Degrowth: a radically realistic alternative to capitalism

What is degrowth? It is a concept introduced in the 19th century in contrast to the emerging industrial economy, proposed later in a more modern version at the beginning of the 1970s by the social philosopher André Gorz. Being based on an ecological, anti-consumerist and anti-capitalistic economy, degrowth aims at downscaling the production and consumption system. Contrary to many beliefs, does not promote poverty, but rather the thriving with less material objects and more community and shared work and relationships. In fact, degrowth proposes a sustainable production which does not aim at the reduction of the GDP, but at the change of our capitalistic mindset based on overproduction and overconsumption, both at the local and global level, now and in the future.

The panel held at the COP24 was completely composed by young women from different cultural backgrounds, a sporadic view at the Conference. The first speaker, Linda Schneider from the Henrich Böll Foundation, presented a paper called “Radical Realism for Climate Justice” which discusses the transition from a Capitalist System to the aforementioned Degrowth System. It is a response from the civil society to the challenge of limiting global warming, proposing a fifth alternative to the four pathways included in the IPCC Report. What the paper is trying to present, is that “1.5°C is possible without relying on a speculative and risky geoengineering technologies – but with a justice and equity-based agenda for political change”.

This publication is composed by eight chapters that collect knowledge and experience gathered by various international groups and organizations. In my opinion, it is worth to mention the two most important ones.
To take distance from capitalism, we must move away from our, literally, toxic relationship and dependency on fossil fuels, to a system based on renewable energy, using a “public good” approach, since reduction of emissions will benefit the whole community and decarburization will also decrease the energy demand. The difficulty arises when we consider that the ownership of the energy system is in the hands of many powerful fossil fuel companies calling for a change also on a governmental level.

Another chapter focuses on the Zero Waste Circular Economy, which, instead of recycling & composting practices, suggests avoiding waste production altogether. For instance, when we buy plastic packages we throw them away in a recycling bin, but plastic can be recycled only a few times before it becomes useless, and piles up as waste. Instead, we should avoid entirely buying plastic, therefore avoiding (or diminishing the demand for) its production. Here, the consumer plays a major role. This is why we should focus on the individual consumer behavior, rather than on the industry (which as we know, follows the law of offer and demand). The chapter of the publication also addresses the huge issue concerning food waste: in fact, 1/3 of the food produced worldwide is thrown in the garbage, meaning that the energy used to produce it is also wasted. Given the huge impact that food production has on GHG emissions, we should start to lead a more mindful lifestyle, with conscious choices that would limit our footprint on the only planet we have.

Moving on to the next speaker, Melissa Moreno, a critical geographer in Quito (Ecuador), introduced the idea of buen vivir in contrast with vivir mejor. The principal of buen vivir is the same as the one in degrowth: it suggests an alternative to capitalism, a way to organize production through a communal and collective control of the means of production (excluding machismo, patriarchy, sexism and racism) as well as through the reconnection to nature and spirituality, grounded in indigenous communities.

The last but not least speaker, Meera Ghani, spoke about Ecolise , a European network for community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability. She started her intervention with a quote by Ursula K. Le Guin: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

It is with this resistance in mind that Ecolise supports EcoTowns, where an alternative to consumerism and overproduction is promoted. They provide a blueprint that would make possible to transition from an exploitation system to a flourishing one: the final goal is to regain ownership over our lives, choices, about how we consume, promoting collaboration to make a community thrive. Sharing in solidarity would not only enhance our own well-being, but also the global one, making a connection between each other since we as individuals need to care about all human beings. In this way, we would work both on the inner (individual) and outer (community) level.

The final question is: how do we take into our hands the responsibility over our lives and actions? Before getting lost in the policy world, we should take a journey inside ourselves, trying to balance our lives and align with the values of our human nature, finding our center, but at the same time, thorough meaningful connections with other people who reciprocally help each other. Only in this way we will realize that all systems of oppression are linked to each other, and the only way to overcome them is to do it as one.

This kind of mindset will make us realize that climate change is only a symptom of something deeper, and not the actual problem. As Albert Einstein famously stated: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. Therefore, we are in a desperate need of changing our perspective, of questioning power relations and of realizing what the problem is by walking into a different door. This systematic perspective will show us that the real issue to address is the capitalist system and that to solve our current problems we need a new approach, a new framework to implement effectively all the needed environmental policies. Moreover, we have to unlearn our toxic behaviour and, instead of listening to a society that spurs us to compete, we should rather cooperate and learn how to be a united community again.

Now probably you will ask yourself: what about degrowth in developing countries? Don’t we want the opposite? Capitalism has exploited the global south for decades and decades, and now it is time to stop feeding this system with more power. What capitalism has done was distracting and taking away wealth from one group of people (global south) and bringing it to another one (global north), with the illusion that growth would be unstoppable. But all of us are witnessing the catastrophic consequences of this overheated machine, and climate change is just the collateral effect of this mechanism of madness.

Finally, we have the opportunity to make space for the global south, by adopting a degrowth system in the global north, bringing back the due balance between the two worlds. We need to “attack” every single political agenda because they are all part of the same, sick system. We need to renegotiate the climate agenda as a whole, with a new innovative and inclusive approach, far beyond the realm of climate change.
Because we can only be healthy when our planet is healthy, keeping in mind that Earth can survive without us, but we cannot survive without Earth.

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