Articles

FOCUS – Why growth cannot last indefinitely

on .


Written by Dario Ruggiero (December 2013)

Premise

Almost all countries in the world are increasingly obsessed with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. The most explicit reasons (in the sense that they are used by politicians) are the needs to improve citizens’ standards of living and to raise employment. However, these needs are specific only to a world characterized by a consumerist society and a strong competition between countries in the international relations; on the other hand, they decay in societies that focus on the improvement of social and environmental relations at the expense of material consumption.

As for the first aspect (improving citizens’ standards of living), it is now widely recognized that Gross Domestic Product per capita doesn’t fully translate into prosperity for citizens. It is true, an increase in GDP per capita can improve wellness in poor countries (poor in terms of both economic and natural resources): in fact, with such an increase people can consume a major quantity and variety of goods and services; therefore, under the condition that GDP is equally distributed among the population, the average wellness will rise. But, with the increase of GDP per capita, its marginal utility will decrease (that is a basic rule of Microeconomics – when the goods are few, one more good is very useful, but when the goods are many, one more good is less useful -). So, the search for an increase in GDP per capita is not the right solution to improve wellness in rich countries, where citizens are saturated with goods and services (for a deeper discussion on this issue see LTEconomy , "From GDP to new measures").

The second aspect (the growth of GDP is functional to an increase in employment) is nothing but the result of one of the worst evils of a growth-based economy: the over-emphasis on the "productivity of resources" (greater output, without an increase of the resources - capital and human - used). In a system based on the constant pursuit of productivity, countries must grow indefinitely in order to "simply" maintain a stable level of employment.

To the two reasons described above, we should add a third one (not explained by the mass media): countries point to GDP growth in order to gain or maintain power in international trade and political relations. The advanced economies point to an increase in GDP to preserve their position in the world power balance; emerging countries do the same in order to reach the advanced countries’ standards of living; poor economies (or developing countries if we want to use an euphemism) want to grow to reduce their poverty (although, actually, the growth-based objectives are leading to their impoverishment, especially in terms of natural capital – because of pollution, deforestation and land grabbing).

The growth-based society is economically and ecologically unsustainable in the long term, because it is "an excess-based system"; such a system does not meet a long-term equilibrium between the resources consumed now and those that the society will be able to consume in the future. It has generated (and will continue to generate) an increase of pollution (second paragraph) and of the ecological footprint (third paragraph). It is a system that gives a great emphasis on individualism, competition and inequality; this brings to a strong lifestyle imbalance between countries (topic widely discussed in the fourth paragraph); moreover, the unequal distribution of wealth in the world is leading to a new form of colonialism, better known as Land grabbing (fifth paragraph); finally, the growth-based economy is an addicted-system: we need to grow indefinitely to preserve employment levels (sixth paragraph).

In this perspective, several economists and philosophers propose a new social model that focuses on values different from the ones on which the current society is based on. They are supporters of the so called "degrowth-model". Degrowth is a "volunteer project", completely different from the concept of "economic recession" (a not-desired phenomenon) that is hitting several countries. The last two paragraphs of the article are respectively devoted to the historical path of the degrowth theory and the principles on which it is based on; a special emphasis is given on the concept of "frugal abundance", according to which, in a degrowth-based society wealth can be more abundant (and better distributed) than in a society based prevalently on the consumption of material goods (Serge Latouche, 2012).

Will degrowth replace recession? Much will depend on how much the pioneers of this new social model and the current economic crisis, will be able to shake the collective opinion in a way that will give more importance to completely new values.

 

 
 
Acknowledgements

Thanks are due to Dott.Erik Assadourian (Worldwatch Institute, Senior Fellow; Director of “The Transforming Cultures Project”, and Co-director of four editions of the report “State of the World”), for his interview on this topic (see the interview with Erik Assadourian).

“The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred
from a measurement of national income as defined above”.
Simon Smith Kuznets, 1934
 
“…Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year,
but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that –
counts air pollution and cigarette advertising,
and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage….
…It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages,
the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials….
…it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. ”
Robert F. Kennedy Speeches
University of Kansas, March 18, 1968
 
“Real poverty consists in the loss of independence
and in the addiction to consumption”.
Serge Latouche, 2012
(our translation from the Italian text)
 
 
INDEX
Premise
1. The run towards growth
2. Economic growth and carbon dioxide emissions
3. Economic growth and “Ecological footprint”
4. Economic growth and “inequality in the global distribution of resources”
5. Economic growth and Land grabbing
6. Economic growth and employment: the problem of productivity
7. The steps towards the overcoming of GDP as the measure of people’s wellness
8. The “degrowth-based economy”: the main disputes on the topic
Conclusions
BIBLIOGRAPHY 
 
 
1. The run towards growth
 
In the global economic landscape we can distinguish three main groups of countries: advanced economies, emerging economies and developing economies. In an open economy, like the current one, where international trade grows steadily (in the past thirty years international trade of goods and services has grown by 7% per year; WTO, World Trade Report 2013), each country, in order to get a wider access to global resources, and so to improve its citizens’ “material” lifestyle, adopts a simple strategy: increase its Gross Domestic Product. Economic growth allows countries to participate in the international market of resources with a greater relative power. There is a clear analogy with what happens inside societies: the rich have a wider access to goods and services offered in the markets than the poor.

 

 

Therefore, by now almost all countries in the world adopt a strategy focused on increasing their economic wealth (their total income – the GDP), in order to preserve their standards of living (it is the case of advanced countries), to improve their standards of living (it is the case of emerging countries, in particular of BRICS[1]), or to get out of economic poverty (as for developing countries).

These strategies are strongly proved by data on GDP growth released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF); advanced countries (with regards to those making up the G7), have grown at an annual average of 2.3% in the 1981-2012 period (with a cumulative growth of 70% in the period considered); BRICS have registered an annual growth of 6.2% and African sub-Saharan countries have grown by 3.6% annually in the period considered. It is interesting to note that while in the 80s the “economic power” (in terms of global GDP share) was highly concentrated in the hands of the advanced countries, then it has gradually switched to emerging countries (BRICS); on the other hand, the role played by African sub-Saharan countries in the economic scenario remain marginal. In 2018 G7 advanced countries’ global GDP share will be almost equal to the BRIC’s one.
 
 
Table – Real GDP growth rate
(Advanced economies, emerging economies and African sub-Saharan economies, annual average GDP growth rate (%))
  1981-1990 1991-2000 2001-2010 2011-2012 2013-2018 1981-2012
Advanced economies (G7) 3.2 2.6 1.3 1.5 2.2 2.3
Canada 2.8 2.9 1.9 2.2 2.2 2.5
France 2.4 2.0 1.1 0.9 1.3 1.8
Germany 2.3 1.9 1.0 2.0 1.2 1.8
Italy 2.4 1.6 0.4 -1.0 0.7 1.3
Japan 4.6 1.1 0.8 0.7 1.3 2.1
United Kingdom 3.1 2.8 1.8 0.5 1.8 2.4
United States 3.3 3.4 1.6 2.0 3.0 2.7
             
BRICS 5.6 5.3 7.7 6.3 6.8 6.2
Brazil 1.6 2.5 3.6 1.8 3.9 2.5
China 9.4 10.5 10.5 8.5 8.4 10.0
India 5.6 5.6 7.4 5.9 6.5 6.2
Russia - -2.1 4.9 3.9 3.6 2.0
South Africa 1.5 1.8 3.6 3.0 3.2 2.4
             
Sub-Saharan Africa 2.4 2.3 5.7 5.0 5.7 3.6
Source: LTEconomy elaboration on IMF
 
 
Graph – Global GDP share (GDP based on PPP*)

 * PPP = Purchasing Power Parity
Source: LTEconomy elaboration on IMF and the World Bank

 

Box – What is “economic growth”? 

In this period, more than ever, mass media continuously mentions the term of economic growth. Technically, this concept means an increase in real Gross Domestic Product (real GDP). GDP is the value of goods and services produced by a country in a year (intermediate goods or services are excluded, as their value is incorporated in that of final goods and services). The value of these goods/services feeds consumption (public and private), investments (public and private), exports. Therefore, GDP calculation is often summarized by the sum of those spending components; however, this amount of spending must be cleared by the value of imports (goods and services imported from other countries feed our consumption, investments, our public spending, but are not goods/services produced inside our country). Here follows the classical GDP formula, where GDP is divided into its spending components. By observing this formula, it is clear why politicians and economists give great emphasis on “stimulating demand” (in terms of consumption and investments) in order to increase the GDP. The higher the demand of goods, higher will be the production of goods.

Y = GDP

C = Consumption

G = Government’s Consumption and Investments

I = Private Investments

X = Exports

M = Imports

Another way of looking at GDP is by considering it as the sum of worker’s incomes and companies’ profits. In fact, production activities have costs in terms of raw material and intermediate goods, worker’s remuneration (worker’s income) and capital remuneration (companies’ profits). Therefore, the value of their goods/services (that is the sum of these costs), excluding the costs for raw materials and intermediate goods, is the measure that make up the aggregated country’s GDP. This measure is the sum of resources’ remuneration (workers’ incomes and companies’ profits).

In this perspective, the ratio between GDP and the country’s population, gives us a rough measure of the per capita income, that is the “average” income of each citizen. By assuming that a higher per capita income is functional to a higher standard of living, the proponents of economic growth argue that an increase in GDP per capita leads to an increase in the wellness of the population. In reality, the equation “GDP per capita growth = citizens’ wellness growth” is widely criticized (and it was even criticized by the GDP founder – see paragraph 7), for different reasons: first of all, GDP is often not evenly distributed among the population (there are rich and poor people); secondly, when income per capita overpasses a certain threshold, the benefits of a further increase of the income per capita (and so of material consumption of goods and services) diminish drastically.

GDP growth must be cleared of inflation effects (that is the increase in price consumption). In this way we can compare the value of goods and services produced in different years. The percentage variation between the “real” GDP of a country in a certain year and that of another year represents GDP real growth rate.

 

The reasons behind the strong desire for growth

In the previous pages we introduced some of the reasons behind the countries’ strong desire for the economic growth. In this paragraph we are going to put in order and integrate them. We can substantially distinguish three reasons:

1) increase GDP (so become richer) in order to gain power in International relations (commercial and political);
2) increase GDP per capita, as it is still widely considered as the main source of citizens’ wellness;
3) increase GDP in order to preserve or increase employment.

 

 

“Actually, all three reasons are themselves the result of a society based on consumption and economic growth”; they wouldn’t exist in a system based on new different values. In order to weaken the first factor (that probably is also the most important and difficult to eradicate), international agreements on new social models would be probably necessary: these new social models should be characterized by lower “material” consumption of goods, and less reliance on international trade to satisfy local needs. As for the second factor (GDP per capita = wellness), it should be clear that when per capita income is high, a further increase in incomes doesn’t reflect in a greater wellness for citizens. Finally, as for the third factor (increasing GDP in order to sustain employment) , it is the natural consequence of the endless increase in industrial productivity, that means less employees to get the same output, or, in other words, more output with the same number of employees: substantially, in a “growth-based society” GDP must constantly increase, simply to preserve employment. These are all issues that will be treated in details in the rest of the article.

“In today’s globalized world, economic power translates to political power, both in direct economic influence over satellite nations, in military power (through purchasing of weaponry from surplus earnings), as well as broader indirect financial and cultural interest over nations. So countries continue to work to fortify their economic advantage through growth. At the same time, at the microeconomic level, corporations and individuals pursue growth to maximize profit, which is celebrated—like economic growth—as an overall unquestionable good. Few people talk about the dark side of profit: exploitation of the planet and people (both as consumers and workers) to extract that profit …”
 
Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute, Senior Fellow
(December 2013, www.lteconomy.it/en)
 
 
2. Economic growth and carbon dioxide emissions
 
In 1980 annual carbon dioxide emissions were a little bit over 19 million kilotons; after thirty years, they have almost doubled, reaching 33.6 million kilotons in 2010. In the same period, global GDP (in real terms) grew by 175% (it has almost tripled). Therefore, there is a clear “correlation” between global GDP growth and global CO2 emissions: the higher is real GDP, the higher will be global CO2 emissions. A worthwhile consideration emerges by comparing the correlation between real GDP and CO2 emissions in advanced countries (e.g. United Staes and Italy) an that in emerging countries (e.g. China); it is clear that, as emerging countries are less service-based economies, an increase in their GDP translates into a greater increase in their annual CO2 emissions, compared to advanced countries (see the box: “the correlation between GDP growth and CO2 emissions in advanced and in emerging economies”).

 

 

Global population growth (passed from 3bn in 1960 to 7bn in 2012 - United Nation Population division) is not the only cause of the increase in annual CO2 emissions (more people need more products and energy; that raises total CO2 emissions); in fact, each person now emits much more carbon dioxide than in the past: on average, CO2 emissions per capita in 1960 were 3.09 metric tons; in 2010 they rose to 4.88 (57.8% higher than in 1960).
 
 
Graph – Global real GDP growth and carbon dioxide emissions
(GDP at constant price (thousands of billions of dollars) and CO2 emissions (millions of Kilo Tons))

Source: LTEconomy elaborations on IMF and the World Bank data
 
 
Graph – CO2 per capita emissions, world average
(Metric tons per capita, 1960-2010)

Source: LTEconomy elaborations on IMF and the World Bank data

 

Box - The correlation between real GDP and CO2 emissions in advanced countries and in emerging economies

In the United States, GDP has more than doubled in the 1980-2010 period, while carbon dioxide emissions in the same period have grown by 15%; in Italy, real GDP has grown by 54% in the period considered, while CO2 emissions have increased by 4.5%. In China, real GDP growth has been enormous (+1,662% between 1980 and 2010); also CO2 emissions have increased a lot (+565%). There are different reasons why in emerging countries the correlation between real GDP growth and CO2 emissions is higher. First of all, advanced countries have much more service-based economies; therefore, real GDP growth derives prevalently from an increase in service activities (that are certainly less polluting than industrial activities); moreover, advanced countries are increasingly outsourcing part of their industrial production, therefore, delocalizing a big chunk of CO2 emissions, while at the same time increasing their GDP. In China, on the other hand, a great part of the GDP derives from an increase in industrial activities (that generate more carbon dioxide emissions).

 

Carbon dioxide emissions would not represent a real problem if they were immediately expulsed from the atmosphere. The problem is that they remain in the atmosphere for a rather long period; therefore, they accumulate and strongly contribute to climate change: according to the observations on Antarctic ice sheets and on the Greenland’s ones, there is a clear correlation between CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and air temperature (the higher is CO2 concentration, the higher is the atmospheric temperature). In 1972, a researcher, David Keeling, aware of the importance of “CO2 concentration in the atmosphere”, started the challenge of measuring such a concentration on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano in the Northern Hemisphere. Now the measurement program includes around the clock measurements at 4 baseline observatories and 8 tall towers, air samples collected by volunteers at more than 50 sites, and air samples collected regularly from small aircraft mostly in North America (for more detail on the topic, see LTeconomy, July 2013, “FOCUS – Co2 concentration in the atmosphere: are we resembling the Pliocene Era?). Since 1975, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has been rising from about 330 ppm to 400 ppm in all four observatories. During the latest glaciations CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was 180 ppm; in 1800 (pre-industrial era) CO2 concentration was 280 ppm; now it has reached 400 ppm. “A concentration of 500 ppm is considered by some scientists as an irreversible point, by which Earth will reach a new hotter equilibrium.” The last time such values prevailed on Earth was in the Pliocene epoch, 4m years ago, when jungles covered northern Canada. Based on the evidences just exposed, it is clear that the growth of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is linked to the industrialization of society started in 1800.

Several observations and studies (IPCC, 2007 and 2013) definitely prove that the increase of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is quite completely a man-made consequence. In fact, the growth of CO2 emissions and concentration in the atmosphere is primarily caused by the intensification of industrial activities in all fields, the globalization process (that has caused a great growth in transports, sometimes also useless) and the deforestation process. In particular, the increase in industrial activities, together with the globalization process, has caused a growth in the use of energy: in 1971 annual energy use per capita was 1,337 kilograms of Oil equivalent; in 2011 it was 1,890 kilograms of oil equivalent (41.4% more). In addition to a growth of pollution, an higher use of energy now means also less fuel resources for the future.
 
 
Graph – Energy use per capita
(Global average, kg of oil equivalent per capita, 1960-2010)

Source: LTEconomy elaborations on the World Bank data
 
 
3. Economic growth and “Ecological footprint”
 
The concept of Ecological Footprint has represented a strong positive step towards a better understanding of the environmental sustainability of human activities. Humans absorb resources and produce waste; by doing this, humans make a sort of pressure on the planet. The Ecological Footprint is the metric that allows us to calculate such human pressure on the planet. The first systematic attempt to calculate the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity of nations began in 1997 (Wackernagel et al. 1997). Building on these assessments, Global Footprint Network initiated its National Footprint Accounts (NFA) program in 2003, with the most recent edition issued in 2011 (for more details on the methodology, see the box “How does Ecologicl Footprint measure Humans’ impact on Earth?” And the article LTEconomy, all about the Ecological Footprint).
 
“Other civilizations have extinguished themselves pursuing symbolic consumption—think of Easter Island and the destruction of their habitat in pursuit of building ever more Moai statues—but unlike these historical mistakes, this time we’re talking about the whole planet. The coming century will not be pretty if we don’t make a rapid transition toward degrowth soon.”
 
Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute, Senior Fellow
(December 2013, www.lteconomy.it/en)
 
 
According to the 2011 Edition of the National Footprint Accounts, in 1961 humanity’s Footprint was approximately half of what the biosphere could supply annually; humanity was living off the planet’s annual ecological interest. Since then, humanity’s overall Footprint has more than doubled, first exceeding the planet’s biocapacity in the early 1970s. This situation, known as “overshoot”, has worsened over time, exceeding for 52% earth’s biocapacity in 2008. When the Global Footprint Network says that humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets, it means that we are absorbing more sources than that Earth can annually regenerate. This measure (1.5) comes from a ratio between the Ecological Footprint (how much hectares each individual consumes – the measure take into account consumption, pollution, waste and building), that is 2.7 global hectares (gha), and Earth’s Biocapacity (the capacity of the Earth to regenerate resources, measured also in hectares per capita), that is 1.8 gha. The difference between how much humans consume and how much Nature is able to generate is called “overshoot” (consumption exceed natural available resources, so causing a deplation of the Natural capital). Before 1979, the Ecological Footprint was lower than Earth’s biocapacity; then it has become positive and has progressively increased; let us to explain more in detail the possible causes of such an increase: the Ecological Footprint has remained almost stable during the period of observation; on the other hand, Earth’s biocapacity has registered a strong decline, perhaps mostly because of an increase in the global population. In order to reduce and bring the overshoot below zero, we need to act on both the Ecological Footprint and Earth’s biocapacity. In that perspective the efforts to reduce the overshoot must consider three aspects: 1) the increase in the Ecological Footprint (that depends on consumption, pollution, waste and construction); 2) the global population growth; 3) the reduction of Earth’s capacity to self-generate itself (that is also strongly linked to the Ecological Footprint: an higher Ecological Footprint generate depletion of resources and so a reduction in Earth’s biocapacity). According to the scenarios proposed by the United Nations, if current trend of global population and consumption go on, by 2030 humans will need 2 planets in order to satisfy their needs without depleting Earth’s resources; buy 2050 three planets will be necessary (in poor words, human pressure on Earth’s resources – and so their depletion – will rise).
 
 
Graph – Global Ecological Footprint and Earth’s biocapacity
(Data expressed in terms of global hectares average per capita (gha))

 Source: LTEconomy elaboration on Global Footprint Network
 
 
Graph – number of Earths needed to satisfy human needs
(Ratio between global ecological footprint and Earth’s biocapacity*)

 

* A ratio higher than 1, as it has been since 1975, indicates that humans are consuming more resources than the ones Earth is able to regenerate; therefore there will be a gradual depletion of the stock of the Earth’s resources.
Source: Global Footprint network
 
 
4. Economic growth and “inequality in the global distribution of resources”
 
In the previous paragraphs we analyzed the concept of economic growth and the impact a growth-based society has on the planet, in terms of pollution and ecological footprint. In this paragraph we are going to describe another side effect of a growth-based society: “inequality”. Currently, countries show great differences in terms of Gross Domestic Product, CO2 emissions (few countries contribute to most of CO2 global emissions) and Ecological footprint (there are countries with an ecological footprint too high and other with a value near to zero). The same inequality is present inside each country.

The ten biggest economies consume most of Earth’s resources 

First of all, the growth-based economy generates inequalities in the distribution of Earth’s resources between countries. In order to produce Gross Domestic Product (GDP), countries need to consume resources; it follows that, leaving aside some differences in the countries’ sectoral GDP composition (some sectors consume more resources than others), countries with an higher GDP consume more resources and contribute more to pollution. Let’s consider countries’ GDP data as at 2012 (IMF’s WEO database). According to IMF, United States had a current GDP of $15,685 bn. It is the equivalent of the aggregated GDP of the last 169 countries in the table; considering the fact that countries monitored in the IMF’s WEO database are 187 and 194 are the recognized sovereign States, the comparison just made is not trivial.

 

 

The sum of GDP at current values of the first ten countries is $46,582 bn, 65% of world’s total; however, these countries represent only 52.3% of global population. Moreover, leaving aside China and India - the only two countries (among those analyzed) for which their GDP share (on world’s total) is lower than their population share - the remaining eight countries make up for 50.8% of global GDP, and only 15.1% of global population. In particular, the United States is the country where the “wealth spread” is higher: it makes up for 21.9% of world’s GDP and only 4.5% of global population. It is followed by Japan and Germany. The situation is the same, even considering GDP values at Purchasing Power Parity (GDP values are adjusted according to the purchasing power of each country): the 10 richest countries, as well, make up for 60% of global GDP.
 
 
Graph – The first ten countries in terms of GDP
(GDP (at current values) % share of global GDP; population % share of global population, 2012)

Source: LTEconomy elaboration on International Monetary Fund (WEO, April 2013)
 
 
“Wealth spread” between rich and poor countries is clearer when considering GDP per capita data. In fact, leaving aside emerging countries (BRIC), the remaining wealthiest economies have a GDP per capita higher than $33,000 ($30,000 in terms of Purchasing Power Parity). Let’s consider now the GDP per capita registered in the Democratic Republic of Congo ($237): on average, people living in rich countries have incomes 100 times those of a Congolese. That means that if an American goes to Congo, with his $49,922, he will be enormously rich. More in derail, if we divide in four quartiles the 185 countries for which data are available, on average the first quartile has a GDP per capita of $ 40,308, about four times that of the second quartile and forty times that found in the last quartile (where GDP per capita is $846 on average).
 
 
Table – The first ten countries in terms of GDP
(GDP, population and GDP per capita, 2012)
  GDP Population GDP per capiata
  GDP (current US$) GDP (current US$) % of the world GDP (current US$ at PPP) % of the world million of people % of the world Current US $ Current International $ at PPP
United States 15,685 21.9 18.9 314 4.5 49,922 49,922
China 8,227 11.5 14.9 1,354 19.5 6,076 9,162
Japan 5,964 8.3 5.6 128 1.8 46,736 36,266
Germany 3,401 4.7 3.8 82 1.2 41,513 39,028
France 2,609 3.6 2.7 63 0.9 41,141 35,548
United Kingdom 2,441 3.4 2.8 63 0.9 38,589 36,941
Brazil 2,396 3.3 2.8 198 2.9 12,079 11,875
Russia 2,022 2.8 3.0 142 2.0 14,247 17,709
Italy 2,014 2.8 2.2 61 0.9 33,115 30,136
India 1,825 2.5 5.6 1,223 17.6 1,492 3,830
Total 46,582 65.0 62.4 3,629 52.3 - -
               
World 71,707 100 100 6,941 100 - -
* PPP - Purchasing Power Parity
Source: LTEconomy elaboration on International Monetary Fund (WEO, April 2013)
 
 
Graph – GDP per capita at current values in all countries
(Average value in each quartile, 2012)
Source: LTEconomy elaboration on International Monetary Fund (WEO, April 2013)
 
Pollution
 
GDP inequalities between countries translate into differences in terms of pollution and Energy consumption. As we saw in the first paragraph, CO2 global emission in 2010 were 33.6 m of kilotons. United States and China, together, make up for 41% of these emissions and the first ten countries (in terms of CO2 emissions) make up for 64% of total CO2 emissions. On average, each person in the world emits 4.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide. However, in the ten richest countries CO2 per capita emissions are 14.6 metric tons; the value is even more (25.4 metric tons) as for the average in the first ten polluting (in terms of CO2 emissions) countries. If we group the 197 countries for which data are available in four quartiles, we find that in the first quartile, on average, people emit 13.2 metric tons per capita, three times the value registered in the second quartile and ten times that registered in the third quartile.
 
 
Graph – Global CO2 emissions
(Percentage distribution, 2010)

Source: LTEconomy elaboration on World Bank data
 
 
Table – CO2 per capita
(Rich countries, ten major and minor countries in terms of CO2 emissions)
First ten countries in terms of GDP per capita First ten countries in terms of CO2 emissions per capita Last ten countries in terms of CO2 emissions per capita
  GDP per capita, current prices, U.S, dollars CO2 emissions, Kilotons per capita   CO2 emissions, Kilotons per capita   CO2 emissions, Kilotons per capita
Luxembourg 107,206 21.36 Qatar 40.31 Malawi 0.08
Qatar 99,731 40.31 Trinidad and Tobago 38.16 Ethiopia 0.07
Norway 99,462 11.70 Kuwait 31.32 Somalia 0.06
Switzerland 79,033 4.95 Brunei Darussalam 22.87 Central African R. 0.06
Australia 67,723 16.91 Aruba 22.85 Rwanda 0.05
United Arab Em. 64,840 19.85 Luxembourg 21.36 Congo, D.R. 0.05
Denmark 56,202 8.35 Oman 20.41 Mali 0.04
Sweden 55,158 5.60 United Arab Em. 19.85 Chad 0.04
Canada 52,232 14.63 Bahrain 19.34 Burundi 0.03
Singapore 51,162 2.66 United States 17.56 Lesotho 0.01
Source: LTEconomy elaboration on World Bank data
 
 
The Ecological Footprint
 
In the first paragraph we talked about the global Ecological Footprint; we saw that during the past forty years, the overshoot between humans’ Ecological Footprint (how much resources humans consume and how much pollution they cause) and Earth’s biocapacity (Earth’s capacity to regenerate its resources) has increased so much that humans now need a planet as big as 1 and half Earth planets in order to satisfy their needs. However, global eco-sustainability is not the only problem; there is a strong inequality in the contribution of each country and each person (inside countries) gives to an high Ecological Footprint: there are countries with an extremely high ecological Footprint and other with a Footprint near to “zero”. Let’s consider the ten countries with the highest GDP; all these countries, except for China and India, have an ecological footprint higher than the world average of 2.7 global hactares per capita (gha). Among these countries, the United States has the highest ecological Footprint (8 gha per capita). If all humans had an Ecological Footprint like that registered in the United States, we would need a planet as big as 5 Earth planets, in order to not deplete Earth’s resources. The remaining nine countries, excluding Brazil, have an ecological footprint between 4.4 and 5.1 gha. By extending the observations to all the countries analyzed, we find that United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Belgium, Denmark and United States are the countries with the highest Ecological Footprint (more than 8 hectares per person), while, on the other hand, there are countries with a very low Ecological Footprint.
 
 
Table – The Ecological Footprint in the ten richest countries
Country Ecological Footprint (a) Total Biocapacity (b) Ratio (a/b) Total Earth biocapacity (c) Ratio (a/c)
United States 8.0 3.9 2.1 1.8 4.5
Germany 5.1 1.9 2.6 1.8 2.9
France 5.0 3.0 1.7 1.8 2.8
Italy 5.0 1.1 4.4 1.8 2.8
United Kingdom 4.9 1.3 3.7 1.8 2.7
Japan 4.7 0.6 7.9 1.8 2.7
Russia 4.4 5.7 0.8 1.8 2.5
Brazil 2.9 9.0 0.3 1.8 1.6
China 2.2 1.0 2.3 1.8 1.2
India 0.9 0.5 1.8 1.8 0.5
Source: LTEconomy elaboration on Global Footprint network
 
 
Table – The first and last 20 countries in terms of Ecological Footprint
Country Ecological Footprint (a) Total Biocapacity (b) Ratio (a/b) Country Ecological Footprint (a) Total Biocapacity (b) Ratio (a/b)
United Arab Emirates 10.7 0.8 12.6 Côte d'Ivoire 1.0 1.7 0.7
Qatar 10.5 2.5 4.2 Angola 1.0 3.0 2.0
Denmark 8.3 4.9 1.7 Tajikistan 1.0 0.6 -0.4
Belgium 8.0 1.3 6.0 Togo 1.0 0.6 -0.4
United States of America 8.0 3.9 2.1 Congo 1.0 13.3 12.3
Estonia 7.9 9.0 0.9 Guinea-Bissau 1.0 3.2 2.3
Canada 7.0 14.9 0.5 Yemen 0.9 0.6 -0.3
Australia 6.8 14.7 0.5 India 0.9 0.5 -0.4
Kuwait 6.3 0.4 16.0 Zambia 0.9 2.3 1.3
Ireland 6.3 3.5 1.8 Burundi 0.9 0.5 -0.4
Netherlands 6.2 1.0 6.0 Eritrea 0.9 1.6 0.7
Finland 6.2 12.5 0.5 Mozambique 0.8 1.9 1.1
Sweden 5.9 9.7 0.6 Pakistan 0.8 0.4 -0.3
Czech Republic 5.7 2.7 2.1 Congo. Democratic Republic of 0.8 2.8 2.0
Macedonia TFYR 5.7 1.4 3.9 Occupied Palestinian Territory 0.7 0.2 -0.6
Latvia 5.6 7.1 0.8 Malawi 0.7 0.7 0.0
Norway 5.6 5.5 1.0 Haiti 0.7 0.3 -0.4
Mongolia 5.5 15.1 0.4 Afghanistan 0.6 0.5 -0.1
Spain 5.4 1.6 3.4 Bangladesh 0.6 0.4 -0.2
Greece 5.4 1.6 3.3 Timor-Leste 0.4 1.2 0.8
Source: LTEconomy elaboration on Global Footprint network
 
 
5. Economic growth and Land grabbing
 
The richest economies look for lands in other countries in order to preserve their lifestyle
 
In 2008 the non-governmental-organization (NGO) GRAIN published a Report (The 2008 land grab for food and financial security), on the phenomenon known as Land Grabbing. According to GRAIN’s report, some relatively wealthy countries and private investors, driven mainly by the food crisis and the financial crisis of 2008, have fastenedthe process of appropriation of fertile lands in poorer countries, mainly at the expenses of local farmers. GRAIN stated that there were two triggering causes: food security and financial profits.
 
With regards to the first factor (food security), after the 2008’s food crisis, when the price of basic products raised by 40% in a year (followed by even a major increase between 2010 and 2011), some countries (food-products-importers), in the attempt to lower the risk of raising food bills, decided to buy fertile lands in other countries. It is the case of Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, India, Korea, Libya, and Egypt. According to the Land Matrix dataset, land grabbing deals have increased over the past years, especially in 2009, when they hit a maximum.
 
 
Graph – Food crisis in the past decades
(Food Price Index* 1990-2013)

 * The FAO Food Price Index is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities. It consists of the average of five commodity group price indices (representing 55 quotations), weighted with the average export shares of each of the groups for 2002-2004.
Source: LTEconomy elaboration on FAO data
 
 
Graph - Land grabbing between 2000 and 2010
(Deals, in millions of hectares)

Source: LTEconomy elaboration on International Land Coalition data (January 2012)
 
 
As at June 2013 there were 755 land deals in total, amounting to 32.6 million hectares; as at October 2013, according to the Land Matrix dataset, the number of deals increased to 847, accounting for 32.8 million hectares.[2] Land grabbing has particularly hit African countries such as Sudan and Congo. The main reasons behind these deals are: agriculture for food needs, agro-fuel (bio-energy), production of woods and fibers.
 
The causes behind the strategy of increasing food security depend on the specificity of the countries that have adopted it. Let’s consider China. This country is now self-sufficient in terms of food production, but its population is enormous and several arable lands are gradually giving way to industrial-sites; moreover, water management is subject to an increasingly pressure by economic development. It follows that food security is becoming one of the first priorities in the China’s agenda. Actually, China began to outsource the production of food abroad before 2008. Under this strategy, China has signed about 30 deals with its “friend-countries” in the past years. These deals involve the provision of fertile lands to China in exchange for technology transfer and infrastructure development. Chine has outsourced food production in both Asian and African countries. Most of Chinese offshore farming is dedicated to the cultivation of rice, soybeans and corn, along with agro-fuel products (sugar cane, cassava, sorghum, etc ...). The rice produced abroad invariably means hybrid rice, grown from imported Chinese seeds, and Chinese farmers and scientists are enthusiastically teaching Africans and others to grow rice in “the Chinese way”. As local farmers don’t know exactly if the rice is to feed their own people or the Chinese, a lot of resentment has been building up against local governments’ strategy to undersell their lands.
 
Now let’s consider food security strategy in the Gulf States (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates). These are countries localized in the desert; therefore, they don’t have enough fertile lands for crops and livestock; on the other hand, they have enormous amounts of oil and money, which gives them powerful leverage to rely on foreign countries for their food. Nevertheless, recent food crisis, together with a weaker dollar in relation to euro (most of food imports comes from countries in the euro area) has caused a big increase in their financial expenses for food imports: Their food import bill ballooned from $8 bn to $20 bn in the 2003-2008 period. Since most of the population in these countries is largely made up of low-wage migrant workers, Gulf States must ensure low food prices. Therefore, in order to reduce their vulnerability to new food crisis, these countries have signed deals by which they will supply capital and oil contracts in exchange for guarantees that their corporations will have access to farmland and be able to export the production back home. The most heavily targeted states are, so far, Sudan and Pakistan, followed by quite a number in south-east Asia (Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam), Turkey, Kazakhstan, Uganda, Ukraine, Georgia, Brazil.
 
Let’s now consider the other cause of the Land-grabbing phenomenon: financial speculation. Climate change, soil destruction, the loss of water supplies and the plateauing of monocultured crop yields are bearing down as big threats to our planet’s future food supplies. This translates into forecasts of tight markets, high prices and pressure to get more from the land. Land is becoming a scarce resource and, therefore, a source for gains. This has triggered a flow of private investments towards this sector. Throughout 2008, an army of investment houses, private equity funds, hedge funds and the like have been snapping up farmlands throughout the world. The most targeted countries are: Malawi, Senegal, Nigeria, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Brazil, Paraguay, even Australia. They have all been identified as offering fertile lands, relative water availability and some levels of potential farm productivity growth; the time horizon investors are talking about is, on average, 10 years, with projected annual rates of return of 10–40% in Europe or up to 400% in Africa.
 
The boom in land grabbing from governments and private investors underline some clear trends: 1) governments’ confidence on food markets is falling, therefore, in order to minimize the risk of increasing “food-bills” they are acquiring lands abroad where raising their own food; 2) fertile lands are becoming a scarce resource and, therefore, they are a source of gains for private investors and financial speculators; 3) local farmers are progressively losing the right to cultivate their own land for their local food needs. In poor words, several populations are literally dispossessed of their lands and are losing the right to make decisions on their own destiny and that of the lands where they live.
 
 
6. Economic growth and employment: the problem of productivity
 
In a growth-based society employment stability is strictly dependent on a continuous growth of GDP
 
In 1980 the United States had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about 6,500 billion dollars (price indexed to 2009). Over the past 30 years (1980-2012 period) United States’ GDP has grown by 140%. In the same period, employees in the United States have grown by 43.5%; therefore, a great chunk of the GDP growth has not translated into an increase in the number of employees; GDP growth partly translated into an increase in productivity (in this context, measured in terms of GDP per employee). In the following table, there are data about the GDP, employment and productivity in the United States; moreover, two more scenarios have been considered: in the “scenario 1”, we have assumed that labor productivity has remained steady in the period considered; in “scenario 2”, we have assumed a steady GDP, in a context of increasing productivity. Let’s see what emerge in these two scenarios:
  • If GDP grew by 140% but productivity was steady (scenario 1), employees would have expanded by 139 million (an increase three times that found in the real scenario);
  • If labor productivity increased at the same pace of the real scenario, but USA’s GDP was steady (scenario 2), therefore, the number of employees in the United States would have decreased by 40 million.
It is true, those proposed are two extreme scenarios (in a zero-growth scenario, the increase in productivity can be much lower than that registered in a growth-based scenario; similarly, in a zero-productivity growth scenario, GDP growth will be lower than that realized in the real scenario), but they give the idea that, in a “growth-based society” (which give big emphasis on labor productivity), the absence of GDP growth produces employment losses; we always need a positive real GDP growth rate in order to preserve or increase the occupational base and not all the GDP growth translates into an increase in the number of potential employees.
 
 
Table – Real GDP growth and employment growth in the United States in the 1980-2012 period
  1980 1990 2000 2012 Change, 2012 on 1980 % change 2012 on 1980
GDP at costant prices (2009), $bn 6,443.4 8,945.4 12,565.1 15,470.7 9,027.3 140.1
Employees (millions) 99.3 118.8 136.9 142.5 43.2 43.5
             
GDP at costant prices per employees (productivity), US $ 64,886.1 75,300.5 91,782.7 108,590.1 43,704.0 67.4
             
  SCENARIO 1 : No increases in productivity
GDP at costant prices per employees (productivity), US $ 64,886.1 64,886.1 64,886.1 64,886.1    
Employees (millions) 99.3 137.9 193.6 238.4 139.1 140.1
             
  SCENARIO 2 : No GDP real growth
GDP at costant prices per employees (productivity), US $ 6,443.4 6,443.4 6,443.4 6,443.4    
Employees (millions) 99.3 85.6 70.2 59.3 -40.0 -40.2
Source: LTEconomy elaboration on IMF data
 
 
It’s now interesting to analyze the same data as for some European countries, as the European Union in the past 5 years has faced a period of economic crisis. In particular, we examined data for Germany (one of the most economically stable countries in Europe), Italy and Greece (that experienced a fall of their GDP in the 2007-2012 period). Germany’s GDP grew by 37.7% between 1990 and 2012; in the same period employment rose by only 9.0%. In Italy GDP expanded by 50.8% in the 1980-2012 period; employment grew by 17.4%. Finally in Greece GDP rose by 43.3% in the 1980-2012 period, while employment decreased by 3%. It is clear that, as well as for the United States, also in these countries the increase of real GDP has translated in great part in a growth in productivity (GDP per person employed), rather than in an increase of the number of persons employed. Now let’s focus on what happened during the 2007-2012 period in Italy and in Greece, a period of recession for both countries. Differently from what we have observed for the GDP growth, a decrease of GDP translates “almost completely” in a reduction of persons employed. In particular, between 2009 and 2012, Italy’s GDP registered a 0.5% fall; employment registered the same fall. In the same period, Greece’s GDP decreased by 17.5% and employment decreased by 16.5%.
 
 
Table – Real GDP growth and employment growth in Germany, Italy and Greece in the 1980-2012 period
  1980 1990 2000 2012 Change, 2012 on 1980 % change 2012 on 1980
GERMANY
GDP at costant prices (2005), €bn - 1,794.4 2,167.0 2,471.8 677.3 37.7
Employees (millions) 36.1 38.1 39.3 41.5 3.4 9.0
             
GDP at costant prices per employees (productivity), € - 47,081.9 55,200.0 59,496.5 12,414.6 26.4
             
ITALY
GDP at costant prices (2005), €bn 922.6 1,145.2 1,372.3 1,391.2 468.6 50.8
Employees (millions) 19.5 21.0 21.1 22.9 3.4 17.4
             
GDP at costant prices per employees (productivity), € 47,283.6 54,520.7 65,099.2 60,739.8 13,456.2 28.5
             
GREECE
GDP at costant prices (2005), €bn 117.7 125.8 161.0 168.7 51.0 43.3
Employees (millions) 3.9 3.8 4.1 3.8 -0.1 -3.0
             
GDP at costant prices per employees (productivity), € 30,327.8 32,917.5 39,386.9 44,819.2 14,491.4 47.8
*For Germany, percentage variations are calculated with reference to the 1990-2012 period
Source: LTEconomy elaboration on IMF data
 
 
7. The steps towards the overcoming of GDP as the measure of people’s wellness
 
Since its creation, Gross Domestic Product has been widely criticized as measure of people’s wellness, as it takes into account also the exchange of goods and services that reduce people’s wellness. Here there are some historical (not-exhaustive) steps that have led to the emergence of movements strongly critical to GDP:

- Simon Kuznets, the Nobel prize for economy, who in the nineteen-thirties, during his studies on the relations between economic growth and income distribution, created the measure of GDP as we now know (GDP = Consumption + Investments + Government spending + Net Exports), in 1934, in a speech in the United States’ senate, cautioned against equating GDP growth with economic or social well-being; he said: “The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income as defined above”.

- On March 18, 1968, Robert Kennedy pronounced, at the University of Kansas, a speech in which he denounced the inadequacy of the GDP as a measure of people’s wellness in countries economically developed (video).

- Now there are a lot of Institutions that are trying to find better measures for the wellness of people: Joseph E. Stiglitz, professor at the Columbia University, chaired the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, a French Government’s initiative aimed at overcoming the inadequacies of GDP as a measure of citizens’ well-being, in terms of environmental effects and long-term economic sustainability; The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has created an interactive index (Better-Life index), according to which everyone can measure countries’ position in terms of personally-preferred well-being factors.

- In 1968 The Club of Roma, the think tank chaired by Aurelio Peccei and whose headquarter is at Winterthur in Switzerland, asked some Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s researchers to conduct a study with practical solutions on global problems. The report, “The Limits of Growth”, was published in 1972 and was the first important study that denounced the strong risks behind the rapid global economic growth. This report considers the economic growth as the main cause of environmental problems like pollution, raw material depletion and destruction of ecosystems.

- The Romanian-American mathematician, statistician and economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen is considered one of the pioneers of the degrowth-based economy. He is best-known for his studies on the ecological limits of the economic process and as the father of the so-called bio-economy. In 1971 he published “The Entropy Law and the Economic Process” and other essays, now grouped in the book “Bio-economy” (2003), in which he strongly argued that the neoclassic economic model doesn’t take into account the implications of the second principle of thermodynamics.

- Now Serge Latouche, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Paris, is the main supporter of a “degrowth-based economy”, an ideology that revises economic activities in order to reduce humans’ ecological footprint, energy waste, the environmental impact and social inequalities. In Italy, Maurizio Pallante is the founder and chair of the Movimento per la Decrescita Felice.
 
 
8. The “degrowth-based economy”: the main disputes on the topic
 
Much of the article focused on the meaning (concept and drivers) of economic growth and its main consequences: pollution, ecological footprint, inequality, and the strong dependence on economic growth in order to preserve a steady occupational base. Apart from the ecological limits, what “growth-opponents” most criticize to the current socio-economic system is its “inequality”.
 
“The failure of the goal of <<happiness for all>> promised by the growth-based society leads us to doubt the content of the promise itself. The over-material consumption leaves an increasing part of the population in penury and does not provide a true well-being for others. The redefinition of happiness as <<frugal abundance in an inclusive society>>: this is the break proposed by the degrowth project .”
 
Serge Latouche (2012)
our translation from the Italian version
 
 
The failure of the growth-based society in ensuring a generalized well-being to the population comes from the fact that this system is based on the unlimited creation of needs and products and “on a widespread dissatisfaction", so that consumers are constantly dissatisfied: “happy people are bad consumers "(Bortolini Stefano, 2010).

 

 

Often the concept of "economic degrowth" is confused with that of “economic recession or negative economic growth”. Actually, they are strongly different. Economic degrowth is a plan whose main goal is the exit from the consumerist society in order to get what Serge Latouche (2012), according to the ideas proposed by Illich (1974) and Gorz ( 1984;1992), define as “frugal abundance”. According to Latouche, poverty in modern society comes from an over-dependence on consumption: the inability to meet the needs invented by the market generates poverty (artificial poverty), especially when that involves the inability to meet real needs (real poverty). In a society based on the concept of “frugal abundance”, all people can satisfy their basic needs, while superficial needs are eliminated; social and relational goods, along with values as art and fun, take over individualism and consumption of material goods. In this new social model there are not poor, as everyone has access to basic goods and the generalized state of frustration and dissatisfaction created by the market is an old memory.

“ILeading degrowth thinker, Serge Latouche, explains that difference best, comparing degrowth to a diet and recession to starvation. The first is a healthy choice that would lead to improved health for those bodies that are currently overweight/overdeveloped. Just like when an obese individual loses weight and his body becomes healthier, he can often also stop taking medications.... Compare that to a situation where suddenly an individual has inadequate access to food. That can lead to starvation, to violence (fighting over limited food supplies), or malnutrition, which weakens the immune system and can lead to sickness or death...”
 
Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute, Senior Fellow
(December 2013, www.lteconomy.it/en)
 
 
Therefore, the degrowth is a “voluntary plan” for reducing consumption in a contest of values completely different from the ones that characterize a growth-based society. It is totally different from “the absence of economic growth in a growth-based society”, that leads to very negative and deleterious consequences. In a growth-based society we resort to welfare (social spending) in order to cope with economic inequalities (on which it is based). However, in the absence of economic growth, social spending against degradation is reduced (this is what is happening in Greece and Italy, and more generally in Europe, where austerity programs are progressively reducing financial resources for social programs); moreover, in the absence of economic growth, the reduction of the public deficit and government debt become difficult; many people lose their jobs and inequality and poverty increase, especially in a contest where social spending is reduced. According to Andrè Gorz (1983; 1991), in the end an economic recession in a growth-based economy will only lead to an increase of inequalities between the rich and poor: the production of pollutants becomes a luxury item; inequalities increase; the poor become poorer and the rich more rich. In the end, a prolonged economic recession leads to a rationing of resources and an increase in violent phenomena (fascism and xenophobia), due to the growing inequality; therefore, the alternative to a voluntary economic degrowth is a totalitarian system that handles the hardships of the economic crisis. These are the problems led by the indisputable desire to grow material consumption in a planet where resources and the ability to consume these resources are limited.
One of the main criticisms made to the "degrowth theory" is the inability to solve the current short-terms problems of our countries: public debt and unemployment. Let’s consider the problem of “public debt”. Many countries, in particular Greece and Italy, have a big public debt whose handling is becoming very difficult as the Gross Domestic Product (that is the ability to produce fiscal incomes and so to pay back public debts) doesn’t grow. Well, first of all in a degrowth-based society the problem of public debts will disappear, as fiscal incomes (direct taxes, consumption taxes – especially for luxury goods - and taxes on over-consumption) will completely cover the low spending needed for the satisfaction of common goods and services: in that way, we won’t have fiscal deficits and, therefore, there won’t be the necessity to do debts (as countries have done so far) in order to financially sustain those deficits. However, remain the problem of handling the enormous size of current public debts, like those in Italy and Greece. According to the “degrowth proposers”, the best solution is "a negotiated restructuring" of the debt: the little savers will preserve the value of their titles, while the rich ones will have a 40-60% decrease in the value of their titles; the residual public debt could be paid back thanks to major fiscal incomes coming from a special levy on financial profits, or to the injection of liquidity (that is a controlled inflation). As for the other current big problem, “unemployment”, actually, one of the main goal of a degrowth-based society is to create “full employment”, first of all through a strong reduction of working hours, followed by the relocation of industrial activities (therefore, eliminating the over-exploitation of workers in Southern and Eastern countries) and the ecological conversion of economic sectors. For example a WWF’s report argues a 30% reduction of greenhouse emissions by 2020 in France will lead to the creation of 680 thousand new jobs; in the agricultural sector, a coming back to traditional techniques and an ecological management of lands (Permaculture, Agro-ecology and so on) will result in an increase of jobs and, at the same time, in higher-quality food-products. In particular, according to Serge Latouche (2012), the full-employment plan of the degrowth movement is based on four factors: 1) a reduction in the overall theoretical productivity (due to the reckless use of machines and energy from fossil fuels); 2) the relocation of activities and the end of the over-exploitation of Southern countries’ workers; 3) the creation of “ecological jobs” in all sectors; 4) a change in the lifestyle with the elimination of all unnecessary needs. Now, while the fourth factor produces negative effects on employment, the other three factors will widely offset such effects; moreover, taking into account the generalized reduction in working hours, full employment (and so a fairer wealth distribution) will become, without doubts, an achievable goal.
 
 
Conclusions
 
Since GDP was born, its growth has become a “drug addiction” for almost all countries. However, the over-emphasis on economic growth is strongly threatening our planet’s ecological equilibrium, and is proving to be an economically and socially unsustainable strategy in a long term perspective.
 
In this view, degrowth supporters propose a society based on different values from the ones the current society is based on. They point to the elimination of superficial needs and the exit from the consumerist society; the ultimate goal is to create a society based on the so called “frugal abundance”, where everyone can enjoy wellness (through a policy aiming at ensuring full employment and a minimum of welfare services) and relational and cultural values are revaluated.
 
That said, what we wonder now is if a “degrowth-based society” is possible. Unfortunately, at least for now, there are still many factors that push countries in keeping on with their growth-based plans, first of all the preservation of their power in international relations. Therefore, we are still far from the possibility to reach international deals or unilateral initiatives aiming at creating a society not based anymore on the irrational pursuit of economic growth. Much of our future wellness will depend on how much the current economic crisis, along with the pioneers of a degrowth-based social model and the bottom-up movements (Permaculture, Transition towns, Zapatista movement etc…), will be able to shake up the collective opinion, leading it out from the consumption-based model and towards a society based on “frugal abundance” as that proposed by the degrowth theorists.
 
 
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LINKS
 

Global Footprint Network - http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/

Institut d’études économiques pour la décroissance soutenable - www.decroissance.org

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - http://www.ipcc.ch/

International Monetary Fund - http://www.imf.org/external/

OECD, Better life index - http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/

Movimento per la Decrescita Felice - http://decrescitafelice.it/

NOAA’s ESRL GMD, Mauna Loa Observatory - http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/obop/mlo/

The World Bank - http://www.worldbank.org/

The Worldwatch Institute - http://www.worldwatch.org/
 
 
WEB-SITE ON DEGROWTH

www.decroissance.org (Institut d’études économiques pour la décroissance soutenable)

www.degrowth.net (Research and Degrowth)

http://www.degrowth.eu/

www.decroissance.info

www.apres-developpement.org

www.decrescita.it

www.decrescitafelice.it

www.decreixement.net

www.decrescimiento.blogspot.com

www.transitiontowns.org

www.livingeconomies.org

www.relocalize.net

http://montreal.degrowth.org/about_library.html

http://www.benessereinternolordo.net/joomla/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1




ENDNOTES

[1] Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa

[2] The estimate published in the June 2013’s newsletter is lower than the previous estimates, a sit concerns exclusively medium-low-income countries..

 

 

This article by Dario Ruggiero
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia License



 



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