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. Abandoning economic indicators as measures of prosperity

The GDP is a flawed indicator that inadequately measures economic prosperity because it measures the welfare of capitalism, not the welfare of people and the environment. The United Nations agrees that GDP has been “wrongly used as a proxy indicator for overall societal development and wellbeing”. Ceasing to use it would contribute to a long-term change in mentality, putting wellbeing instead of economic growth at the heart of political concerns. The GrowthKills campaign demands that governments stop using any economic indicator to measure prosperity.

2. Creating sovereign citizens’ assemblies

Only stable and trusted democracies caring for the common good can give birth to a social movement able to stop a systemic collapse. The many experiences of climate citizens’ assemblies over the last 3 years have shown that people independently informed by science make resolutions in favour of public policies of sufficiency and drastic reductions in the consumption of goods, raw materials or energy. Citizen participation strengthens representative democracy because it is not influenced by interest groups and people have the opportunity to really decide on their future. This is why we are calling for the creation of permanent and sovereign citizens’ assemblies with binding guarantees at national and regional levels.

3. Making companies pay the true cost of their activities

Externalised costs are costs generated by companies that are paid for by society as a whole. For example, a factory can pollute water by dumping waste into the river without paying for it. By offloading these environmental and social costs, companies fuel the environmental crises with impunity. We demand that governments make companies pay for their environmental damage, including for their greenhouse gas emissions, but also for all their crimes against the living world.

4. Stopping overconsumption

A minority of human beings consume beyond the planet’s limits, we are not equally to blame for rising temperatures. This over-consumption of goods, energy and certain services is harmful to our well-being and that of the planet. It only serves to make a handful of multinationals and billionaires ever richer. The most polluting products and services need to be either banned or their use capped​​​​​​​. We also call for a ban on all advertising of environmentally destructive products and for higher product quality standards to prevent planned obsolescence.

5. Reclaiming the commons

Instead of hoarding essential resources for occasional personal use, they should be treated as a commons: shared and maintained under democratic control for fair use by all. We demand the socialisation of common goods such as water, energy, transport, health, education, housing, etc. Reclaiming these commons would remove them from the control of private profit-driven interests and place them under collective and democratic management by the people who produce and benefit from them. This is key to ensuring social justice as it would guarantee access to essential goods and services for all.

General notes

  • 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.


Additional sources