A Positive Alternative to De-growth

While the concept of de-growth offers great new ideas, it also struggles with negative associations. Lina in Spire Oslo offers a new and positive apporach to de-growth.

Integrative approaches in Sweden. The city garden offers a wide range of herbs and fuits to everyone.

Integrative approaches in Sweden. The city garden offers a wide range of herbs and fruits to everyone.

Modern times are confusing. It seems like these days everybody wants to tell us what to do. How to do better. Restrictions. Regulations. Limitations. At the same time, people want more. Money. Success. Possession. Consumption. Status. For economists, this means  constant growth. But where are the limits to growth? Does growth always mean progress?

Spire organized a weekend seminar to discuss topical issues like growth and environmental implications. One guest lecturer  gave an interesting presentation on Economics and Environment. He cited different authors that did not necessarily always agree, bud did agree on one point: We need is de-growth. This means less people. Less consumption. Decentralization. I ask: Can that really be the solution?
For me, this argument lacks a global perspective. How about people living in the Global South? While rich countries in the Northern hemisphere might be able to reduce lifestyle standards, more than half of the world population will need to consume more within the next years to ensure survival on a human scale. In the North, we can reduce showering to only once day. But in the South people don’t even have access to sufficient clean drinking water.

The concept of De-growth implies too many negative associations. Of course the principle can guide where to invest money, and rather put finance into a sustainable future than of the fossil past. But, the concept also struggles with negative connotations. People do not want to give up their living standards. People do not want to leave their comfort zone. We all want to have a safe living. Jobs. Holidays. Freedom of choice. Access to energy. We do not need another pessimistic proposal telling us to reduce growth and the associated improvement of living. What we need is positivity.

Thus, we down sat together and came up with another idea. We can all agree on the fact that we need a fundamental system change to ensure a safe future for all. Including the planet itself. We simply have to rephrase our goal. We should shift our ambition from de-growth to re-growth. We don’t have to be restricted. We simply need to use the solutions that are lying in front of us.

Growth means globalization. This means import and export. So what we need is the re-integration of local production. One example from Oslo is the Tøyen Cola. People produce this new, hip drink within the city and sell it in local bars and shops. Also, urban gardens and farms like Losæter can be used to bring back local agriculture and local food products. We need to make the local choice attractive to people. The state should support local shops and production with attractive contracts and subventions. It simply can’t be right that an apple which grew on the other side of the equator and was shipped for thousands of miles with a very polluting ship is cheaper than a locally grown, organic alternative.  We have our local identity and strength. We just need to make it accessible and attractive to all.

Local production in Oslo. We do not need American Soft drinks. Toyen Coke is a sustainable alternative to imported goods.

Local production in Oslo.

Growth means transport and energy. This, we get mostly from fossil fuels. Why? Don’t we already have the solution right in front of our eyes? We need renewable energies. Instead of supporting the further extraction of oil with a new drilling ship in Tromso, Norway could use these financial resources to invest further into wind and wave energy. Selling these technologies to others would also benefit economic interests. We don’t have to make energy and transport a matter of de-growth. We need to integrate them into a renewable system.

It really is possible. Fresh food, locally grown and all without packaging!

It really is possible. Fresh food, locally grown and all without packaging!

Growth means accumulation of ownership. Mainly resources. De-growth would mean less for all. Instead we should start to redistribute available resources. It is not true that everyone must decrease their resource consumption. Rather, we must ensure equal access to basic human needs. Water and food as the most fundamental matters.

Growth means more affluence, more stuff. A new car. TVs. Clothes. We project our happiness on material objects. Buy. Use. Waste. Replace. It doesn’t even have to be broken. If there is something better available, we simply improve our standards by replacing the unwanted old. We could reduce consumption of stuff. That doesn’t mean we cannot consume anymore. We should just reflect on what it is that we actually need for a good living. We could have places to repair and upgrade used objects. Reuse what is there.

Growth means urbanization and city development. Again, if we act per de-growth, de-centralisation could frighten people as we like being in urban areas and have central access to all we need. We can use these city spaces and redesign our places of living. Integrating urban gardens, green spaces. Provide bicycle lanes and recreation areas. We do not have to move to small villages to reduce growth. We can bring these sustainable values back to our cities.

Help yourself. Lemons growing in the botanic garend in Sweden.

Help yourself. Lemons growing in the botanic garden in Sweden.

Growth means business and profit. Another idea could be re-taxation. As mentioned earlier, local products could be broadly affordable if there were more taxes on expensive imports from foreign countries. Plus, putting taxes on packed food for instance would automatically reduce the consumption of plastic and thus waste as people naturally go for the cheaper option. Supermarkets could choose between selling the more expensive, packed or imported product and selling the cheaper option  due to less taxes from local producers or non-packed groceries.

These are some state interventions that would automatically lead to a change in people’s behavior. We need both the demand and provision of structural change. We should not scare everyone by telling how bad it is to do this and that. How bad it is to live the lives they have. de-growth scares me. No one wants to leave behind the known comfort and go back in time. Rather, we need the concept of re-growth in which we can all work together towards a common, just, and balanced future. There would be no extremes, but more a coexistence of different values in politics, economics, and society. We have the solutions. We just need to refocus.

By Lina Brammertz in Spire Oslo

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