Let’s get rid of the ideology of infinite economic growth!
Let’s get rid of the ideology of infinite economic growth!
Why growth kills
The ecological crisis is an existential threat to life on Earth. The IPCC estimates that, on our current trajectory, it is very likely we will exceed even the 2 degree limit ¹ and that several tipping points will be crossed ², beyond which global heating will accelerate uncontrollably and extreme weather events will become the norm, leading towards mass extinction.³ Moreover, with the collapse of biodiversity and pollution of all kinds, 6 of the 9 planetary boundaries have been crossed ⁴, causing irreversible damage to life on Earth, and endangering food and water security. Faced with the greatest challenge ever posed to humanity, we must take immediate action to limit this ongoing catastrophe.
As European citizens, we bear a heavy responsibility for this catastrophe. The average European citizen’s ecological consumption is 2.8 times that of our planet’s capacity to regenerate itself ⁵, and 5 times that of the average Indian citizen.⁶ ⁷ We must therefore drastically reduce the destruction created by our economic activity and our use of natural resources.
The main obstacle standing between us and the required measures is this: the pursuit of infinite economic growth. Our leaders keep trying to make us believe that this is compatible with the necessary ecological transition, yet there is no empirical basis indicating that it is possible to globally and sufficiently decouple GDP from environmental pressures ⁸, nor, writes the EEA, is it likely to become so.⁹ Our politicians are betting on technological progress to alleviate the crisis, even though the presented “green technologies” are yet another way to drive inequality and an important part of those technologies are still in the testing phase, uncertain whether they are themselves environmentally friendly.¹⁰ The promise that economic growth results in human wellbeing is broken too: looking at the past 40 years, there isn’t any correlation between economic growth and human development such as literacy, life expectancy and education.¹¹ GDP measures the welfare of capitalism, not the welfare of people. Do we want to keep accelerating profits for the few or create wellbeing for all? There is only one solution: to produce and consume drastically less.
Unlike the planetary boundaries, the economic system is not a law of nature, but a social construct, and can be tamed. The wild neoliberalism that rules our lives is only a recent invention; before the state was much less reluctant to intervene in the economy for the general good, and much more reluctant to intervene for the benefit of private capital. How many measures could we put in place with the budgets that were granted to the private sector during the financial crisis of 2008 or the Covid-19 pandemic! And let’s not delude ourselves: the current growth-oriented economic system has reached saturation point and would collapse sooner or later, even without ecological pressure, as the financial crisis and covid pandemic made painfully clear. It is up to us to choose between a controlled reduction of those sectors that don’t contribute to society and revaluing essential work, or witness a horrendous collapse of both.
The severity of the ecological crisis demands that we fundamentally rethink the economic system in order to guarantee a decent standard of living for all citizens within the limits of the planet. We therefore call on the EU government to abandon growth as an economic objective and to launch a socially just European ecological emergency plan to fundamentally reform the economy, under democratic control.
1. Ban consumerist advertising
2. Make companies pay the true cost of their activities
Secondly, charge the true cost of products: the government should withdraw all subsidies to polluting companies and make them pay for their environmental damages, not just for their greenhouse gas emissions, but for all their crimes against the living world. Nature feeds us and keeps us alive, and that should have a price! All the saved money should be transferred to sectors that contribute to our wellbeing… and our survival!
3. Ban and cap over-consumption
Thirdly, to shift away from unsustainable consumption. The most polluting products and services need to be either banned or their use capped. Switching from beef to non-ruminant meats or plant proteins could allow us to reduce 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions and liberate an area equal to Canada, the USA and China combined.¹⁴ Take also the short distance flights that should be banned, and the long distance ones that should be rationed. This can happen without any loss to human welfare. Everyone should have the right to a balanced diet and travel, but abuse must be limited at all costs.
4. Pool resources
All these measures will affect the purchasing power of citizens. We can maintain our standard of living, but with less stuff. Instead of hoarding essential resources for occasional personal use, these should be treated as a commons: shared and maintained under democratic control for fair use by everyone. This should be applied to all basic goods, water, energy, transport, tools, etc.
5. Create a sovereign citizens’ assembly
Only stable and trusted democracies caring for the common good can give birth to a social movement able to stop a systemic collapse. Belgium supports the fossil fuel industry to the tune of €13.3b per year. ¹⁵ In 2021, the Belgian governments were legally condemned for the shortcomings in their climate policy. In 2020 it only achieved 1 of the 3 environmental targets set by the EU¹⁶ This shows us that our politicians are either incompetent, or prefer instead to sacrifice our future for the simple profit of the rich. This is why we demand a sovereign citizens’ assembly that would give the people the right to decide their future. The French Climate Convention shows us that this works: its 149 proposals are excellent!¹⁷
- We avoid the term degrowth to avoid connotations and misunderstandings. Degrowth is defined as the decline of consumption and production, not of GDP at any price. It does not matter whether the decreasing measures affect GDP positively or negatively.
- We consciously do not propose an alternative economic indicator to GDP to get away from the idea that indicators must be used. It is up to citizens’ assemblies to decide.
- The measures we propose are emergency measures for a first phase of the transition. It is up to the citizens’ assembly to decide what to do next, and in particular how to ensure radical transparency and accountability of the executive.
¹ IPCC AR6 WG I – Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis p. 62
² IPCC AR6 WG I – Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis p. 106
³ Secretary-General’s video message on the launch of the third IPCC report
⁴ Planetary boundaries – Stockholm Resilience Centre
⁵ EU Overshoot Day 2019 – WWF
⁶ Ecological footprint of European countries – European Environment Agency
⁷ The Ecological Footprint in India – LtEconomyBlog
⁸ Growth without economic growth — European Environment Agency
⁹ Decoupling Debunked – European Environmental Bureau
¹⁰ Daniel Tanuro, 2014, Green Capitalism Why It Can’t Work
¹¹ UNDP 2010/42 Understanding Performance in Human Development, pp. 28-32
¹² Andre Gorz, 1994, Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology (trans. Chris Turner)
¹³ ActNow for Zero-Waste Fashion – United Nations Sustainable Development
¹⁴ Elke Stehfest et al., Climate benefits of changing diet, Climatic Change 95(1-2), 2009, pp. 83-102
Hickel, 2021 P170-188