Boosting economic growth is such a central element of modern political culture that few people truly consider whether it is ecologically sustainable. It's not, as the twin specters of Peak Oil and climate change are demonstrating. We desperately need some serious thinking about how to move from the “growth paradigm” as the default goal of our economy to an economy that structurally requires less energy and material throughput. One term that has come to describe this vision is “degrowth.” In fact, a major international conference on “Degrowth, Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity” will be held in Venice, Italy, on September 19-23.
As part of that ongoing conversation, Austrians Andreas Exner and Christian Lauk recently published a thoughtful essay in Solutions magazine on “Social Innovations for Economic Degrowth.” The piece focuses on how the Solidarity Economy and the global information commons offer a template for moving to a no-growth economy -- that is, an economy that uses less energy and material while increasing personal leisure and well-being.
Exner and Lauk consider the models pioneered by the Solidarity Economy in Brazil in the late 1990s when that country “was hit by an economic crisis caused by the liberalization of capital markets.” As bankruptcies and unemployment rose, poor people joined together with trade unions, universities and others to create cooperatives and other enterprises to meet people’s needs. But the innovations were not just business models but social habits and practices that let people work together to meet basic needs without the relentless imperative to grow and chew up the natural environment.