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Sunday Review Business
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Conventional economic logic rests on the assumption that larger economies are better. maintain or boost growth It is essential to improve society.

But what if growth is at best doing little to fix the world’s problems, and at worst fostering the destruction of the planet and jeopardizing its future?

That’s the radical message from the “degrowth” The movement has been a political fringe group for decades, warning against the dangers of endless growth. People in some parts have had the chance to reflect on what makes them happy and the magnitude of the change that is necessary. address the climate crisis becomes clearer, its ideas are gaining more mainstream recognition — even as anxiety builds over what could be a painful global recession.

Growth has been a constant for politicians and economists of all stripes. served as a North Star. It’s a vehicle for creating jobs and generating taxes for public services, increasing prosperity in rich countries and reducing poverty and hunger in poorer ones.

But degrowthers argue that an endless desire for more — bigger national economies, greater consumption, heftier corporate profits — is myopic, misguided and ultimately harmful. Gross domestic productThey emphasize that GDP, or the gross domestic product, is an insufficient metric to measure social wellbeing.

Plus, they see expanding a global economy that’s already doubled in size since 2005 — and, at 2% growth annually, would be more than seven times bigger in a century — putting the emissions goals necessary to save the world out of reach.

“An innocent 2 or 3% per year, it’s an enormous amount of growth — cumulative growth, compound growth — over time,” said Giorgos Kallis, a top degrowth scholar based at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. “I don’t see it being compatible with the physical reality of the planet.”  

The solution, according to the degrowth movement, is to limit the production of unnecessary goods, and to try to reduce demand for items that aren’t needed.

There are many critics of this unorthodox school. Bill Gates is one of them. called degrowthers unrealisticShe stressed that asking people not to consume more for the sake of the environment is futile. Even believers admit that their framework is not politically viable, considering how difficult it can be to envision what weaning growth would look like in practice.

“The fact that it’s an uncomfortable concept, it’s both a strength and a weakness,” said Gabriela Cabaña, a degrowth advocate from Chile and doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics.

Yet in some corners, it’s becoming less taboo, especially as governments and industry fall behind They are trying to stop the planet warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius. After that, some effects of climate changes will be irreversible.

Climate activists, including degrowth supporters, gathered in Munich on November 12, 2021.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently cited degrowth in a major report. The European Research Council just allocated Kallis, along with two other peers, will receive approximately $10 million to explore the practical side of things. “post-growth” policies. The European Parliament plans a conference called “Beyond Growth” Next spring. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, is expected to attend.

Some Wall Street employees are starting to pay more attention. Jefferies, an investment bank, said that investors should think about what will happen if there is degrowth. “climate-anxious” younger generations have different consumer values.

In the debate over how to avoid climate catastrophe, there’s a key point of consensus: If the worst effects of global warming are to be averted, the world needs to slash annual carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Then, they must fall quickly and sharply.

Most of the roadmaps that describe how to get there involve a drastic reconfiguration and promotion of new technologies and market innovation, which makes them more affordable. This would allow the global economy to keep growing, but in a way that’s “green.”

Yet proponents of degrowth are skeptical that the world can reduce emissions in time — and protect delicate, interconnected ecological systems — while pursuing infinite economic expansion, which they argue will inevitably require the use of more energy.

A construction site in Belgrade, Serbia in heavy smog on Nov. 1, 2022.

“More growth means more energy use, and more energy use makes it more difficult to decarbonize the energy system in the short time we have left,” Jason Hickel, a degrowth expert, is part of the European Research Council-funded team. “It’s like trying to run down an escalator that is accelerating upward against you.”

Even though energy can be green, growth still requires natural resources like water and minerals.

It’s a concern that’s been echoed by Greta Thunberg, arguably the most famous climate activist. She’s criticized “fairy tales about non-existent technological solutions” “eternal economic growth.” And she’s touched on another point degrowthers raise: Is our current system, which has produced rampant inequality, even working for us?

This question resonates in the Global South, where there are fears the green energy revolution could simply replicate existing patterns of exploitation and excessive resource extraction, but with metals and minerals like nickel or cobalt — key components of batteries — instead of oil.

The “love for growth,” Felipe Milanez is a professor and anti-degrowth advocate who is based in Brazil’s state of Bahia. “extremely violent and racist, and it’s just been reproducing local forms of colonialism.”

Talking about degrowth can be difficult, especially when there are fears of a global recession with all its associated pains and loss of jobs.

But advocates, which often speak about recessions as symptoms of a broken system, make clear they aren’t promoting austerity, or telling developing countries that are eager to raise living standards they shouldn’t reap the benefits of economic development.

Instead, they talk about sharing more goods, reducing food waste, moving away from privatized transportation or health care and making products last longer, so they don’t need to be purchased at such regular intervals. It’s about “thinking in terms of sufficiency,” Cabaña put it.

Cars make their way in New Jersey on April 22, 2022. The United States is the second-largest contributor of CO2 emissions.

Adopting degrowth would mean a profound rethinking the market capitalism that was embraced by nearly every society on Earth in the recent past.

Some proposals are possible within the current system. A universal basic income — in which everyone receives a lump sum payment regardless of employment status, allowing the economy to reduce its reliance on polluting industries — is often mentioned. A universal basic income is also mentioned. four-day work week.

“When people have more economic security and have more economic freedoms, they make better decisions,” Cabaña said.

The latest report from the IPCC — the UN authority on global warming — noted that “addressing inequality and many forms of status consumption and focusing on wellbeing supports climate change mitigation efforts,” a nod to one of degrowth’s biggest objectives. Name-checking was done, too.

However, degrowth faces significant opposition from activists and climate scientists with similar goals.

“The degrowth people are living a fantasy where they assume that if you bake a smaller cake, then for some reason, the poorest will get a bigger share of it,” Per Espen Stoknes was the director of the Center for Green Growth in the BI Norwegian Business School. “That has never happened in history.”

Steam and smoke rises from the coal-powered Belchatow Power Station in Rogowiec, Poland. The station emits approximately 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Supporters of green growth believe their strategy is possible. They cite promising examples Decoupling GDP gains and emissions from the United Kingdom, Romania, and the rapid rise of the affordability of renewable energies.

Gates, the Microsoft co-founder who’s prioritized investing in climate innovations, admits that overhauling global energy systems is a Herculean task. He believes that enhancing the accessibility to the right technologies is still possible.

Degrowthers know their critiques are controversial, though in some ways, that’s the intent. They think a starker, more revolutionary approach is necessary given the UN estimate that global warming is due to rise to between 2.1 and 2.9 degrees Celsius, based on the world’s current climate pledges.

“The less time [that] is left now, the more radical change is needed,” Kohei Saito (Professor at the University of Tokyo) said that.

Can a growing population agree to this? In 2020, his book on degrowth from a Marxist perspective became a surprise hit in Japan, where concerns about the consequences of stagnant growth has inflected the country’s politics for decades. “Capital in the Anthropocene” A total of nearly 500,000 copies were sold.