Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to Economic Degrowth proponents, we need to give up guns, S.U.V.s, eating beef, private transportation, advertising and consumer goods, to achieve a life which is more in harmony with nature. But we have to ditch democracy and embrace a green dictatorship, before we can achieve this happy state of communal living.
Do We Need to Shrink the Economy to Stop Climate Change?
By Spencer Bokat-Lindell
Mr. Bokat-Lindell is a staff editor.
This article is part of the Debatable newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
If there is a dominant paradigm for how politicians and economists today think about solving climate change, it is called green growth. According to green growth orthodoxy — whose adherents populate European governments, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Bank and the White House — the global economy can both continue growing and defuse the threat of a warming planet through rapid, market-led environmental action and technological innovation.
But in recent years, a rival paradigm has been gaining ground: degrowth. In the view of degrowthers, humanity simply does not have the capacity to phase out fossil fuels and meet the ever-growing demand of rich economies. At this late hour, consumption itself has to be curtailed.
The case for degrowth
Perhaps the most prominent proponent of the degrowth movement is Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist and the author of “Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World.” Degrowth, as he defines it, “is a planned reduction of energy and resource use designed to bring the economy back into balance with the living world in a way that reduces inequality and improves human well-being.”
Degrowth, by contrast, calls for a different kind of economy altogether, one that could improve people’s livelihoods despite a reduction in aggregate activity: It seeks to scale down “ecologically destructive and socially less necessary production” (such as S.U.V.s, weapons, beef, private transportation, advertising and consumer technologies that are designed to obsolesce) while expanding “socially important sectors” like health care and education.
New York magazine’s Eric Levitz agrees that “Americans might well find themselves happier and more secure in an ultra-low-carbon communal economy in which individual car ownership is heavily restricted, and housing, health care, and myriad low-carbon leisure activities are social rights.” But, he adds, “nothing short of an absolute dictatorship could affect such a transformation at the necessary speed. And the specter of eco-Bolshevism does not haunt the Global North. Humanity is going to find a way to get rich sustainably, or die trying.”
…Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/16/opinion/degrowth-cllimate-change.html/
The idea of giving up all that our ancestors fought and strived for might seem too ridiculous to consider, but concepts like Degrowth have a shocking level of support from our academics and politicians. And journalists, if the NYT article is any guide.
Proponents of Economic Degrowth might have good reason to be confident, because it already happened once, in 1975, in Cambodia, when a charismatic madman convinced academics and community leaders to support his attempt to return their society to the middle ages. His plan was to restore traditional values, by restructuring society to facilitate the rise of a perfect communist state, where everyone could live in small village communal bliss, in total harmony with nature. Or so he promised.
The reality was not what Pol Pot promised. The horrific legacy of Cambodia’s Year Zero project is vast piles of bones and skulls, like the picture at the top of this page.
… Pol Pot transformed Cambodia into a one-party state called Democratic Kampuchea. Seeking to create an agrarian socialist society that he believed would evolve into a communist society, Pol Pot’s government forcibly relocated the urban population to the countryside to work on collective farms. Pursuing complete egalitarianism, money was abolished and all citizens were made to wear the same black clothing. Pol Pot was a driving force behind the Cambodian genocide, the systematic persecution and killing of Cambodians that the Khmer Rouge regarded as enemies. The genocide, coupled with malnutrition and poor medical care, killed between 1.5 and 2 million people, approximately a quarter of Cambodia’s population. Repeated purges of the CPK generated growing discontent; by 1978 Cambodian soldiers were mounting a rebellion in the east. After several years of border clashes, the newly unified Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978, toppling Pol Pot and installing a rival Marxist–Leninist government in 1979. The Khmer Rouge retreated to the jungles near the Thai border, from where they continued to fight. In declining health, Pol Pot stepped back from many of his roles in the movement. In 1998 the Khmer Rouge commander Ta Mok placed Pol Pot under house arrest, shortly after which he died. …Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pol_Pot
The Climate Economic Degrowth plan described by NYT includes more money for the education sector. Some of the money saved by heavily restricting the production of goods Degrowth proponents don’t like will be channeled to the academics who created this idea. Limited production of goods will be permitted, which will presumably include rough road vehicles, and guns and ammo for the bodyguards of the academic elite.
i mean, someone needs to oversee the new restricted living communal villages. Regular inspections would be required to enforce living in harmony with nature, to ensure that any political unreliables with engineering skills who somehow survive the purges don’t covertly attempt to break the mandatory harmony by building forbidden machines.
My point is, what happened in Cambodia in 1975 could happen again. The strength of the deep green back to nature movement is the measure of our peril.
Only vigilance and prompt public challenge can prevent Climate Economic Degrowth proponents from tapping into ordinary people’s understandable angst about technology and our fast paced changing society, just as Pol Pot once did in Cambodia.