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Photo by Dustan Woodhouse / Unsplash

Earlier today, a friend shared an article by Jason Hickel - What does degrowth mean? A few points of clarification. It was the first I'd heard of the concept of "degrowth". So, of course, I had to head down the Wikipedia rabbit hole.


Degrowth is a term used for both a political, economic, and social movement as well as a set of theories that critiques the paradigm of economic growth. It is based on ideas from a diverse range of lines of thought such as political ecology, ecological economics, feminist political ecology, and environmental justice, pointing out the social and ecological harm caused by the pursuit of infinite growth and Western "development" imperatives.  Degrowth emphasizes the need to reduce global consumption and production and advocates a socially just and ecologically sustainable society with social and environmental well-being replacing GDP as the indicator of prosperity.
In order for the world's population to attain the living standards typical of European countries, the resources of between three and eight planet Earths would be required with current levels of efficiency and means of production. In order for world economic equality to be achieved with the current available resources, proponents say rich countries would have to reduce their standard of living through degrowth. The constraints on resources would eventually lead to a forced reduction in consumption.

Social metabolism

Social metabolism is the set of flows of materials and energy that occur between nature and society, between different societies, and within societies... Social metabolic processes begin with the human appropriation of materials and energy from nature. These can be transformed and circulated to be consumed and excreted finally back to nature itself. Each of these processes has a different environmental impact depending on how it is performed, the amount of materials and energy involved in the process, the area where it occurs, the time available or nature's regenerative capacity.

Steady-state economy

The concept of a steady-state economy has been associated mainly with the work of leading ecological economist Herman Daly. As Daly's concept of a steady-state includes the ecological analysis of natural resource flows through the economy... [and he] recommends immediate political action to establish the steady-state economy by imposing permanent government restrictions on all resource use, whereas economists of the classical period believed that the final stationary state of any economy would evolve by itself without any government intervention.

Sumak kawsay

Sumak kawsay is a neologism [referring to] the implementation of a socialism that moves away from Western socialist theory and instead embraces the ancestral, communitarian knowledge and lifestyle of Quechua people. In the original Quechua phrase, sumak refers to the ideal and beautiful fulfillment of the planet, and kawsay means "life," a life with dignity, plenitude, balance, and harmony. Since the 1990s, sumak kawsay has grown into a political project that aims to achieve collective wellbeing, social responsibility in how people relate to nature, and a halt to endless capital accumulation.

Jevons paradox

The Jevons paradox occurs when technological progress or government policy increases the efficiency with which a resource is used (reducing the amount necessary for any one use), but the rate of consumption of that resource rises due to increasing demand. However, governments and environmentalists generally assume that efficiency gains will lower resource consumption, ignoring the possibility of the paradox arising.

(Interestingly, this is related to the Downs-Thomson paradox, which I first learned about while trying to master traffic congestion in the original SimCity.)

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