Degrowth thinkers and activists advocate for the downscaling of production and consumption—the contraction of economies—as overconsumption lies at the root of long term environmental issues and social inequalities.
‘degrowthists’ aim to maximize happiness and well-being through non-consumptive means—sharing work, consuming less, while devoting more time to art, music, family, culture and community.
Degrowth opposes sustainable development because, while sustainable development aims to address environmental concerns, it does so with the goal of promoting economic growth which has failed to improve the lives of people and inevitably leads to environmental degradation.
As economies grow, the need for resources grows accordingly.
There is a fixed supply of non-renewable resources, such as petroleum (oil), and these resources will inevitably be depleted.
Renewable resources can also be depleted if extracted at unsustainable rates over extended periods.
Many people look to technology to develop replacements for depleted resources. [and to increase resource efficiency]
Proponents of degrowth argue that decreasing demand is the only way of permanently closing the demand gap.
It compares human demand with planet Earth’s ecological capacity to regenerate.
It represents the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste.
According to a 2005 Global Footprint Network report:, inhabitants of high-income countries live off of 6.4 global hectares (gHa), while those from low-income countries live off of a single gHa.
In order for world economic equality to be achieved with the current available resources, rich countries would have to reduce their standard of living through degrowth.
The eventual reduction of all available resources would lead to a forced reduction in consumption. Controlled reduction of consumption would reduce the trauma of this change.
“The Rebound Effect”
Technologies designed to reduce resource use and improve efficiency are often touted as sustainable or green solutions. However, degrowth opposes these technological advances on the ground of what is referred to as the “rebound effect” This concept is based on observations that when less resource-exhaustive technology are introduced, behaviour surrounding the use of that technology will change and consumption of that technology will increase and offset any potential resource savings. In light of the rebound effect, proponents of degrowth hold that the only effective 'sustainable’ solutions must involve a complete rejection of the growth paradigm and a move toward a degrowth paradigm.
Origins of the movement
The contemporary degrowth movement can trace its roots back to the anti-industrialist trends of the 19th century, developed in Great Britain by John Ruskin, William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement (1819–1900), in the United States by Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), and in Russia by Leo Tolstoy (1828–1911).
Supporters of economic liberalism believe that economic growth brings about the creation of wealth, by increasing employment, improving quality of life, and providing better education and healthcare, in other words, there should be more resources in order to make and improve on more things. From this point of view, degrowth constitutes economic recession and is a destroyer of wealth.
Supporters of the self-regulation of the market believe that if a particular non-renewable resource becomes scarce, the market will limit its extraction via two mechanisms:
- an increase in price (supply and demand) …. [this occurs after things have run out]
- an increase in funding for the development of alternatives (i.e. renewable energy, recycling, etc.)
The concept of degrowth is viewed as contradictory when applied to lesser-developed countries, which require the growth of their economies in order to attain prosperity. In this sense the majority of supporters of degrowth advocate the attainment of a certain, acceptable level of well-being independent of growth. The question of where the balance lies (i.e. how much the developed nations should degrow by, and how much the developing nations should be allowed to grow), remains open.
Supporters of scientific progress argue that it will solve the problems of energy supply, waste and the reduction of raw materials. This ideology draws inspiration from the Enlightenment to develop an optimistic technologist vision