Crisis or opportunity? Economic degrowth for social equity and ecological sustainability. Introduction to this special issue
Journal of Cleaner Production 18 (2010) 511–518
This article reviews the burgeoning emerging literature on sustainable degrowth. This is defined as an equitable downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions at the local and global level, in the short and long term. The paradigmatic propositions of degrowth are that economic growth is not sustainable and that human progress without economic growth is possible. Degrowth proponents come from diverse origins. Some are critics of market globalization, new technologies or the imposition of western models of development in the rest of the world. All criticize GDP accounting though they propose often different social and ecological indicators. Degrowth theorists and practitioners support an extension of human relations instead of market relations, demand a deepening of democracy, defend ecosystems, and propose a more equal distribution of wealth. We distinguish between depression, i.e. unplanned degrowth within a growth regime, and sustainable degrowth, a voluntary, smooth and equitable transition to a regime of lower production and consumption.
The questionweask is how positive would degrowth be if instead of being imposed by an economic crisis, it would actually be a democratic collective decision, a project with the ambition of getting closer to ecological sustainability and socio-environmental justice worldwide.
Most articles in this issue were originally presented at the April 2008 conference in Paris on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity. This conference brought the word degrowth and the concepts around it into an international academic setting. Articles of this special issue are summarized in this introductory article. Hueting, d’Alessandro and colleagues, van den Bergh, Kerschner, Spangenberg and Alcott discuss whether current growth patterns are (un)sustainable and offer different perspectives on what degrowth might mean, and whether and under what conditions it might be desirable. Matthey and Hamilton focus on social dynamics and the obstacles and opportunities for voluntary social action towards degrowth. Lietaert and Cattaneo with Gavalda‘ offer a down-to-earth empirical discussion of two practical living experiments: cohousing and squats, highlighting the obstacles for scaling up such alternatives. Finally van Griethuysen explains why growth is an imperative in modern market economies, raising also the question whether degrowth is possible without radical institutional changes.