From August 30th to September 3rd 2016, the 5th International Degrowth Conference took place in Budapest, Hungary. More than 600 researches and practitioners met and discussed current questions and responses to ecological, social, economic, and political unsustainability.
In the opening plenary Federico Demaria, who is doing research on degrowth at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, described degrowth generally as a critique of the hegemony of economic growth. The possibility of decoupling natural resources and economic growth (the concept of green growth) is seen as an illusion. Degrowth, then, can be defined as a promising proposal for downscaling production and consumption in favor of environmental sustainability, social justice and well-being.
Looking back in history, political ecologists and environmental economists are publishing articles about Décroissance (french for degrowth), arguing for limits to growth since the 1970s. In the 2000’s degrowth has been used as an activist slogan and a frame for a new social movement, first in France, and later in Spain and Italy. Since 2008 discussions about degrowth reached a broader academic context, international conferences have been hold every two years, and an activist-led science emerged. Now, degrowth is spreading from Southern Europe across Central Europe eastwards.
One of the main challenges for degrowth activists and academic research lies in recognizing the social, institutional and mental infrastructures that constitute and reproduce modern, capitalistic societies. Thinking degrowth as a strategy for a transformation beyond capitalism requires new imaginaries and narratives. Talking about strategies for degrowth, Barbara Muraca, environmental philosopher, mentioned five areas of transition:
- Reappropriating of democracy and self-determination
- Reorganizing production and consumption
- Reorganizing innovation and infrastructure
- Reorganizing education and knowledge
- Reorganizing work and politics of time
Degrowth is a concept from the Global North, and acknowledges global inequalities and post-colonial structures. Building alliances with concepts such as Buen Vivir, an indigenous Andean concept of “living good”, as well as actors and movements from the Global South is feasible.
Not only in the Global South, but also in Europe, degrowth could be spread wider. Holding a degrowth conference in Hungary, a former socialist country, was an experiment. The Hungarian public is sceptic towards degrowth and afraid of losing their comfort zone. Degrowth activists have been suspected of being either communists or hippies. But some public comments also encouraged degrowth as “the voice of the 21st century” and asked about possibilities to join the movement. Only a few scholars from Nordic countries, especially from Sweden and Finland, are so far doing research on degrowth in a Nordic context. One of the most important question in relation to the Nordic countries, is how to transform a growth-driven welfare state without losing social security and welfare services.
Besides academic discussions, everyone can join the movement through practicing degrowth in their own lives. Degrowth in practice – discover what potential lies in slowing down:
- Consume less, shop less, work less
- Appreciate and take care of your community
- Create, share, participate
- Respect all opinions
- Eat simple
- Look for locally sourced and handmade products, or, if you can: do it yourself
- Slow down and enjoy the journey
Written by Julia Hu