From: Cameron Scherer, Worldwatch Institute, More from this Affiliate
Published October 17, 2012 12:10 PM

Limiting Overconsumption with "Economic Degrowth"

If everyone lived like the average American, according to the Global Footprint Network, the Earth could sustain only 1.7 billion people—a quarter of today's population—without undermining the planet's physical and biological systems. Overconsumption in industrialized societies and among developing world elites causes lasting environmental and human impacts. In his chapter, "The Path to Degrowth in Overdeveloped Countries," Worldwatch Senior Fellow and State of the World 2012 Project Co-director Erik Assadourian describes the benefits and opportunities of proactive "economic degrowth"—defined as the intentional contraction of overdeveloped economies and more broadly, the redirection of economies away from the perpetual pursuit of growth.


Fixation with economic growth and increasing levels of consumption contributes to debt burdens, long working hours, increased rates of obesity, dependence on pharmaceuticals, social isolation, and other societal ills, Assadourian writes. Meanwhile, the window to prevent runaway climate change is closing, and mitigating global warming will be all but impossible without dramatic reductions in consumption and fossil fuel use. High levels of warming will result in large population shifts due to natural disasters, such as coastal flooding, prolonged drought, and the introduction of disease to new regions—a future scenario not only incompatiblewith perpetual economic growth but likely to lead to economic and societal decline. 

In response to the destructive impacts of the growth-centered global economy, degrowth has begun to gain traction as an economic strategy in recent years. In Italy and France, there are now degrowth political parties, and worldwide, the third bi-annual International Degrowth Conference recently concluded in Venice with over 700 registered participants. More broadly, there is growing recognition that an end to or reversal of growth will be an essential rite of passage for global civilization as humanity comes to understand that climate change and natural resource scarcity are rooted in the impossibility of perpetual human growth in a finite biophysical environment.

Efforts to facilitate degrowth are in the early stages worldwide and range from shifting taxes and moving from private to public goods, to building Transition Towns and promoting healthier, more sustainable consumption habits, such as "Meatless Mondays" that are helping to reduce levels of meat consumption.

"Moving toward degrowth will involve redefining prosperity altogether—resurrecting traditional understandings of what this word means with regard to health, social connectedness, and the freedom to work less while still earning a livable wage," said Assadourian.

Continue reading at Worldwatch Institute.

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