This article by Noah Smith gave me pause for thought. There’s plenty of people talking about ‘degrowth’ at the moment and, I have to say, that I don’t know enough to have an opinion.
It’s really easy to get swept up in what other people who broadly share your outlook on life are sharing and discussing. While I definitely agree that ‘growth at all costs’ is problematic, and that ‘green growth’ is probably a sticking plaster, I’m not sure that ‘degrowth’ (as far as I understand it) is the answer?
Perhaps I need to do more reading. If it’s trying to measure things differently rather than just using GDP, then I’ve already written that I’m in favour. But just like calls to ‘abolish the police’ I’m not sure I can go fully along with that. Sorry.
I don’t want to beat this point to death, but I think it’s important to emphasize how unpleasant and inhumane a degrowth future would look like. People in rich countries would be forced to accept much lower standards of living, while people in developing countries would have a far more meager future to look forward to. This situation would undoubtedly cause resentment, leading to a backlash against the leaders who had mandated mass poverty. After the overthrow of degrowth regimes, we’d see the pendulum swing entirely toward leaders who promised infinite resource consumption, at which point the environment would be worse off than before. And this is in addition to the fact that degrowth would make it more difficult to invest in green energy and other technologies that protect the environment.
So while I think we do need to worry about the potential negative consequences of growth and try our best to ameliorate those harms, I think trying to impoverish ourselves to save the environment would be a catastrophic mistake, for both us and for the environment. This is not something any progressive ought to fight for.