Thoughts re individual action & how it adds up

Some things I’ve shared in recent conversations in Degrowth & Deep Adaptation circles:

According to my observations and experience: Individual choices when coupled with the phenomenon of social contagion lead to popular trends and movements. These grassroots trends and movements in turn serve as a “trim-tab” or foot in the door for influencing corporate decisions & government policies. Which then ripple throughout society.

One example, from an area of my work, is the landscaping industry. Hyper-manicured, chemically intensive lawns, maintained by “professional lawn services”, became a super widespread craze starting in the 1990s. One homeowner, one lawn at a time, it turned into a multibillion-dollar industry, which has gone on to influence government policy. Hyper-manicured, chemically intensive landscaping is now essentially codified as law, or at least has an official blessing as the “gold standard”, in many parts of the USA.

The dominance of lawns and other toxic, nonnative, inedible landscaping is obviously undesirable to ecosystems, biodiversity, local food security and more.

But, beneficial actions can in the same manner become fads, crazes, trends, movements started by a few — but then go on to wield influence over corporate decisions, public policy.

NO, individual actions alone are not enough, or wouldn’t be, if each of us lived in isolation. Cultural transmission is the key ingredient.

We can make it COOL to consume less to the point of actually doing degrowth in our everyday lives. Many subcultures and groups are doing some version of that right now, and our actions if taken together are adding up.

Of course defining anticonsumerism and degrowth as fun and cool has to be accompanied by anti-war push. Demilitarization is key. In my country (USA) and I think many other countries nowadays, militarization and other authoritarianism is getting popular acceptance, and we have to push back against that, offer alternatives to help people feel secure.

Oh, and any of us who have the freedom to do so, need to depopularize financial “growth”. Transition all our money out of Wall Street, cryptocurrencies, and anything else that’s based on “financial growth”; invest in our local communities & tangible real assets such as local food systems, rainwater harvesting, community housing trusts etc. And also help our kids & grandkids & other young people in our communities find ways to have a real livelihood while avoiding taking on huge college loans and so on.


I actually think that the degrowth grassroots movement could end up carrying enough weight, that we become in essence a de facto “country” in terms of strength and numbers.

Basically I’m talking about popularizing degrowth via the social contagion that naturally happens when people find ways and practices that build their security and enrich their lives.

Social media are of course a huge handy vehicle for beneficial social contagion of degrowth, permaculture, etc. But the contagion can and does happen the old-fashioned way too. Neighbors chatting; people writing letters to friends etc.

Voluntary degrowth on the personal level, by those of us who have the means to do it, is an adaptive best practice that can help ease suffering on the collective level.


(In response to a persistent idea among some degrowth/anticonsumerist folks that “the cities must be abandoned”):

I do degrowth in my everyday life in my city, and help others do the same, in any way they are willing. Small actions add up to collective action. Growing food, sharing food, collecting rainwater and learning how to live on it.

Localizing our investments. Minimizing our need to earn money.

Developing cooperation, compassion, & other skills for working w people and getting along.

Human settlements have always existed in both urban and rural form. Cities aren’t going away.


And now, more wise words from Kirk Hall, a fellow Degrowth group member who has on multiple occasions allowed me to share his words on this blog:

“Degrowth is ‘soft’ revolution, revolution-lite. It’s not tipping the apple cart over, it’s a polite suggestion the apple cart be moved to a new location. Seriously though, getting people to farm their yards, balconies, and rooftops is revolutionary. Getting people to co-house, cut their hours and participate in farming and food rescue is revolutionary. Forming Co-op businesses and various unions is revolutionary. … It has to happen at a faster pace, but the breaking down of the normal system is going to cause more people to look for alternatives.”