For some time now, countries have been run on the assumption that there would be infinite growth. It’s pretty obvious that on a finite planet, this could not work, but no one in power has thus far seemed keen to look at that.
The UK is a mess at the moment, and is likely to remain so. Our economy is shrinking, the cost of living is going up and suffering is already widespread. As far as I can make out, the political responses do not include squaring up to the problems growth itself causes.
We can’t consume our way out of this. More importantly, we can’t consume our way out of climate crisis and all of the many threats that poses to us. Our wellbeing as a species is going to depend on degrowth. We need to use less, cause less pollution, cause less destruction. Ideally we need to turn ourselves around entirely as a species to become regenerative – focusing on the growth of plants, eco-systems and all life rather than destroying life for the idea of economic growth.
It’s a marvellous opportunity. Imagine if we only made and used things we needed. How much less work would we all need to do? Imagine if we just accepted that everyone needs a home, shelter, clothes, clean water, clean air… and started deploying resources accordingly. Without growth and a growth-orientated economy, there’s much less scope for a small number of parasitic super-rich people to dominate everything. Having what we need is not going to support gratuitous wealth or obscene consumption. Everyone should have nice things, no one should behave in ways that are eco-cidal.
Economic growth fuels competition and exploitation. It requires an underclass of workers. It creates waste and pollution. There’s no reason at all why we have to live like this. Politicians have long been afraid of shrinking economies because no one really knows how that would work. But, here we are, and it’s happening anyway, and is bound to happen as we run out of cheap fossil fuel options. We could choose to do this well, cleverly, kindly and for everyone’s benefit.
As an individual, there’s not a vast amount we can do, but there are some things. We have to let go of the story that business as usual is desirable. We have to stop believing in the idea of eternal growth. We could go further and let ourselves be excited about how much good we could do by shrinking economies. Politicians may be in charge, but most of them don’t lead. They simply follow the social trends they believe will get them re-elected.