On September 7, 2019 Mike Nickerson wrote a summary of Jason Hickel’s article “Degrowth – a Theory of Radical Abundance” which espouses that “climate change requires changing society”.
Following Mike’s summary are comments offered by Lionel Enright.
Mike’s Summary: Hickel’s bottom line is: “While austerity calls for scarcity in order to generate more growth, degrowth calls for abundance in order to render growth unnecessary. Abundance, then, is the solution to our ecological crisis. If we are to avert climate breakdown, the environmentalism of the 21st century must articulate a new demand: a demand for radical abundance.”
Lest one worry that “abundance” means waste, rest assured that the opposite is the case. The abundance projected will be based on durability, efficiency and public reclamation of the heritage of Earth’s bounty. And the satisfaction of having time. Time to enjoy one’s family, friends and whatever creativity you would like in your life.
For centuries, growing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been hailed as the ultimate goal. Degrowth sounds counterintuitive. Nevertheless, it is clear to any thinking human that perpetual growth on a finite planet will bring disaster. One need only do the math.
Almost daily now, Climate Change demonstrates what the math reveals. We need to reduce human impacts on Earth. Growing until we drop is disrespectful to all humans past and future.
Early in the Industrial Age, James Maitland identified the Lauderdale Paradox. In his time, much growth was achieved by forcing the common folk off the land to make way for industrial wool production – the Clearances. The ability for successive generations to support themselves from the land was a great non-monetized wealth. When that wealth was transformed into wool for industry, it became monetized as the value moved from small farmers to landowners.
No longer able to feed themselves from the land, the people had to seek work in factories to earn money for what they needed. Their wages began to increase GDP, as did their creative output. The output, however, was collected by factory owners, rather than accommodating their families. Community wealth became private wealth.
Throughout the colonial era, dominating powers confiscated public wealth to enrich the elite of empires. The British Salt Tax in India was a classic example. Traditionally, people had gone to the sea to get salt for free. By forbidding personal salt production and demanding money for it, public wealth was transferred into private hands.
In our own time, we can see this process continuing around water, health care, elder care, education and other activities which people or governments have provided directly in the past. While the compulsion may not be physical, advertising and austerity measures subtly usher public wealth toward GDP into private hands.
Because most people require jobs for money to buy what they need, individuals and unions also tend to support the growth goal. With general consensus on the goal, workers earn money to buy the products and services that they make, and owners make profits to invest in new industries to make more products, and so the system expands and CO2 accumulates.
Here is where the paradigm shifts
Some steps toward abundance with minimal environmental impacts are, in Hickel’s words:
“. . . legislate extended warranties on products, so that goods like washing machines and refrigerators last for 30 years instead of ten. Another is to ban planned obsolescence, and to introduce a “right to repair” so that products can be fixed cheaply and without proprietary parts. We could legislate reductions in food waste (as South Korea, France and Italy are doing), tax red meat to promote a shift to less resource-intensive foods, ban single-use plastics and disposable coffee cups, and end advertising in public spaces to reduce pressures for material consumption . . . [and] reclaim our streets (and attention). . .”
Another big step would be to reverse the increasing cost of housing. Housing prices rose rapidly as investors bought up shelters with the cheap money pumped into the system to keep it growing after the 2008 recession. As rent and purchase prices increase, people have to spend more time earning money to pay for shelter. By repatriating the government money that was handed out, housing prices could return to more manageable levels. Imagine the reduction in environmental impacts, the wealth of time reclaimed, and by how much personal lives would be enriched.
More durable goods, less need for jobs to earn money for unnecessary over-priced products, more time to help family and friends, more fun, less stuff – all would provide a sense of abundance.
Degrowth, the reduction of human impacts, would be possible in a society of this type of abundance.
Radical abundance would help resolve the population problem.
Though not mentioned in Hickel’s article, populations stabilize and often slowly decline when countries can provide their people with adequate food, shelter, education and health care.
If powerful interests were to stop exploiting poor countries for their resources and cheap labour and, instead, let them use their creative efforts to provide their own basic needs, their populations would stabilize.
Radical abundance will incline the global population toward a level the Earth can sustain.
Please help offer radical abundance to the public mind for thought and discussion.
Lionel’s comments: In other words, Mike, overturn the virtual total control of the corporate / banking sector over our governments to maintain and increase their profits.
This is not a new message. Planned obsolescence is a term and a reality that has been with us for as long as I can remember. It is the backbone of the corporate sector. They are in control and they do not intend to let go of their golden egg. And far from lessening it is being intensified!! What is needed is the process and collective wisdom to demand the reversal of control.
It is NOT that we do not know WHAT needs to be done but to find the means of doing it in the face of an overwhelming power that has control of ALL sectors of our society including government and OUR legislation – and sees the world as infinite NOT finite – AND wants precisely what is destroying the PLANET for their maximized PROFIT .
We who want a resurrected world have as our main problem – my view as having encountered many groups and individual positions – that we are unable to agree upon the precise definition of the problem or as a result an agreed action for resolution. We are fractionalized whereas our competition is organized, well-funded, in control of world institutions, including most governments and running the show.
I have read several authors this summer who could enlighten you on this position were you interested.