Can Degrowth Save Us From Ecological Collapse?

Back in 1972, a report called “The Limits to Growth” was put together by the Club of Rome. A team of economists from M.I.T. used computer models (which were pretty new at the time) to show that if we kept growing at the then-current rate, the planet could expect ecological collapse sometime toward the middle of the twenty-first century.

Let’s compare their predictions with what happened in 40 years after their study:

That prediction was totally on point: a report that came out in Nature at the end of May’23 found that we’ve already crossed seven out of eight “safe and just Earth system boundaries” it looked into—from stuff like using too much groundwater and fertilizer to rising temperatures.

Basically, we’re going the wrong way on all of these. The question then is Isn’t the only way to, lessen the impact of human activity is to invest in green technologies that actually take us beyond fossil fuels? Shouldn’t we make an all-out push for electric vehicles, heat pumps, and cooktops, not to mention solar panels and wind turbines to supply the necessary electricity?

The degrowth movement basically says NO, because a green-energy boom would have huge ecological costs from mining for the minerals needed to produce and use electricity on a large scale.

The so-called green world would looks a lot like China, a leader in the production and refining of rare earths and so-called green technologies. But in advocating that China ignore the hidden ecological costs: polluted villages, cancer-stricken citizens and piles of e-waste.

And yeah, it’s also true that wind turbines without paint could potentially be harmful to bird populations, and solar panels need a lot of ground space.

Quoting energy ecologist Vaclav Smil, who recommends that we return “to living standards of the 1960s” so that we can “consume less, travel less, build less, eat less wastefully.” This viewpoint holds some weight as those who oppose new lithium mines, transmission corridors, or solar farms are starting to argue that we should simply consume less.

“If we want to prevent ecological collapse, we gotta downsize the economy and population. We need to live and grow within the limits of our planet, so Homo sapiens can thrive and the biosphere can regenerate.”

Reference- The New Yorker Story, National Geographic, The Economist, Journal Nature