What follows is an excerpt from the keynote address given by Samuel Alexander at the LOCAL LIVES, GLOBAL MATTERS conference. The entire talk titled WHAT IS DEGROWTH? ENVISIONING A PROSPEROUS DESCENT is available at the following link: http://simplicitycollective.com/what-is-degrowth-envisioning-a-prosperous-descent
What would life be like in a degrowth society?
In a degrowth society we would aspire to localise our economies as far and as appropriately as possible. This would assist with reducing carbon-intensive global trade, while also building community and resilience in the face of an uncertain and turbulent future. We must ride our bikes more and fly less.
Through forms of direct or participatory democracy we would organise our economies to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met, and then redirect our energies away from economic expansion. This would be a relatively low-energy mode of living that ran primarily on renewable energy systems.
As noted earlier, renewable energy cannot sustain an energy-intensive global society of high-end consumers. A degrowth society embraces the necessity of “energy descent”.
We would tend to reduce our working hours in the formal economy in exchange for more home-production and leisure. We would have less income, but more freedom. Thus, in our simplicity, we would be rich.
Wherever possible, we would grow our own organic food, water our gardens from water tanks, and turn our neighbourhoods into edible landscapes as the Cubans have done in Havana. As my friend Adam Grubb so delightfully declares, we should ‘eat the suburbs’, while supplementing urban agriculture with food from local farmers’ markets.
More broadly, we must turn our homes and communities into places of sustainable production, not unsustainable consumption. This involves increasing self-sufficiency and reskilling ourselves and our communities to regain practical knowledge that is on the cusp of being lost.
We would become radical recyclers and do-it-yourself experts. This would partly be driven by the fact that we would simply be living in an era of relative scarcity, with reduced discretionary income.
But human beings find creative projects fulfilling, and the challenge of building the new world within the shell of the old promises to be immensely meaningful, even if it will also entail times of trial. The apparent scarcity of goods can also be greatly reduced by scaling up the sharing economy and the non-monetary economy, which would also enrich our communities.
We do not need to purchase so many new clothes. Let us mend or exchange the clothes we have, buy second-hand, or make our own. In a degrowth society, the fashion and marketing industries would quickly wither away. A new aesthetic of sufficiency would develop, where we creatively re-use and refashion the vast existing stock of clothing and materials, and explore less impactful ways of producing new clothes.
Degrowth sees ugliness in the clothes dryer and elegance in the clothesline. As Leonardo da Vinci once wrote: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
One day, we might even live in cob houses that we build ourselves, but over the next few critical decades the fact is that most of us will be living within the poorly designed urban infrastructure that already exists. We are hardly going to knock it all down and start again. Instead, we must ‘retrofit the suburbs’, as David Holmgren argues. This would involve doing everything we can to make our homes more energy-efficient, more productive, and probably more densely inhabited. We need to redesign our communities based on permaculture principles, nourishing the earth that nourishes us.
This is not the eco-future that we are shown in glossy design magazines featuring million-dollar “green homes” that are prohibitively expensive. Degrowth offers a more humble – and I would say more realistic – vision of a sustainable future.
In short, degrowth means living lives of frugality, moderation and material sufficiency – but lives that are rich in their non-materialistic dimensions.