The Future is Degrowth

Quoted from: Schmelzer, Matthias, Andrea Vetter, and Aaron Vansintjan. The Future is Degrowth: A Guide to a World Beyond Capitalism. Verso Books, 2022.

These days, with growing interest in degrowth, it seems that almost every other week another humourless columnist for a major newspaper writes a criticism of degrowth. This is to be expected and even, to a certain extent, welcomed: the more those in positions of power rail against degrowth, the more people who might be sympathetic to it, who would otherwise not have heard about it, are exposed to it.

And, indeed, it also fulfils degrowth’s initial goal as a provocation, a conversation starter, a shit-disturber. Yet, usually, these columnists show little understanding of what degrowth means – and so their objections tend to badly miss the mark. [Read more…]

What to limit, and how and why

A common argument made by proponents of degrowth, supported by historical evidence, is that economic growth is ecologically unsustainable and entails an increasing inequitable distribution of resources. In Tools for degrowth? Ivan Illich’s critique of technology revisited, Silja Samerski discusses Ivan Illich’s (1926-2002) argument that limits to growth are needed not only for ecological or distributive justice, but for social freedom. Any limits must be politically decided, and applied not primarily to the economy, but to technology. [Read more…]

“Diseconomies of Scale”: High-tech Versus Low-tech Supply of Eggs

Summarized from [paywall]: Trainer, T., A. Malik, and M. Lenzen. “A Comparison Between the Monetary, Resource and Energy Costs of the Conventional Industrial Supply Path and the “Simpler Way” Path for the Supply of Eggs.” Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality 4.3 (2019): 9.

Traditional housing for chickens in Zembe, Mozambique. By Ton Rulkens – Traditional housing 2, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Global sustainability requires large-scale reductions in rich world per capita resource use rates. Globalised, industrialised and commercialised supply paths involve high resource, energy, dollar and other costs. However, “The Simpler Way” involving small-scale integrated localised settlements and economies can enable enormous reductions in these costs. This study uses input–output analysis of one product, eggs, to illustrate how big the difference between the two paths can be. [Read more…]

I’m not optimistic, but that doesn’t make me a pessimist

Environmental scientist Giorgos Kallis in Knowable Magazine:

“We know there were civilizations that flourished in periods where they did not necessarily expand economically. Greece in the classical period would be an example. And many civilizations tried to put limits on how much money an individual could accumulate, or how much money you can lend, or interest rates. We have examples where we know society tried to limit and tame this self-perpetuating character of growth. And we know there are societies that flourished without having constant growth.”

“The easy but stupid critique to that is, “Oh, you want us to go back and be like hunter-gatherers or live like the Romans?” No, that’s not the point. We’re not saying look at how other civilizations are better, we’re saying let’s study other civilizations to get ideas about how things could potentially work differently in our society”.

Do you think we’ll get this figured out in time?

“I’m not optimistic. To think that tomorrow people will wake up and come to their senses and realize that climate change is a huge problem and economic growth is unnecessary, and take action on that? No, I don’t think this will happen. But this doesn’t make me a pessimist. History has always been dire. I don’t think I’d be better off living 100 years ago, having two world wars in front of me, or facing famines. History never stops, and constantly there’s a moment of fighting for things to be better.”

“The last 200 years, we lived in a capitalist society where growth is fundamental for the stability of the system. Maybe there is no alternative, and the only way is to have growth. If this is becoming catastrophic, what do we do? Do we bow our heads to catastrophe, to disaster, or can we think outside of that? We know that we humans are very inventive. Why can’t we think of alternatives? Why is this the only thing where we can’t think differently?”

The Sustainability Problem of Digital Currencies

Bitcoin is back in the spotlight these days thanks to some wild price movements and central bank meetings. The decentralized currency has recently been trading over its all-time high of $1200 on some exchanges. But the higher the price goes, the more it exacerbates bitcoin’s dark side: shocking levels of electricity consumption.

In 2015, I wrote that bitcoin had a big sustainability problem. Back then, each bitcoin transaction represented roughly enough electricity to power 1.57 American households for a day— approximately 5,000 times more energy-intensive than a credit card transaction. Since it’s been two years, it’s time for an update.

Updated calculations with optimistic assumptions show that in a best-case hypothetical, each bitcoin transaction is backed by approximately 90 percent of an American household’s daily average electricity consumption. So even though that’s still about 3,994 times as energy-intensive as a credit card transaction, things could be getting better since 2015.

Unfortunately, it’s more likely that things are getting worse. A new index has recently modeled potential energy costs per transaction as high as 94 kWh, or enough electricity to power 3.17 households for a day. To put it another way, that’s almost enough energy to fully charge the battery of a Tesla Model S P100D, the world’s quickest production car, and drive it over 300 miles.

Read more: A Single Bitcoin Transaction Takes Thousands of Times More Energy Than a Credit Card Swipe, Christopher Malmo. Thanks to Renaud d’Avout d’Auerstaedt.

In Defense of Degrowth

“The idea of degrowth is contentious, often misunderstood, and (perhaps paradoxically) growing in popularity. In this book, Giorgos Kallis, one of the movement’s leading thinkers, presents an accessible, inspiring, and enjoyable defense. The book’s chapters—a compilation of his opinion essays, newspaper articles, blog posts, and ‘minifestos’—range from topics such as eco-modernism, the history of economics, science fiction, the Greek crisis, and Hollywood films.

The book also features debates and exchanges between Kallis and degrowth detractors. In defense of degrowth is intended as an introduction for the curious, a defense against the skeptics, and an intellectually stimulating conversation for those already convinced but willing to learn more.”

In Defense of Degrowth can be downloaded as a free e-book.