We all need to work and buy things to live – unfortunately, it’s taken a toll on the planet. And in fact, the more a country is worth in GDP, the worse it is for the planet: The material footprint (or resource use) of combined OECD nations increased by almost 50% between 1990 and 2008 – every 10% rise in GDP saw a 6% increase in material footprint.
But that’s where a theory called 'degrowth' could come in: it argues that sharply reducing working hours and consumption will save the world.
Degrowth is a radical economic argument, because Gross National Product (GDP) has held sway since the 1930s as our means of measuring 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.
However, this has had little impact on mainstream politics. But the decades-old concept has made a comeback – Paris held the very first International Degrowth Conference in 2008 – and 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.”