Why Degrowth is Needed

Louie Moore offers a deep dive into degrowth, one potential disruption of capitalist production and capitalist-induced climate change.

Degrowth is an economic policy focused on reducing production and consumption within an economy to prioritize a more sustainable economic lifestyle while promoting a cleaner, healthier Earth. The current economy is centered around the idea of “growth,” where industries must continuously increase their production and services to maintain themselves. For example, in today’s world, countries prioritize Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a means of ranking how successful a country is. However, GDP does not consider the exploitation of the resources or the actual happiness of a country. Politicians and policymakers focus on expanding a nation’s economy, refusing to address the expiration and exploitation of resources and their failures on a variety of social issues. Degrowth is one strategy to interrupt the capitalist system.

The exploitation of Earth’s natural resources is a direct result of capitalism. Under capitalism, there is a major prioritization of economic growth and profit over sustainable practices. While the Earth is struggling to maintain humanity, humanity as a whole is not even attempting to maintain the Earth. Humanity continues to accelerate the effects of climate change. 

Climate change is a major issue affecting the Earth’s future. Science tells the masses that the Earth is warming faster than ever as a result of the unsustainable mechanization during the Industrial Revolution. Climate tipping points—thresholds that will lead to irreversible damage to increasing climate change patterns—are closer than once thought. The melting of the Greenland ice sheet is an example of a tipping point, and we are already halfway to this event. Yet, that progress is being accelerated on a day-to-day basis due to the immense amount of emissions being made by major industrial countries. When the Greenland ice sheet melts, it will cause global sea levels to increase by twenty-three feet; this would lead to immense flooding in locations that are at, and near, sea level. While industrialized nations may be prepared for climate change, underdeveloped nations are not and they will experience its effects much more severely. 

Where does degrowth fall into this dilemma? Under an economy that “degrows” itself, moving away from the prioritization of increasing the nation’s GDP and instead promoting sustainable production, there is hope to draw back humanity’s descent towards the climate tipping points while promoting overall well-being for individuals. Degrowth emphasizes creating a more sustainable world through an economic route. If the top industrialized countries took a degrowth route, there would be a drastic decline in exportations and consumption, and a corresponding decrease in carbon emissions, with fewer emissions from the transportation, production, and waste of goods. 

Degrowth offers a way to combat climate change practically directly by tackling the main sources of carbon emissions. In 2021, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, greenhouse gas emissions increased to 6,340.2 million metric tons for the United States alone. The top three origins of these emissions are transportation, industry, and commercial and residential sources. “Transportation” results from vehicles emitting fossil fuels, inflated in the US due to our lack of public transportation infrastructure. “Industry” refers to the burning of fossil fuels and specific chemical reactions as a byproduct of turning raw materials into goods. Finally, commercial and residential sources use fossil fuels for heat, cooling, and even waste disposal. Within a society with a focus on degrowing the economy, the transportation of goods would be reduced, industries that have a focus on using fossil fuels would be heavily regulated, and commercial and residential sources would gravitate towards renewable resources as a way to obtain energy while also managing waste more sustainably. 

Degrowth will require politicians and policymakers to invest more efforts into social issues rather than basing their platforms almost entirely on economic issues. High-income countries, such as the United States, have the resources and ability to reduce their overall production and consumption while starting to invest more in public sectors, such as education, healthcare, housing, and transportation. An economy that moves away from destructive sectors—such as fossil fuel industries, fast fashion, and mass-produced meat and dairy—will further ensure that the Earth itself will be provided for. Once a high-income economy successfully pulls away from a high-production-based mindset and towards one that is more focused on necessary production, then there will be resources for public sectors.To fund these works while degrowing the economy, governments could tax ecologically damaging industries, such as air travel and meat production, and institute a wealth tax, which would also help create revenue for these funds while reducing income inequality. 

Degrowth is a theory that must be put into practice for the preservation of the Earth, demanding governmental investments and procedures that promote sustainable energy usage, movement away from ecologically damaging sectors, and that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share for the environmental damage they partake in. The capitalist mindset only focuses on economic growth, without any concern regarding the working class or the Earth, both of which the capitalists abuse to further their gain. The Earth is dying, and capitalists do not fear the repercussions of their actions. A world that is focused entirely on economic policy will result in humanity’s doom; but shifting our efforts away from economic growth and towards a society where the worker is prioritized will help ensure that the Earth is truly cared for and maintained.