Wikipedia Degrowth article

I have suggested on a Wikipedia forum for economics that we need to reorientate the way that Degrowth is defined. It is currently defined as a movement; however, it is more helpful to view it as a mindset shift that is being forced on humanity through the escalating polycrisis. My suggested introduction would read thus:

Degrowth describes a cultural paradigm shift in thinking that is now escalating in the face of climate breakdown and ecosystems collapse. Examples of recent research and other notable calls for human behavioural change are listed below:

  • World scientists’ warning: The behavioural crisis driving ecological overshoot [1]
  • The Human Ecology of Overshoot: Why a Major ‘Population Correction’ Is Inevitable [2]
  • Sustainability and Reproductive Ethics [3]
  • Rationing and Climate Change Mitigation [4]
  • Pope Francis challenges the ethics of wasteful Western lifestyles in section 72 of an apostolic exhortation [5]
  • One of the approved submissions to the 2023 global stocktake for the Paris climate agreement, points out that current strategies to meet the targets set in the historic 2015 Paris climate agreement cannot be achieved unless we address overpopulation and overconsumption [6] This submission recommends that the UN ratify a UN Charter for Ecological Justice, to steer humanity in the Degrowth direction.

Several long-established scientific insights explain why the dominant model of growth economics is ecocidal. These are provided below to enhance the reader’s awareness. These help to develop an appreciation of the urgency of our global predicament and the need for an ambition for global, equitable, economic Degrowth.

i) Awareness that reliable climate and healthy ecosystems are necessary for human wellbeing. Awareness that these conditions enable us to grow food, and ensure an adequate supply of fresh water for day to day subsistence. Many modern lives are so distanced from Nature, that our dependence on healthy ecosystems is not readily apparent. It is significant that SDG1 – No poverty, is given higher priority than SDG2 – Zero hunger. This is why eco-protestors often point out that ‘We cannot eat money’. Money is already devaluing as a consequence of ecosystems collapse.

ii) Awareness that our future will look nothing like our past. This requires an appreciation that our climate and our ecosystems have already diverged significantly from past experience. A recognition that the passing of climate tipping points means that this divergence from past experience is set to amplify at an exponential rate.

iii) Awareness that the previous Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum occurred over 20,000 to 50,000 years. Anthropogenic global warming is now escalating rapidly. This means that scale and speed of existential changes greatly exceeds anything experienced previously by life on Earth, far too fast for the evolutionary process to keep up. Thermal runaway is estimated to kick in at 3–4 degrees of warming above preindustrial levels

iv) Awareness of the I=PAT insights which identify the key drivers of climate breakdown and ecosystems collapse, as population size, affluence and dependence on technology.

v) Awareness that our energy demands are constantly increasing, as anticipated through the insights of the Jevons paradox. ‘Our World in Data‘ supplies ample evidence of this paradox.

vi) Awareness that the data from the Global Footprint Network measures only the footprint from humanity’s activities. See note below for further clarification about our chronic overspend of our ecological budget. Some may find this animation explaining the proposed UN Charter for Ecological justice helpful.

We are currently using 1.7 Earths; this phenomenon is known as ecological overshoot. Eminent environmentalist E.O. Wilson, in his book Half Earth, suggested that for healthy levels of biodiversity we must operate within 0.5 Earth. This implies that a consumption level of 0.5 Earths represents the maximum safe carrying capacity for humans. This means that we are overspending our ecological capital at a rate of 1.2 Earths. Which is over 200% of the available 0.5 Earths.

The dangers to life on Earth from humanity constantly exceeding the carrying capacity of Earth are global, they are reflected in the escalating Holocene extinction. It is destabilising the global biosystems and the global human community. A radical collaborative, equitable economic Degrowth strategy would soften the collapse and might, in time, redeem the chronic ecological debt to the extent that a fairly steady-state sustainable global economy might be achieved. 

At the time of writing (October 2023), an individual who has acquired the radical Degrowth mindset will feel isolated. Their perspective is diametrically opposed to the direction of the herd. Humanity is still stampeding in the direction of economic growth. The biophysical collapse is being exacerbated by our frantic attempts to fix the problems that arise from economic growth with more economic growth. Even the leaders in the Degrowth movement do not address the issue of overpopulation, nor the urgent need to shrink the global economy.

It is frightening to maintain a worldview so contrary to which is agreed by all our peers. We are social animals, we collaborate, and we look to our peers to agree our collective direction. Therefore, at the moment, the radical Degrowth mindset requires considerable courage for any individual to maintain such a worldview, despite the escalating evidence that we urgently need to change direction.

Thus, not only does the individual need to absorb the scientific insights detailed above, but they also need to have the personal self-confidence and courage to persevere with a mindset that is diametrically opposed to the direction of the rest of the global herd.

For further understanding of how this paradigm shift will affect humanity’s anthropocentric ethics and worldview please refer to this recent free article on Medium – Ethics, Ideology and Degrowth.

The remainder of this article reflects the evolution and thinking within the mainstream Degrowth movement.

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