In various areas of our lives, the idea of reduction can be fulfilling and inspiring, as well as environmentally beneficial.
Having had a hectic, quick-fix life in the city, I have found the alternatives to mainstream consumption have been genuinely life enhancing (and money saving). The swell of interest in bread baking, wild swimming, and growing our own fruit and veg shows there is a broader shift in how we are finding fulfilment.
This isn’t just for the mid-lifers either; it’s great to see teenagers using their dads’ old shirts to make the latest fashions rather than heading to the high street. The idea of doing less, buying less, travelling less, reducing our actions, is becoming more and more resonant as one of the solutions to the climate crisis.
This concept has a name, ‘degrowth’, and it calls for limiting activities that are harmful while expanding sectors and actions important and necessary in tackling the current climate, ecological, and social breakdown.
The good news is that this isn’t about austerity, unemployment, or recession. Degrowth is concerned with shining a light on the consumerism trap and discovering a more positive approach. It is a culture shift from the ingrained doctrine that we need more and more stuff to be happy.
This manufactured feeling of scarcity, the marketing that pushes us into an unnecessary phone upgrade or trying to grab the latest limited edition trainers, can be replaced with a more lasting sense of our own resilience and self worth. This has, at least, been my experience over the last five years.
Growth is used politically as the overriding measure of the country’s success, through GDP (Gross Domestic Product) – with the premise that as the country grows, people get wealthier and therefore happier.
The problem with this is that this measure of growth is indiscriminate; activities such as cutting down trees, or increasing the amount of private jet flights, have the same merit as building a hospital or nature reserve.
Also, the wealth created does not trickle down from the top earners, so an increase in GDP does not in fact reach those that need it the most.
Perhaps most importantly, as we have seen especially in our response to Covid, activities such as caring for neighbours or relatives, or volunteering, are not counted in GDP, so there is no consideration of wellbeing or the vital role of community and our support networks.
The degrowth movement calls for a broad change to our current system – creating one which doesn’t only take into account monetary value, but balances the needs of people, planet, and profit.
This is very much in line with Kate Raworth’s concept of Doughnut Economics, where every person has the resources they need to meet their human rights, while collectively we live within the ecological means of this one planet.
Degrowth does not imply that growth is bad per se. The key is that growth at all costs, and as the primary objective of our political and economic system, is not good because it is inevitably linked to human exploitation and environmental destruction.
Rather than creating net unemployment, jobs could shift from industries that need to shrink into those that tackle the current crisis and inequality. Four-day weeks and Universal Basic Income could also be considered for better work-life balance.
A reduction in overall consumption really doesn’t have to result in us being worse off financially or emotionally – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. There are many studies which show that happiness, after a certain point, is not linked to economic growth or wealth.
At the heart of degrowth is the development of a wellbeing economy; an economy which is in service of improving the quality of our lives and the health of the planet.
This piece was originally published in the autumn-winter print edition of Wicked Leeks. You can read the full magazine for free on Issuu.