Degrowth: a syllabus for a democratic pedagogy


In his book ‘When Giants Fall’ (2009), Michael Panzner makes a case for the turbulent social changes to come if we stick fast trying to maintain economic growth.  According to Panzner, the changes will be widespread. Businesses will struggle amid wars, shortages, logistical disruptions, and a breakdown of the established monetary order. Individuals will be forced to rethink livelihoods, lifestyles, living arrangements, and where to live  Political structures will be in flux, as local leaders gain influence at the expense of national authorities. For many people, it will be nothing short of a modern Dark Ages, where each day brings fresh anxieties, unfamiliar risks, and a sense of foreboding. He blends the present generally negative ecological, demographic and geopolitical trends of a global growth economy to project a downward trend.  In contrast, we keep hearing from politicians and business leaders that economic growth is indispensable in order to guarantee prosperity, peace and liberty. However, fewer and fewer people believe these incantations, as it has become too obvious that growth does not benefit all, but only a small class of the rich and super-rich. The current global economic and social paradigm is “faster, higher, further“.  It is built on and stimulates competition between all humans. In many countries the damages caused by economic growth already outweigh its benefits: environmental destruction, stress, noise, loneliness and social divide. Many believe that global competition for increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) destroys much of what makes life worthwhile. On top of this, economic growth is ruining the ability of global ecosystems to regenerate – thereby threatening the long-term survival of humanity. In the face of these destructive consequences of growth, an intensive quest for alternatives to growth started in the 1970s, a debate which has been revived with vigour over the last years focussing on the term “degrowth”.  

By “degrowth“, we understand a form of society and economy which aims at the well-being of all by sustaining the ecological basis of life. To achieve degrowth, we need a fundamental transformation of our lives and an extensive cultural change. As a minimum response, degrowth requires policies for a basic income, reduction of working hours, environmental and consumption taxes, controls on advertising and reduction in air travel. To avoid Panzner’s catastrophe closely intertwined cultural and political change is needed to construct a society that lives better with less.

‘‘We do not claim to have a recipe for the future. . .’’, stated the Barcelona degrowth declaration. . .but we can no longer pretend that we can keep growing as if nothing has happened’’. This declaration synthesized the results from the Second International Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, which took place in 2010. The conference followed an innovative and participatory process that stimulated many proposals offering a fertile ground for exploring alternative degrowth solutions and future scenarios. During the event, more than 500 attendants, collaborating in 29 thematic groups, jointly worked out hands-on policies for degrowth across many futures.  In all of them, degrowth was put forward as a transition pathway towards a socially and ecologically sustainable future. A new thrust in interdisciplinary education will be required to implement the change.

In the first week of January 2018 the UK government launched its much anticipated 25 year plan to improve the environment. It largely ignores the Barcelona outcomes. Although it sees a positive role for schools and for other community-based education providers,  it has a limited view of how to educate people for life in an overcrowded world with declining resources and an unstable environment. As the President of the National Association of Environmental Education (NAEE) Justin Dillon noted in an NAEE blog:

“The 25-year plan seems to miss a fundamental point. … Schools and their leaders have a key role in influencing public attitudes and empowering students to support the reverse of decades of environmental degradation in both urban and rural areas, but this plan, for all its merits, only plays lip-service to a challenge that must be at the heart of social change in the UK.”

Attendees of the Barcelona conference were trying to adequately address the relevance of culture for economic growth. Numerous initiatives followed up on the conference are being discussed in public debates, research publications, political programmes and conversations.   These have fed into subsequent degrowth conferences (Montreal, Venice, Leipzig) and ecological economics conferences (Istanbul, Lille). 

Analyzing how cultural patterns shape our lifestyles, habits and thinking is crucial for socio-ecological transformations. In this context, education plays a preeminent role in teaching to the theme of cultural ecology: How does the content of education, its organization and structure prepare individuals for a steady state society in terms of knowledge, skills and values? What kind of education do we need for transformations? Which promising alternatives already exist and do they match with existing visions? Answers to these questions come from three levels in an education system, the pedagogy, the curriculum and the syllabus


Pedagogy is defined simply as the method, and practice of teaching. It encompasses teaching styles, methods feedback and assessment, and teacher theory.  When people talk about the pedagogy of teaching, they will be referring to the way the content of a curriculum is delivered to learners. Above all, in the context of degrowth, the emphasis should be on systems thinking, mind mapping and cross-curricula dialogue.  Although environmental education was granted cross-curriculum theme status some years ago, in secondary schools an entrenched subject curriculum and the dominance of specialist teachers tend to combine to militate against cross-curricular work. What is needed is a root and branch change in pedagogy from single subject specialisms to cross disciplinary learning at all levels of education.  Indeed, the availability of free online open educational resources, combined with social networking, enables large numbers of learners to access a great spread of specialist knowledge and discuss it widely with their peers. They can do this without the necessity for meeting institutional admission requirements, following a set course, or having an instructor. In this connexion, there is much free software available for making and reporting to assemble and test personal bodies of knowledge. 

Online interaction with information supports Integrative learning, cutting across disciplinary lines and learning styles.  Making connections of learning across subjects focuses on connections rather than isolated facts. Such a pedagogy aims to blend what is learned with real life situations because it about developing problem solving and having discussions about issues in the real world. This marks a large shift towards a lifelong inquiry based on a constructivist pedagogy.  Learners acquire knowledge by investigation of an issue. They then promulate questions, investigate to build understanding to finally create meaning and new knowledge which can then be applied in the real world. A constructivist pedagogy is based on the belief that learning occurs as learners are actively involved in a process to construct meaning and knowledge as opposed to passively receiving information. Learners are the makers of meaning and knowledge. Such are the working and outcomes of a constructivist social change pedagogy, which is inquiry based, raising questions, posing problems or scenarios and letting learners discover the answer. 

The need for a social change pedagogy is essential to bringing the Paris Environmental Agreement to the centre of all education systems.  It was signed in December 2015 and the UN has demanded that countries work to realise the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Taken together, and if successful, these programmes will transform the lives of billions of people across the planet. The Paris Agreement and the SDGs not only embody the hope of a better world – socially, economically and environmentally – they also represent a race against time. In a narrow sense, this is a race faced by people, often volunteers, who dice on a daily basis with preventable destitution, social exclusion, discrimination, malnutrition, illness and an early death.  This highlights the need for the broadest possible pedagogy for everyone to run the race. It’s a race faced by us all as we each do our bit to limit climate change and global warming before lasting damage is done to planetary systems. 

Participatory systems thinking tools have much to offer in envisioning contractional, macro-pathways towards sustainability.  For example, complementarities between emblematic degrowth proposals provides a toolkit for developing a more coherent picture on how overdeveloped societies may make a transition to more frugal and convivial futures. These complementarities may be investigated using the method of Causal Loop Diagramming in a collaborative setting for learners engaged with gaining an understanding of degrowth issues. First they derive collaboratively the dominant feedback processes in the current social, ecological and economic systems and identify leverage points for systemic interventions to facilitate degrowth. By explicitly representing the main causal chains of effects it is possible to reveal insights on the consequences of a given proposal and explore ‘‘what-if?’’ questions and future pathways. In addition it is possible to construct a compatibility matrix to identify possible synergies between emblematic degrowth proposals. The results from these two exercises are integrated to provide plausible pathways for the implementation of degrowth policies, with a systemic identification of risks, uncertainties and leverage points of intervention to create a steady state economy

A pedagogy for social change aims to immerse learners and teachers in the process of finding out who they are and what they want to become based on shared experiences of contemporary environmental issues. Therefore a humanistic, democratic, learner‐centered pedagogy is needed to deliver the curriculum.  In school learners have a significant role in defining course policies, materials covered, and other aspects of the learning environment, e.g., allowing students in school to vote on an attendance policy or to engage in self‐evaluation and using technology to facilitate democratic goals, e.g.,having students blog regularly and incorporating that into curriculum objectives.


Curriculum is about what is offered by the education system for understanding a subject or topic.  It covers the knowledge, attitude, behaviour, manner, performance and skills that are imparted or inculcated in a learner. It contains the teaching methods, lessons, assignments, physical and mental exercises, activities, projects, study material, tutorials, presentations, assessments, test series, learning objectives, and so on.  These are the skills necessary for questioning a subject or topic to gain understanding. Hence, the major question of a degrowth curriculum is can we have prosperity without economic growth? The educational objective is to promote social justice and ecological sustainability with a transition from the present growth economy to a lifestyle that is prosperous and stable, rather than a catastrophic descent. Some would say such a lifestyle should be an expression of the intertwining of intuition and bodily awareness pertaining to a relational view between human beings and the planet. Such a view is at the heart of the concept of Earth spirituality (Ecospirituality), which has been influenced by the ideas of deep ecology and is characterized by “recognition of the inherent value of all living beings and the use of this view in shaping environmental practices and governance policies” Earth spirituality also refers to the connections between the science of ecology and psychology (ecopsychology).


A syllabus is an outline/plan/list of a specific course prepared by the instructor. It includes the topics to be covered, their order, the required and suggested reading material, and any other relevant information. It presents the units of knowledge for a curriculum. “Degrowth2050‘’ is a project launched by International Classrooms On Line to create an international syllabus for future generations to participate in a democratically-led decrease in the production of greenhouse gases and overconsumption of Earth’s resources.  It is centred on a ‘Group’ created at whose members are invited to submit ideas, reports and actions exemplifying degrowth at different levels, local, national and global.  Inputs from the web are being assembled to support a democratic pedagogy and develop a curriculum that blends culture with ecology for living sustainably in the 2050s.  If a group member does not want to have conversations with other members they can use the Group’s archive of messages, files and the Group wiki as a compendium of information about the philosophy of degrowth and how to achieve it.

The focus is a time when future generations are educated to take up cultural ecology with a humanistic democratic pedagogy to prosper in an international society fuelled by renewable energy.   Members of Degrowth2050 will also be able to contribute to help assess the reality of a global steady state economy, where people are consuming only their fair share of Earth’s resources measured by their country’s ecological footprint. By joining the Group people will have a facility to pose and address questions about the main drivers of change.  They will also be able to measure the rate of progress to ‘life without carbon’. The Degrowth group’s wiki is being developed around the concepts of sustainable development imported from Wikipedia to create a syllabus for understanding how to live sustainably (Table 1). These concepts are the backbone of a syllabus about living sustainably and are applications of the sustainable development curriculum.

Table 1  Degrowth; a sustainable development syllabus

1 Degrowth

1.1 100% renewable energy

1.2 Carbon neutrality

2 Post growth

3 Path to degrowth

3.1 Carbon capture and storage

3.2 Carbon capture and utilization

3.3 Carbon neutral fuel

3.4 Decarbonisation

4 Genuine Progress Indicator

5 Carbon footprint

5.1 Low carbon economy

5.2 Carbon offset

6 Ecological footprint

7 Sustainability

8 History of sustainability

9 Ecospirituality

10 Deep ecology

Appendix: 1 Two visions for 2050

Culled from Reports of UK Committee on Climate Change and Expert Opinions

Essentials for degrowth (1)

  • Striving for the good life for all. This includes deceleration, time welfare and conviviality.
  • A reduction of production and consumption in the global North and liberation from the one-sided Western paradigm of development. This is aimed at allowing for a self-determined path of social organization in the global South.
  • An extension of democratic decision-making to allow for real political participation.
  • Social changes and an orientation towards sufficiency instead of purely technological changes and improvements in efficiency in order to solve ecological problems.  It has historically been proven that decoupling economic growth from resource use is not possible.
  • The creation of open, connected and localized economies (deep place).

A survey of a total of 128 peer-reviewed articles focused on degrowth were reviewed, and 54 that include proposals for action were analysed. The proposals identified align with three broad goals:

  • Reduce the environmental impact of human activities
  • Redistribute income and wealth both within and between countries;
  • Promote the transition from a materialistic to a convivial and participatory society.

The proposals include common-sense ecological plans, like the reduction of energy and material consumption, carbon caps, bans on harmful activities, and incentives for local production and consumption. Degrowthers are also looking to transform traditional ideas of the economy with the promotion of community currencies and alternative credit institutions, reduced working hours, basic and maximum incomes, and voluntary simplicity and downshifting

UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) takes the view that government should lead the global fight against climate change by cutting greenhouse gases to nearly zero by 2050. The CCC maintains that if other countries follow the UK, there’s a 50-50 chance of staying below the recommended 1.5C temperature rise by 2100.  A 1.5C rise is considered the threshold for dangerous climate change. Some say the proposed 2050 target for near-zero emissions is too soft, but others who believe in a growth economy will fear the goal could damage the UK’s economy. The CCC says it would not be able to hit “net zero“ emissions any sooner, but 2050 was still an extremely significant goal.  

The report by the Committee on Climate Change makes it clear that things we take for granted now would have to be seriously restricted. Petrol and diesel vehicles will need to be phased out and replaced by electric or hydrogen powered ones by 2035. Consumption of beef, lamb and dairy must be cut by 20% by 2050 to reduce the methane emitted into the atmosphere by livestock. And no houses built after 2025 would be connected to the gas grid, whilst the owners of older buildings will need to switch their heating system to a low carbon one by around 2035.

The main author  of the CCC’s report, Christopher Stark says: “This report would have been absolutely inconceivable just a few years ago. People would have laughed us out of court for suggesting that the target could be so high.”

The main change was the huge drop in the cost of renewable energy prompted by government policies to nurture solar and wind power.

In an interview Stark said the BBC’s David Attenborough climate documentary, protests by Extinction Rebellion and speeches by the teenage campaigner Greta Thunberg had persuaded the public that the problem needed urgent action.  But there is no way the 2050 target would be achieved unless the government backs it with policies and money.  The UK is already slipping away from a legal obligation to cut its emissions step-by-step between now and 2032.

The CCC estimates the cost of the new proposal is tens of billions of pounds a year and may reach to 1-2% of national wealth (as measured by GDP) each year by 2050. That doesn’t count the benefits of decarbonisation – such as cleaner air and water. The CCC said England should aim to eliminate emissions by 2050, while Scotland could go carbon-free sooner – by 2045. Scotland has exceptional potential for planting trees (which absorb carbon dioxide) and is more suited for carbon capture and storage. Wales can only cut 95% of its emissions by 2050 because of its large upland livestock industry. Northern Ireland will follow England’s targets.

The government is studying the report, which has substantial implications for public finances, and says it “sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely”.

The plan is for “net zero“ emissions by 2050, which means balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal. In practice, which means slashing the amount of CO2 put into the atmosphere. Unavoidable emissions need to be captured and stored (for example, where CO2 is collected from a power station chimney and put underground) or offset by planting trees.  The CCC believes that achieving zero emissions depends on low-carbon technologies and changes to industry and public behaviour. Here are some of the report’s recommendations for the public.

Home heating

The report has one controversial recommendation: to turn down the home thermostat to 19C in winter.  We will need to insulate our homes much better. Some of us will use heat pumps – a sort of reverse refrigeration technology that sucks warmth from the ground – and convert natural gas boilers to hydrogen ones.  The committee expects consumer bills to rise at first, then fall as a newer, cheaper electricity generators are introduced.


The aviation industry is trying to bring down the cost of making jet fuels from waste materials.  But the CCC says this won’t be enough. The number of flights we take is increasing, and the report predicts that government action will be needed to constrain the growth. However, it doesn’t say how – and the committee chair, John Gummer, ducked a question about Heathrow expansion at the report’s launch.


The report says we won’t need to overhaul our motoring habits, but eventually we will be driving electric cars. The government has set a target date of 2040 beyond which conventional car sales will be banned. However, the committee says that deadline should be 2030.


The committee notes many people are already eating less red meat for the health of the planet and themselves. It says people can reduce their diet-related emissions by 35% if they transition from a high-meat diet to a low-meat one. But it only predicts a 20% drop in meat consumption by 2050.


Bio-degradable waste should not be sent to landfill after 2025. This means we would all be obliged to separate our food waste from other rubbish. The report recommends reducing food waste as far as possible.

The CCC says people can also take the following steps:

  • Choosing to walk, cycle or take public transport
  • Choosing LED light-bulbs and electric appliances with high energy efficiency ratings
  • Setting the water temperature in their heating systems to no higher than 55C
  • Using only peat-free compost
  • Choosing quality products that last longer and sharing rather than buying items, like power tools, that are used infrequently
  • Checking your pension funds and ISAs to see if your investments support low-carbon industries

The big push is to decarbonise industry and heat generation. Carbon capture technology will be needed on many of the major emitters: the steel, aluminium and paper industries.

Farmers would need to find ways to reduce methane emissions from cows  Agriculture is a major emitter of greenhouse gases through sheep and cattle burping methane, and from fertilisers.  Farmers would need to reduce the amount of land in pasture, increase woodland, and feed cattle food that creates less methane gas.

The fracking industry would also be affected – the committee says we should only use fracked gas in the UK if it replaces gas that would otherwise be imported.

Environmental groups are supportive – although many think 2050 is too conservative. The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change has called on the government to adopt the recommendations but “adopt a net-zero target before 2050”.

Essentials for degrowth (2)

Lorna Greenwood of Extinction Rebellion says: “2050 condemns us to a bleak future… Others are already dying around the world thanks to inaction and far-off target setting.”

The environmental campaign group WWF has said: “The problem is, we’ve been acting as if we have time. But if we want a world with coral reefs, safe coastal cities and enough food for everyone, we must act now.”  Business and industry groups have expressed support but argue they need government help. 

Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) says: “The UK should do all it can to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. What we need now is a supportive and timely response from the government to enact this ambitious target. 

Minette Batters, president of the farm union NFU, says: “We take the climate issue very seriously. With Brexit and the government’s Agriculture Bill the government can shift farm support towards helping farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Shaun Fitzgerald, director of The Royal Institution, says: “I am a massive supporter of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But he added: “Will people be prepared to set their winter time thermostat to 19C? Asking people to put up with a reduction in comfort/quality is going to be difficult.”  Imagine a world where petrol cars are banned, there is no gas central heating, and meat-free Monday is no longer a choice. That is the future that awaits us if the Government’s pledge to go carbon neutral by 2050 is to be met. Under the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, the UK and almost 200 other countries vowed to work together to keep global warming in check. The agreement seeks to keep temperatures to 1.5 degree or at the very least to “well below 2 degrees” above pre-industrial levels so it is vital that we cut emissions. If Britain is to get greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” it means the amount of gases emitted into the atmosphere is no more than the amount taken out. If we can do it by the deadline of 2050, Britain will become the world’s first major economy to stop contributing to climate change. But to achieve that goal means drastic and life-changing action has to be taken – and fast.

So is going carbon-neutral by 2050 a realistic goal and how can we achieve it? Roger Harrabin BBC environment analyst interviewed Robert Ward, Policy and Communications Director of the London School of Economics Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, (2018).  The following account in includes some highlights of the conversation.

In your home

Every house would have to be better insulated to reduce energy wastage. And every home would also be connected to smart devices to make sure things like lights, computers and TVs weren’t using power when they weren’t needed. But perhaps the biggest change would be in how we heat our homes – with gas central heating becoming a thing of the past.

New homes would be designed in a way where they required minimal energy to maintain their temperature

“Gas central heating will have to end.  “Initially there will be a generation of boilers that are a combination of gas and also heat-pumps which use refrigerants, which create a heat exchange with the natural heat from the air or from below ground.”But they need to increase their efficiency and initially you would have them backed up with gas central heating that would turn on when the pump wasn’t doing quite enough, in the same way that you have hybrid cars that run on electricity but occasionally need to use petrol.

“Eventually we just won’t be burning gas – you won’t have any gas cookers any more, everything will be electric. “It certainly requires an investment upfront but the idea is that all of these appliances are going to be much more efficient, so in fact the running costs will be much lower than people have at the moment.  “Yes there will be an investment in a new cooker, but it will cook things more quickly and in a more energy efficient way. “The same things for you heating – by not using gas your energy bills will be much lower.”

On the road

In order to achieve net zero carbon emissions, petrol and diesel cars will become a thing of the past. Not only will we all be driving electric cars but driverless cars – which are computer operated to find the most dynamic routes around our cities – could replace traditional cabs.

And public transport systems would have to improve to reduce congestion.

“The prices of electric cars are coming right down, and the running costs of an electric car are a lot less than those of a petrol or diesel car. “A lot of people when they come to the end of life of their current car, electric cars will be the only thing available. “For people who have to buy one earlier there may be incentive schemes. “One of the more interesting developments is that at night when you plug your car in, if you have any charge left then the grid might take that out of your car to use at peak times, and then charge the car during the night, which will help with the supply and demand of electricity.

“Some electric car companies are looking at autonomous vehicles which are almost like cabs are now – so when you need to make a journey, you hire a car, it turns up, it doesn’t have a driver but takes you to your destination. “Because it is controlled by computers it gets around the city much more efficiently than if it was driven by a person. “So people will spend less time actually commuting and then don’t have to worry about parking.  “If we invest more money in public transport, everyone may knock 10 minutes off their daily commute which is ten minutes more that everybody spends being more productive. “So when you work these sums out it is far more economical than people sitting in traffic jams. Many of the changes we make for climate reasons will also generally improve life.”

In the air

The huge greenhouse gas emissions caused by air travel are one stumbling block to a carbon neutral future.  But technology is moving so quickly that battery-powered short-haul flights are not too far away. “We think we will probably have good enough battery technology that it will be possible to have short-haul flights by battery powered planes.  “But it seems unlikely at the moment that battery technology will move on to where we could do a long international flight using electric. “So it is hoped that we will develop new biofuels which are based on plants so when the plants grow they suck in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so when you burn them when you fly, you release carbon dioxide but you haven’t added to the overall concentration of carbon dioxide so it is effectively carbon neutral.”


Livestock create massive emissions of the greenhouse gas methane, which we will have to tackle if we are to become carbon neutral by 2050 – which means eating less meat and dairy products.  But technology is already being developed where meat is being created in science labs so we will no longer need cows to enjoy a juicy steak or burger. “We are already seeing a change where a lot of people are eating less meat for health and ethical reasons,”

“The environment gives you another reason to think about your meat consumption.

“When livestock belch they produce methane and that is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. “When you work out all the resources you have to put in to having a cow, it is very inefficient.

“Scientists have also started to grow meat in laboratories using stem cells.  The cost of this is now coming down, and some burger companies are already experimenting with this, so we will get to the stage where you can buy a burger made of meat but it hasn’t come from a cow it has been grown in a lab and you won’t be able to taste the difference”.

“Another reason we need to reduce our consumption of meat is that we need the space that is used to keep the livestock to grow biofuels. “So we will grow trees to burn for energy and create electricity. The trees are burned in an electricity power station but instead of releasing the cartoon dioxide they will store it underground in disused oil fields. ” So effectively you are reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because the plants take it in to grow, but then when it is burned it isn’t released again.”

At work

By working less, we produce fewer goods and services that require precious resources to make. We also consume less in the process of getting our job done. Less work means less carbon-intensive commuting, less energy-demanding office space, and less time on power-hungry computer systems. In addition, working less would help to break down the work-spend cycle. Fewer hours at work mean we have more time to do other personal things such as travelling, preparing food or fixing broken household items. We are also less likely to rely on environmentally costly timesavers such as high-speed air travel or takeaway food delivered in plastic containers by someone riding a motorbike. 

The politics

A new left wing economics is emerging that wants to see the redistribution of economic power, so that it is held by everyone – just as political power is held by everyone in a healthy democracy. This could involve employees taking ownership of part of every company; or local politicians reshaping their city’s economy to favour local, ethical businesses over large corporations; or national politicians making co-operatives a capitalist norm. They want this change to be only partially initiated and overseen by the state, not controlled by it. They envisage a transformation that happens almost organically, driven by employees and consumers – a sort of non-violent revolution in slow motion.

The result, the new economists claim, will be an economy that suits society, rather than – as we have at present – a society subordinated to the economy. This isn’t really economics at all. It’s “a new view of the world” focussed on the concept of Deep Place, a holistic approach to sustainable place-making. The deep place idea is grounded in a concern with how to achieve more economically, socially, environmentally and culturally sustainable places where communities are in control. It seeks to overcome what it identifies as the harmful consequences of the current dominant Neoliberal economic competitive paradigm adopted by rootless people on the move. Although it is not anti-capitalist, degrowth economics recognises the weaknesses and failings of Neoliberalism, which exploits the human factor of production and in doing so consumes more resources than the planet can regenerate.  The glue of deep place sustainability consists of a ‘mosaic of peoples, traditions, beliefs, and institutions uniquely shaped by long term pressures of geology, human history, culture, local environment, and changing human needs’. 

The cost

Experts estimate that for Britain to reach its net zero carbon target by 2050 it will cost £1trillion. But  the benefits not just for climate change, but for our general well-being, may well far out-weigh that investment in the long-run.

“Air pollution currently kills about 30,000 people a year in the UK,. “When you start adding up all these benefits – reducing congestion etc – it looks like we will end up being better off from that £1 trillion investment.“That number is over 30 years but it doesn’t take into account any of the benefits. Yes £1trillion is a lot of money, but if the benefits are £3 trillion well that is a good deal.

“One thing that really strikes me is that when you tell people all the benefits they get it, but the one thing that seals it for them, particularly older people, is that the impacts of climate change are getting worse and if we don’t act promptly then our children and grandchildren will have to deal with them. “And I think most people would agree they would rather leave the world in a better place so that our children don’t have to deal with the catastrophic impacts of climate change.”

The spirituality

All economic value is derived from nature by way of society.  Economic value is therefore rooted in human values and ultimately in the spiritual values that give purpose and meaning to human life.  In the absence of purpose, there is no logical motivation for sustaining human life or sustaining human economies. Thus, economic sustainability is deeply rooted in spirituality.  So fundamental challenges in achieving sustainability are ethical, moral, and ultimately spiritual rather than technological or economic. Therefore, sustainability ultimately depends on creating a moral and ethical culture that gives long term economic sustainability priority over short term economic expediency. 

“Deep sustainability” goes beyond the normal shallow or instrumental strategies which focus on resource efficiency and substitution, motivated by economic incentives. Deep sustainability explores the philosophical, ethical, and transcendental roots of ecological, social, and economic integrity. In so doing, it calls for a spiritual-rooted, cultural revolution. This revolution must be motivated by an understanding that the pursuit of economic sustainability is synonymous with the pursuit of authentic happiness—which is inherently social and spiritual as well as material. A degrowth economy would be one which simply provides the material requisites and means for a pursuit of happiness motivated by a spiritual sense of wellbeing.  

Spiritual wellness comes from having connections to something greater than yourself.  It is about having a set of values, principles, morals and beliefs that provide a sense of purpose, hopefulness and meaning to life.  Applying those principles to guide your actions generates a personal prosperity that can make life worthwhile in a steady state economy.

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