Back in the early 2000s, I started trying to live a lifestyle such that, if everyone were living at a similar footprint, we’d have enough resources on the planet for everyone to live comfortably, rather than exceeding the earth’s carrying capacity. I hadn’t yet seen the graphics showing “how many planets” it takes to maintain the lifestyle of the typical person in each country, but I had intuitively hit on this idea and was seeking to be an example of a person living in what is by some measures the richest, most resource-hogging country of all, who is voluntarily living at a low footprint and enjoying a comfortable, indeed abundant, life. In community, in an urban setting, not “off the grid” (a bogus idea in my opinion; romantic artifact of pioneer colonizer culture and “Little House on the Prairie” reruns; ultimately no more sustainable than the mainstream middle-class USA lifestyle).
When I first started, I didn’t really have a catch phrase for what I was doing, other than “try to minimize my footprint.”
Later, a friend (thanks dear Cedar!) turned me on to the Riot for Austerity community and movement. The phrase “Riot for Austerity” comes from George Monbiot’s excellent book HEAT, which I have often referred to in this blog and in my book, talks, and classes. The Riot for Austerity group is really not about austerity at all; it’s about taking back our lives from the corporations and government, and designing our lives as examples of how a person or household can live at a tiny fraction of the average USA resident’s footprint and still live a comfortable life — indeed a happy and abundant life.
“Riot for Austerity” is a nice catchy phrase. Trouble is, the word “austerity” has a connotation of deprivation, which feeds into many people’s mainstream fears of what eco-friendly living entails. Deprivation for individuals; and recession/depression for the economy. No wonder so many people seem to find the prospect of cutting their eco footprint about as pleasant as going on a low-calorie diet.
This is a problem of perception, not reality. And as many ad copywriters know, perception can be changed quickly by using different words.
A few months back, I stumbled on the word Degrowth, when a group focused on degrowth popped into my feed. For people turned off by the word “austerity,” I offer “degrowth” as a more accurate term. Of course, this word is sure to be threatening to many people and corporations, as we’ve been indoctrinated to think that steady, perpetual economic growth is the only way to have a healthy society. It’s not. In fact, the “perpetual growth” paradigm is deadly to people and and the planet.
Yesterday someone in the De-growth group posted an article she had written: Degrowth is Not Recession. Nor is it Austerity (Erin Remblance; illuminem). This gem of an article really sums up de-growth, why we need it, and how it differs from austerity or recession. I’m posting a few snippets for you below.
BTW when I refer to “the degrowth group,” this is the group I’m referring to. “Degrowth – join the revolution,” it’s called. For me this community is a real lifeline, right up there with the Deep Adaptation group in terms of weaving a worldwide web of community and giving each other emotional support, practical tips, and reality check amid the “Don’t Look Up” consumer-colonizer insanity that our mainstream culture normalizes and glorifies.
• Degrowth is Not Recession. Nor is it Austerity (Erin Remblance; illuminem): “I often hear degrowth conflated with recession, austerity or some version thereof. The result is a mistaken belief that degrowing a wealthy economy means that people will suffer. There is, implicit in this stance, a notion that our growth-based economy is necessary to ensure we are meeting everyone’s needs. … It shows just how significantly our collective minds have been ‘capitalised’, and how our current economic framework restricts our thinking. Furthermore, the immense blind spot this perspective has to the harm capitalism has caused, and continues to cause, to indigenous peoples, people in the global south and even to a large number of people from wealthy nations is excruciating to witness. Degrowth is not recession. … Degrowth is not austerity. … Degrowth is a deliberate set of strategies to reduce the material footprint, including energy use, of wealthy nations. The concept of Degrowth applies only to those nations with lifestyles that require more than one planet and it recognises that millions of people will need to increase their material footprint if they are to live a life of dignity, providing space for them to do so while, globally, we remain within the planetary boundaries. Degrowth is a rebuke of ‘growth for growth’s sake’ … and instead it puts people and the planet firmly at the heart of the economy.” Please go read the whole article; it might be the best five minutes you spend today or even this month. She gives excellent explanations of all three terms and explains concisely how deliberate degrowth can enable everyone to live abundantly.