Degrowth: Rethinking Our Fixation on GDP and Economic Expansion

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Our obsession with economic growth is leading to overconsumption and climate change. In simple terms, degrowth argues that shrinking our economies can have benefits.

We all need to work and buy things to live. However, our consumption habits have taken a toll on the planet. The material footprint (or resource use) of combined OECD nations increased by almost 50% between 1990 and 2008, and every 10% rise in GDP saw a 6% increase in material footprint.

This is where the degrowth school of thought comes in. Pioneered by ecological economists such as Giorgos Kallis, degrowth is a proposal that argues that sharply reducing working hours and consumption will reduce environmental pressures, alleviate problems associated with overconsumption, and (ultimately) save the planet.

Degrowth is a radical argument because Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has held sway since the 1930s as our means of measuring development, progress and economic success. However, on a planet with finite resource, endless growth just isn’t realistic. Our daily commutes spew emissions, our consumerism drains resources, and the Earth is growing tired of it.

Historically, degrowth debates have had little impact on mainstream politics. However, the decades-old concept has made a comeback – Paris held the very first International Degrowth Conference in 2008. Many academics are now arguing that amid worldwide warnings of climate change reaching a point-of-no-return, degrowth could be a solution.

Convincing governments to slow their economies is a big ask, but as leading degrowth economist Serge Latouche explains: “Degrowth does not mean decay or suffering. Instead, degrowth can be compared to a healthy diet voluntarily undertaken.”