or altogether preventing the negative side-effects. As an example, it would probably be entirely feasible to require all new vehicles to use electric motors, onlym and to completely ban any new gasoline-powered (ICE) vehicles from being sold, period, IF there was enough investment in clean energy sources, charging networks and batteries so that every citizen could actually make it work, and IF consumers would thus change their mind about switching to EVs and multi-modal transportation (Read the NoahPinion piece linked below:)
- Related to better technology: Decouple growth from environmental damage and extraction/exploitation behavior. Read more here and here (Noah Smith, Bloomberg).
- Start paying what it actually costs, such as for airline tickets, for eating meat and when considering ‘fast fashion’ products. We must integrate the externalities and the true cost into everything we do, use and consume (and yes, we would need some kind of payback system that would protect low-income citizens from being squeezed out – big topic!)
- Pay a tax to to make up for the inadvertent side-damages our actions cause, such as a culture-tax when visiting places such as Lisbon or Venice, where over-tourism has resulted in a slew of negative side-effects on people who actually live there. Again, some exemptions would need to apply to low-income travellers, and the distribution of these taxes would need to actually benefit the local economy (maybe a pro-rata-to-income taxation would be a solution here?)
- Discontinue some practices that have long looked bizarre, and have proven to be pretty much unfixable and unsustainable by-design, no matter what kinds of taxes we may impose, such as banning (traditional) cruise-ships and super-cheap low-cost airlines. Many of these enterprises have been aberrations or shall we say perversions of extreme free-market, utopian sagas, and it’s time to close these loop-holes. In the coming climate emergency world they will be the first to either pivot or to be shut-down.
- Institute mandatory labelling and tracing of all consumer goods (starting with food, clothes and appliances) so that people can instantly tell which products (and their supply chains) are provably sustainable, and could vote with their wallet.
- Establish a pan-EU (and then, global) Circular Economy Provision that would encourage and reward every single enterprise and organisation to adopt circular economy principles at its core, as part of local, national and international corporate governance laws.
- Develop new social contracts that make clearly frivolous behavior (such as unnecessary corporate travel, or personal extravaganzas such as gas-guzzling SUVs or private planes) socially unacceptable, and thus force us to consider making changes to our behavior. *I realise that this is a slippery slope – we don’t want to end up over-policing each other, either.
Related read: The standard argument against degrowth (via NoahPionion)
“First, note that the typical argument against degrowth, which I laid out in a Bloomberg post a while back, is that we don’t need it; we can raise human living standards without exhausting the planet. This argument was capably put forward by Andy McAfee, in his excellent book More From Less, which you should buy and read. Essentially, the idea that economic growth requires growth in resource use is false; rich countries have started to grow while using less and less of the planet’s most important resources…So the idea here is that we don’t need degrowth; instead, we can keep raising everyone’s standard of living without exhausting the planet’s resources. Because growth doesn’t just mean using more and more stuff; instead, it can mean finding more efficient ways to use the stuff we have“
Related: Do more withe fewer resources (Bloomberg) “The doomsayers are wrong; environmental sustainability can coexist just fine with economic growth, as long as it’s the right kind”
Related: The magical thinking of Degrowth.
UPDATE: Good Read: A response to Branko Milanović: The magic of degrowth by Timothée Parrique