Degrowth as an opportunity

Through Patrick (Sentiers) I stumbled upon this interview with Vaclav Smil, expert craftsman of crunching numbers — I figure there might be people on the platform that have opinions and ideas to share around these ideas?

Smil does a stellar job arguing that degrowth doesn’t necessarily mean cutting down on all things but rather that growth and degrowth are essentially tools to use depending on context. For example, some countries below a certain poverty threshold should focus on growth (towards lower mortality, and increased nutrition and education) while other, richer countries could easily cut down and not miss much at all:

“Once you reach a certain point, the benefits of GDP growth start to level off in terms of mortality, nutrition and education. (…) We could halve our energy and material consumption and this would put us back around the level of the 1960s. We could cut down without losing anything important. Life wasn’t horrible in 1960s or 70s Europe. People from Copenhagen would no longer be able to fly to Singapore for a three-day visit, but so what? Not much is going to happen to their lives. People don’t realise how much slack in the system we have.”

"To answer this, it’s important not to talk in global terms. There will be many approaches which have to be tailored and targeted to each different audience. There is this pernicious idea by this Thomas Friedman guy that the world is flat and everything is now the same, so what works in one place can work for everyone. But that’s totally wrong. For example, Denmark has nothing in common with Nigeria. What you do in each place will be different. What we need in Nigeria is more food, more growth. In Philippines we need a little more of it. And in Canada and Sweden, we need less of it. We have to look at it from different points of view. In some places we have to foster what economists call de-growth. In other places, we have to foster growth.

It’s a fascinating debate, and certainly going to be a defining one for our era. The other day, my hairdresser gave me an unprompted lecture on how kerosene prices were too low and need to go up to prevent us from taking short term, long distance travel too often. If that isn’t a sign of this debate entering mainstream then I don’t know what is. The times they’re a changing.

See also this fascinating XOXO talk by boat-based, ocean-roaming design studio Hundred Rabbits on degrowth and resilience as a personal lifestyle, and how digital tools need to evolve to cope with limited bandwidth, energy and space.

That is certainly true. The first targets for degrowth would be killing all that waste and bullshit in the system.

To illustrate that point, Graeber’s well-know rant about bullshit jobs comes to mind. And also one of @kevin_carson’s books – I remember how I loved that piece of fine work when I found it a few years ago, because it expressed for the first time exactly how I had always felt that modern society as a whole is not efficient at all in spite of all the automation and technology:

If I remember correctly, his result is that at least 40% of the 2010 U.S. American society’s GDP is just that: production of waste. In other words, on average people could enjoy four-day weekends and nothing with fall apart.

Great find, I’m sure I’ll enjoy that one :slight_smile:

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It’s a hard sell - the word itself implies (unpleasant) sacrifices for somebody(ies) and that somebody might be you :slight_smile: There isa reason so much money is thrown at metaphor crafters, framing of narratives etc.

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