Final reflections on degrowth

Development Policy31 Mar 2010Giorgos Kallis

The end of the conference finds us all exhausted but content. We have been organizing this event for the last year, each Tuesday a team of 10 to 15 dedicated people meeting for hours to think and plan the event to its smallest detail. Organizing an event on such a new topic and creating an effective discussion space for academics from different disciplines, activists and people from 40 different countries speaking as many different languages, is not easy. The process of organizing this event was as important as the event itself. All of us in the organizing committee worked voluntary and out of our free time at the expense of our paid work. There was no leader, no hierarchy, and no rules of who has to do what and by when. Everything emerged out spontaneously and voluntarily as people were joining in, taking up initiatives and bringing them forward through smaller groups. A truly organic process, and more importantly, one that we all enjoyed being part of. Any doubts we had about the effectiveness of all this, vanished in the very first day when the sheer energy of the 60 volunteers who joined to help us, made everything work impeccably and on time. We managed to organize an event that followed and reflected the degrowth principles of sharing and voluntary collaboration. Even if this is just a small example of constructively creating a commons, it fills me hope for the possibility of a degrowth future.

What about the results of the degrowth conference? I will just translate from Italian the words of journalist Paolo Cacciari who presented his book “Degrowth or Barbarism” (published in Spanish, by Icaria) at the end of the conference. We all agreed what has to degrow: our extraction, production and consumption of materials. We all agreed also on who has to degrow: the rich nations and the rich classes, to give some ecological space to those who have to grow to satisfy basic needs. Where different paths opened was on the question of how to do this. Two streams of thought came together in this conference. Those still believing on the possibility of a path of “eco-efficiency” where new technologies and proper policies, regulatory or market instruments, can help us make the transition to a lower-consumption future. Then there were those with more radical views for whom degrowth is not possible within the current capitalist economy, and who demand a major reform or revolution of our politics and our economy to deal with the economic and ecological crisis. There are various shades within each of these streams and divergent opinions when questions are nailed down to the specifics, such as political strategies or how to reshape cities or food systems. Where we all converge is that the current growth economy and the politics that go with it are coming to an end, and unless we find a peaceful path to a planned degrowth, the danger of barbarism looms.