Both the name and the theory of degrowth aim explicitly to repoliticize environmentalism. Sustainable development and its more recent reincarnation “green growth” depoliticize genuine political antagonisms between alternative visions for the future. They render environmental problems technical, promising win-win solutions and the impossible goal of perpetuating economic growth without harming the environment. Ecologizing society, degrowthers argue, is not about implementing an alternative, better, or greener development. It is about imagining and enacting alternative visions to modern growth-based development. This essay explores such alternatives and identifies grassroots practices and political changes for facilitating a transition to a prosperous and equitable world without growth.
The conflict between environment and growth is ever-present. For “developers,” the value of growth is not to be questioned: more mining, drilling, building, and manufacturing is necessary to expand the economy. Against developers stand radical environmentalists and local communities, who are often alone in questioning the inevitability of “a one-way future consisting only of growth.”1 In this opposition to development projects, philosopher Bruno Latour sees a fundamental rejection of modernity’s separation of means and ends.2 Radical environmentalists recognize that ecology, with its focus on connecting humans with one another and with the non-human world, is inherently at odds with growth that separates and conquers.