‘Degrowth’ and the climate crisis

 

A chara, – Mark Paul (“Degrowth fetishists, just be honest: you would make people poorer to fight climate change”, Business Opinion, August 16th) rightly points out that decoupling economic growth from carbon emissions is a delusion. He points out that economic contraction is the only way to make the economy fit the physical capacity of the planet, but he is against such a measure, as it leads to a fall in GDP. Mark Paul fails to point out that contraction is going to happen one way or another, since humans are exceeding the planet’s capacity to accommodate economic growth. He also fails to make the distinction between contraction as unplanned, disastrous recession and contraction as planned degrowth.

When GDP falls, without government action to ensure security and safety for ordinary people, then that’s a recession, an unplanned disaster. If governments respond to recession with cuts to public spending, if people see no support in daily life, then they will be afraid, which can result in the poor mental health that Mark Paul is concerned about. However, if contraction is accompanied by appropriate policy, cultural and institutional change, then it can help people to work together for social justice, people-care and planet-care.

The changes and challenges will be huge one way or another, but governments can make them more manageable with appropriate upstream policy interventions.

The Feasta (Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability) website is an excellent source of information about the limits to economic growth and the philosophy of degrowth. It also contains details of upstream measures that would support a fair and equal-shares contraction. Proposals include universal basic income, site-value and other “smart” taxes, cap and share (to deal with carbon emissions), and proposals for democratic financial reform.

A huge store of knowledge exists about designed degrowth and steady-state economics. If we go slower by design, not disaster (to paraphrase Peter Viktor), it will still be a huge challenge, but possibilities exist for people to be happier, to experience less pressure to be productive in the narrowest of senses and to have better mental health. Neighbourhood, local and regional economies can flourish, communities can be strengthened, people can be more productive in their daily lives and have more opportunity to participate in local activities.

In rich countries, increasing GDP is no longer the way to create wellbeing for all. We have reached the limits to growth and we need policies of sharing and security, which support a diversity of ecologically sound economic activity. This is based on a philosophy and practice of sufficiency and a recognition of the many forms of wealth and wellbeing that exist apart from money. – Yours, etc,

ANNE B RYAN,

Feasta Member and

Joint Co-ordinator

Basic Income Ireland,

Celbridge, Co Kildare.