Clothes do not make the man, of course, but a fine appearance inspires respect. That’s why it was so critical that the idea of degrowth, so cheerfully reviled by the “growthist” toadies, was hosted in a place imbued by thought. During March 26 to 29, the second conference on economic degrowth was held at the beautiful University of Barcelona.
Opened by the rector, organized by the Catalan capital’s Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA), the conference brought together over 500 researchers and activists from many European and American countries. We now know that décroissance is called degrowth in English, decrecimiento in Spanish, decreixement in Catalan, and decrescita in Italian.
Why does the word arouse so much interest? Because it poses the radical questions at the heart of ecology once again, questions that the rationales of sustainable development, green growth, and green capitalism have dulled.
By choosing to be “realistic,” many environmentalists find themselves green-washing an economic system that is not changing its rationales of human and biosphere destruction. Radicals, growth objectors assert that the crisis at the outset of the third millennium cannot be resolved by continuing along the paths followed since the 19th century.
Freedom of thought against dogma may redeploy itself under this standard, the program of which was defined by another important conference, in Paris, in 2002: “Unmake development; remake the world.”
It would be impossible to summarize here the variety of the research approaches presented in Barcelona or the liveliness of the discussions that took place there. The program, consultable on the site Degrowth.eu, provides a glimpse. Two ideas quickly emerged. The concern for social justice is at the heart of the project of environmental restructuring, and Barcelona continued on the road civil society movements opened in Copenhagen with a demand for climate justice: “Change the system, not the climate.” And, for “growth objectors,” the system is capitalism.
Another new element is the watchword of movements from the South that say that also in their countries, development in the form governments bring to bear is destructive. They brought new concepts, such as that of “well-being,” as opposed to “living better.”
The conclusion of economist Juan Martinez-Allier: “Degrowth will become the major current of economics.” In Barcelona, the pillars of dogma were shaken.
Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher.