Courage for Degrowth

The global economy has almost completely shut down due to the COVID19 pandemic. This presents the chance to courageously rebuild the economy as one of post-growth.

Even now, in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic, we hear it:„ It doesn’t work without economic growth!“ Critics of growth-economy are being called naive to believe that during the transformation towards a post-carbon society there is no more need for economic growth or profits. In fact, at this exact moment, an extensive change seems more pertinent than ever before.

What is currently needed is a wealth of new visions - many don’t dare to imagine a degrowth society, even thought there is a multitude of scientific studies showing that an economic system based on growth, like our current one, is neither sustainable nor desirable.

Said studies focus on, among other things, the myth of „Green Growth“, the decade-long stagnancy in people´s well-being and happiness with growing inequality and material consumption. 

The degrowth-community has long been expecting a lasting structural crisis. The crisis caused by a pandemic has still surprised many. It is important to differentiate however - degrowth is a deliberate, democratically-led, distribution-oriented reduction of society’s material- and energy-consumption, with the goal of achieving a better life for everyone. Recession and crisis, on the other hand, are painful and chronic sicknesses of growth-economy and in no way part of the economics of degrowth.

These past few weeks saw many things which from a degrowth perspective can be viewed positively. The economy was shaped according to human needs around the world. Lists of essential and non-essential goods were being made. Production was downscaled according to actual needs, in many places voluntarily. Environmental pollution saw a rapid decline. What is needed for the near future is courage. Courage to imagine alternate scenarios and implement them. The question how to exit this dramatic situation and go on towards a sustainable (degrowth-)society is on everybody’s lips. Even in the midst of a global pandemic there is potential for positive rethinking, and it is paramount to counteract the negative tendencies of nationalism and the attack on civil rights.

Even now this crisis is calling our capitalist economic system into question: how much mobility and which goods do we really need for a good life? How dependent do we want to be on a globalized world economy and its long CO2-intense transports? What in fact do we want from life? More togetherness. Maybe once the time of isolation has come to an end, we will cherish social contacts more than we did before. Many people are rediscovering their bond with nature. At the same time a lot of social injustices and inequalities are becoming more visible due to the crisis, e.g. domestic violence, precarious income situations or the ongoing refugee crisis. There is one thing that definitely should grow further - the current wave of solidarity and with it the courage to go somewhere completely new, together.


The article was written by Christian Kerschner, Assistant Professor at Modul University Vienna, & Christina Plank, a Visiting Professor at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Political Science, and originally published in German in Südwind Magazin.