Is degrowth the only hope for Humanity?

The term degrowth has been used very recently in the economic, political and social debate, even though the origin of the ideas it entails has a more or less ancient history. Until recent years the word did not appear in any economic and social dictionary, while there are some entries on its correlations "zero growth", "sustainable development" and, of course, "steady state". Even so, it already has a relatively complex history and incontestable analytical and political weight in economics. It is still necessary to understand its meaning. More or less malicious commentators and critics point out the antiquity of the concept in order to more easily liquidate the subversive scope of the proposals of the "growth objectors."

It is not about degrowth, nor about the stationary state of the old classics, nor about one form or another of regression, recession, "negative growth", nor about "zero growth", although everywhere we can find a part of the problematic. Let us specify, immediately, that degrowth is not a concept and, in any case, it is not symmetrical with growth. It is a political slogan with theoretical implications. It aims to break down the misleading language of the productivism junkies.

The watchword of degrowth also aims, above all, to strongly mark the abandonment of the objective of growth for growth's sake, the engine of which is none other than the search for profit by those who hold capital and the consequences of which are disastrous for the environment. Strictly speaking, one should speak of an "a-growth", as one speaks of a-theism, rather than a de-growth. It is, therefore, very precisely the abandonment of a faith or a religion: that of the economy, that of growth, that of progress and that of development.

What differentiates degrowth and so-called sustainable development?

If we trace the history of the concept of development we find its origin with evolutionary biology, which places it, therefore, in the history of Western sciences where it was born. Even before Darwin, biologists distinguished, for organisms, growth from development. An organism is born and grows, it is its growth, when it grows it changes; A seed does not become a great seed, but an oak tree for example, and this is its development. But growth is not an infinite phenomenon and at the end of a certain time the organism dies.

Economists have transposed this word metaphorically to the economic organism, but they have forgotten about death! It is clear, then, from here that the concept is perverse because it incorporates in itself what the Greeks called hubris, excess. We have entered a perverse cycle of unlimited growth, growth in consumption to grow production which, in turn, grows consumption and so on. It is no longer a matter of reaching a certain stage of well-being or satisfaction. On the contrary, this satisfaction is always rejected ad infinitum. It is completely absurd, it could only be mathematically. Indeed, a continuous growth rate of 2 to 3% annually would lead the economic organism to grow seven hundred times in a century - counting compound interest. Or we live on a finite planet.

Here we are faced with the famous "water lily theorem." If a water lily colonizes a pond by doubling its surface area every year, it may take fifty years to colonize half of it, but it will only take one year to occupy the remaining half. We are at this point, it is clear enough with oil, forests, fishing, climate change. We have believed that we could colonize everything without problems and today we understand that now everything will disappear in a very short time.

"The concept of development is perverse, because it incorporates what the Greeks called hubris, excess."

The idea of ​​sustainable development is not, then, a principle of solution. On the contrary, it is the oxymoron par excellence. The development model followed by all countries until today is fundamentally unsustainable. One can, as was done at one time, compare dreamed socialism with actually existing socialism, compare dreamed development with actually existing development. Development, the only one known, is ultimately summed up as “always doing more of the same thing,” whatever adjective is attached. In thirty years of personal participation in projects in the Third World and essentially in Africa, I have seen development - successively called socialist, active participation, cooperative, autonomous, popular - have the same catastrophic results.

We must often remember that, as Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen said, "sustainable development cannot in any case be separated from economic growth", even without one it cannot be reduced to the other, as the development of the plant rests on the growth of the seed, and that this logic of growth is incompatible with the finitude of the planet. Development would be neither durable nor sustainable. If we want to build a lasting and sustainable society, it is necessary to get out of development and consequently get out of the economy since it incorporates, in its very essence, excess.

Who have been and are the theorists of degrowth?

The project of an autonomous and economic society that embraces this slogan is not from yesterday. Without going back to certain utopias of early socialism, nor to the anarchist tradition renewed by situationism, it has been formulated in a form close to ours since the late sixties by Ivan Illich, André Gorz and Cornelius Castoriadis. The failure of development in the South and the loss of references in the North led many thinkers to question consumer society and its imaginary bases: progress, science and technology. The awareness of the environmental crisis that occurs at the same moment provides a new dimension.

The authors of the Club of Rome report (Meadows, Randers and Behrens) were already convinced, in 1972, that awareness of the material limits of the global environment and the tragic consequences of irrational exploitation of the earth's resources was essential to emerge new ways of thinking that should lead to a fundamental revision, at the same time, of the behavior of men, and, consequently, of the structure of current society as a whole.

The idea of ​​degrowth therefore has a double affiliation. It is formed, on the one hand, in the grip of consciousness of the ecological crisis and, on the other, on the edge of criticism of technology and development.

Is the radical simplicity advocated, among others, by Jim Merkel, from the United States, close to the degrowth of Serge Latouche? That is, could we talk about an ideology and a global degrowth at a planetary level?

Yes and no. In his book La convivencialedad (CIDOC Notebook, Cuernavaca, Mexico, 1972; Joaquín Mortiz ed., Planeta, 1985), Ivan Illich advocates the "sober intoxication of life." Illich says that in the current "human" condition, in which all technologies become so invasive, he would not know how to find more joy than in what a young techno would say. The necessary limitation of our consumption and production, the stoppage of the exploitation of nature and the exploitation of labor by capital, do not mean a "return" to a life of deprivation and work. This means, on the contrary - if one is able to renounce material comfort - a liberation of creativity, a renewal of conviviality, and the possibility of leading a dignified life.

The search for voluntary simplicity, or if you prefer, for an austere life, has nothing to do with a prejudice of masochistic frustration. It is the choice to live otherwise, to live better in fact, and more in harmony with one's convictions, replacing the pursuit of material goods with the search for more satisfactory values. The rare families that choose to live without television are not to be regretted. To the satisfactions that the magic skylight could offer them, they prefer others: family or social life, reading, games, artistic activities, free time to dream and simply enjoy life. This path is evidently, in general, progressive, although the contrary pressures of society are strong. It is a path that asks to master one's own fears, fear of emptiness, fear of lack, fear of the future, fear also of not agreeing with the prefabricated molds, fear of distancing oneself from the norms in force. It is the choice to live now rather than to sacrifice the present life to consumption or the accumulation of worthless values, to the construction of a savings or retirement plan commissioned to deal with the fear of not having enough. A more relaxed reflection on the ecological footprint still allows us to grasp the systemic nature of "overconsumption" and the limits of voluntary simplicity.

"The bet of degrowth is to push humanity towards an ecological democracy."

In 1961, France's ecological footprint still corresponded to just one planet compared to three today. Does this mean that in French homes they ate three times less meat, drank three times less water and wine, burned three times less electricity or gasoline? Probably not. Only, the little yogurt with strawberries that we eat today still did not incorporate its 8.000 km! Neither did the clothes we wore and the steak devoured less chemical fats, pesticides, imported soybeans and petroleum.

In any case, the change of imaginary, if we do not decide, also entails multiple changes in mentalities that are partly prepared by propaganda and imitation. Mentalities need to "swing" for the system to change. The chicken-and-egg circle class involves initiating a virtuous dynamic.

Should some kind of natural or accidental catastrophe happen for governments to take the idea of ​​​​degrowth seriously?

Unfortunately, it is likely. I don't know if the end of oil, for example, we can say that it is a catastrophe. For me it would rather be good news. Oil will have been a catastrophe for humanity when we see the amount of blood and tears it has caused. There are extreme phenomena and the depletion of natural resources is one of them. There may also be, indeed, natural catastrophes caused by climate imbalance, countries that will disappear under water, others that will freeze, generating hundreds of thousands of migrants for the environment. Other phenomena are emerging. Little is said about it, but industrialization in China will cause (in the image of that of England, which led to the emigration to Australia, New Zealand or the United States of between two to three million proletarians) the departure from the fields of three to five hundred million Chinese, who will become vagrants - who are already beginning to be, who revolt or commit suicide.

We will witness the largest planetary uprooting in all of history. This can lead to considerable bankruptcy effects. We begin to add ecological and social effects and more or less natural catastrophes to the imbalances in the economy itself. We live, in effect, in a casino economy, in a kind of bubble artificially maintained by a flight forward, in an economy of credit, of anticipation. The American economy, as an example, lives approximately three years ahead. It is the balance of the cyclist, you must always pedal faster to be able to maintain yourself, even if you know that it will end you. If everything breaks down, this can do a lot of damage.

What we can best hope for is that catastrophes are strong enough to keep people awake, make them change the way they see things, but that the sixth extinction of species does not occur, of which we would be the authors at the same time as the victims.

What practical measures, that can be assumed by the citizens of the first world, can be taken now and here to move towards degrowth?

Very simple and almost anodyne measures in appearance are likely to set in motion the virtuous circles of degrowth. The transition can be thought of with a program that is sustained in some points and that consists of drawing the "sensible" consequences of the diagnosis made. For example:

1. Return to the sixties and seventies for material production, with an ecological footprint equal to or less than one planet.
2. Internalize transportation costs.
3. Relocate activities.
4. Adopt the agricultural agriculture program of the peasant confederation (José Bové).
5. Promote the "production" of relational goods.
6. Adopt the Negawatt scenario, that is, reduce energy waste to a factor of 4.
8. Strongly penalize advertising expenses.
9. Decree a moratorium on technological innovation, take a serious stock and reorient scientific and technical search based on new aspirations.

The internalization of external economies, in principle according to orthodox economic theory, would allow, if taken to its ultimate consequences, to almost completely realize the program of a degrowth society. All ecological and social dysfunctions could and should be borne by the companies that are responsible. We only need to imagine the weight of the impact of the internalization of transport costs on the environment and on health. Obviously, companies that obey capitalist logic would be largely discouraged. At first, a large number of activities would no longer be "profitable" and the system would crash. But wouldn't this be precisely additional proof of the need to leave this system and at the same time a possible transition path towards an alternative society?

How can we influence the local political level to spread this idea?

The local utopia is perhaps more realistic than we believe because it is from the concrete experience of citizens that hopes and possibilities come. Takis Fotopoulos says that standing in local elections gives the possibility of starting to change society from below, which is the only democratic strategy - contrary to statist methods (which aim to change society from above using the power of the State) since the so-called “civil society” approaches (which do not aim at all to change the system). In a "pluriversalist" vision, the relations between the various polities within the planetary people could be regulated by a "democracy of cultures." Far from a world government, it would be a minimal arbitration instance between sovereign polities of very different statuses.

Raimon Panikkar affirms that the alternative he is trying to offer (to a world government) would be the bioregion, that is, the natural regions where herds, plants, animals, waters and men form a single and harmonious whole. It would be necessary to reach to a myth that allows for a universal republic without implying government, control, or world police. This requires other types of relationships between bioregions. In any case, the creation of local “democratic” initiatives is more “realistic” than that of a global democracy. If the possibility of bringing down the domination of capital and economic powers head-on is excluded, the possibility of dissidence remains. It is also the strategy of the Zapatistas and the Subcommander Marcos. The reconquest or reinvention of the "commons" (commons, common goods, community space) and the self-organization of the bioregion of Chiapas, following Gustavo Esteva's analysis, constitutes a possible illustration of the dissident local strategy.

Can the idea of ​​degrowth be assumed and manipulated by the System, as has happened with the idea of ​​sustainable development?

Difficult, but not impossible, as can be seen with the geopolitical projects of the semi-secret organization of the planetary elite Bildenberg. A mechanistic analysis consists of highlighting that the world population has exploded with the era of economic growth, that is, the era of thermoindustrial capitalism. The availability of an abundant and cheap energy resource, oil, has allowed a prodigious leap and has increased the world population from 600 to 6.000 billion individuals. The disappearance of this non-renewable resource will condemn us to return to a population figure compatible with the sustainable carrying capacities of the planet, more or less the population figure prior to industrialization.

This is the thesis supported, particularly, by William Stanton in his book The Rapid growth off Human Population 1750-2000. This thesis is discussed very seriously on a global scale within ASPO, as well as the ecototalitarian perspectives that the author concludes. Stanton says the population reduction scenario with the best chance of success must be Darwinian through and through, with none of the mawkishness that has lulled the second half of the 150th century in the thick fog of political correctness. This scenario, presented as an equitable and calm voluntary program, aims for a progressive reduction of the population in XNUMX years at a rate equal to that of the decline of oil. All to avoid the nightmare of a brutal reduction through wars (including nuclear ones), massacres, hunger, etc. The ingredients, according to Stanton, are as follows:

- Immigration is prohibited and those who arrive without authorization are treated as criminals;
- Abortion or infanticide is mandatory if the fetus or baby proves to be very disabled (Darwinian selection eliminates the unfit);
- When, due to advanced age, an accident or an illness, an individual is more of a burden than a benefit to society, his or her life stops humanely;
- Imprisonment is rare, replaced by corporal punishment for small crimes and by painless capital punishment in the most serious cases

The author is aware of the opposition to the implementation of his scheme and states that the biggest obstacle in the scenario that has the best chance of success is probably (in his opinion) the Western World's unintelligent devotion to political correctness. The response is as ruthless as the diagnosis: to the sentimentalists who cannot understand the need to reduce the population of Great Britain from 60 million to around 2 million in the next 150 years and who are outraged by the proposed replacement of rights humans by cold logic, William Stanton says that he could answer them: "You have already had your moment" and to measure this he specifies that violent acts of protest, such as those carried out by animal rights activists or anti-avortists could, in a Darwinian model, attracting capital punishment. This almost obsessive reference to the Darwinian world is found again in many analyzes of American geopolitics and not without echo with Samuel Huttington's Clash of Civilizations.

The bet of our decrease is another. And the aspiration for justice combined with sobriety will push humanity towards the reasonable path of an ecological democracy rather than towards collective suicide.

Sun and Climate -