Drill, Baby, Drill

Obama just announced a plan to open much of the Eastern seaboard, the Gulf coast, and Alaskan waters to gas and oil rigs. Parts of the proposal, which he apparently made in the interest of garnering votes for some semblance of climate change legislation, will need Congressional approval.

The decision is a boon for oil and gas corporations, but a disaster for ecosystems and for the local people in these areas.

Obama, in his announcement, positioned himself as the wise centrist rejecting the ideologies of the crazed environmentalists on the left and the wild-eyed capitalists on the right.

With approximately 38 years of energy potential expected from the planned extraction according to US government stats, we can’t exactly call the plan for permanent environmental degradation a long-term strategy.

Expansion of oil and gas drilling should give us a jolt of energy, but it does not help solve our biggest problems, and might make them worse. It’s like "advocating a healthy diet based on fast food, speed, and low-tar cigarettes."  More drilling will not help our ecosystem, and, much like sticking to amphetamines and Big Macs, in the long run it will not help the health of our economy.

Obama explained that drilling off American coastlines needs to be done to ensure continued economic growth, claiming that this plan is an important part of transitioning to clean, sustainable energy. On the contrary, it keeps America addicted to fossil fuels and, along with the recently announced subsidies for the "clean coal" "unicorn" and for building new (unsustainable) nuclear reactors, wastes precious time. We urgently need to restructure and create a renewable energy economy, but the priority of further economic growth–which is not a necessity but a choice, and one that is largely uncriticized in America as a guiding principle–is keeping us mired in an unworkable, dangerous paradigm.

Unlimited economic growth is a myth, a comfortable illusion of potentially infinite social wealth that some of us will continue to live under until the last of the natural resources have finally been sold off–or before climate change transforms our world in ways that force us to rethink our priorities. Will a critical mass of world citizens realize the fundamental error of our short-term mindset in time to prevent catastrophic climate change? Will we be able to continue to pursue economic growth when, in a couple of generations, there are no longer large stocks of natural resources left to sell off and call profit? 

It is only a matter of time before this largely invisible, near-sighted, and completely irrational ideology of unlimited growth will succumb to something else. And while that something else is still unclear, logic dictates that we cannot continue this way for very much longer. We need to rethink, restructure, and create sustainable ways of living and working now, before causing irreversible climate change.

For example, movement toward degrowth makes more long-term sense than the scenic but ill-advised path towards environmental destruction that we blithely continue to follow:


Declaration of the Paris 2008 Degrowth Conference


We, participants in the Economic De-Growth For Ecological Sustainability And Social Equity Conference held in Paris on April 18-19, 2008 make the following declaration:

1. Economic growth (as indicated by increasing real GDP or GNP) represents an increase in production, consumption and investment in the pursuit of economic surplus, inevitably leading to increased use of materials, energy and land.
2. Despite improvements in the ecological efficiency of the production and consumption of goods and services, global economic growth has resulted in increased extraction of natural resources and increased waste and emissions.
3. Global economic growth has not succeeded in reducing poverty substantially, due to unequal exchange in trade and financial markets, which has increased inequality between countries.
4. As the established principles of physics and ecology demonstrate, there is an eventual limit to the scale of global production and consumption, and to the scale national economies can attain without imposing environmental and social costs on others elsewhere or future generations.
5. The best available scientific evidence indicates that the global economy has grown beyond ecologically sustainable limits, as have many national economies, especially those of the wealthiest countries (primarily industrialised countries in the global North).
6. There is also mounting evidence that global growth in production and consumption is socially unsustainable and uneconomic (in the sense that its costs outweigh its benefits).
7. By using more than their legitimate share of global environmental resources, the wealthiest nations are effectively reducing the environmental space available to poorer nations, and imposing adverse environmental impacts on them.
8. If we do not respond to this situation by bringing global economic activity into line with the capacity of our ecosystems, and redistributing wealth and income globally so that they meet our societal needs, the result will be a process of involuntary and uncontrolled economic decline or collapse, with potentially serious social  impacts, especially for the most disadvantaged.

We therefore call for a paradigm shift from the general and unlimited pursuit of economic growth to a concept of “right-sizing” the global and national economies.

1. At the global level, “right-sizing” means reducing the global ecological footprint (including the carbon footprint) to a sustainable level.
2. In countries where the per capita footprint is greater than the sustainable global level, right-sizing implies a reduction to this level within a reasonable timeframe.
3. In countries where severe poverty remains, right-sizing implies increasing consumption by those in poverty as quickly as possible, in a sustainable way, to a level adequate for a decent life, following locally determined poverty-reduction paths rather than externally imposed development policies.
4. This will require increasing economic activity in some cases; but redistribution of income and wealth both within and between countries is a more essential part of this process.

The paradigm shift involves degrowth in wealthy parts of the world.

1. The process by which right-sizing may be achieved in the wealthiest countries, and in the global economy as a whole, is “degrowth”.
2. We define degrowth as a voluntary transition towards a just, participatory, and ecologically sustainable society.
3. The objectives of degrowth are to meet basic human needs and ensure a high quality of life, while reducing the ecological impact of the global economy to a sustainable level, equitably distributed between nations. This will not be achieved by involuntary economic contraction.
4. Degrowth requires a transformation of the global economic system and of the policies promoted and pursued at the national level, to allow the reduction and ultimate eradication of absolute poverty to proceed as the global economy and unsustainable national economies degrow.
5. Once right-sizing has been achieved through the process of degrowth, the aim should be to maintain a “steady state economy” with a relatively stable, mildly fluctuating level of consumption.
6. In general, the process of degrowth is characterised by:
    • an emphasis on quality of life rather than quantity of consumption;
    • the fulfilment of basic human needs for all;
    • societal change based on a range of diverse individual and collective actions and policies;
    • substantially reduced dependence on economic activity, and an increase in free time, unremunerated activity,  conviviality,  sense of community,  and individual and collective health;
    • encouragement of self-reflection, balance, creativity, flexibility,  diversity,  good citizenship, generosity, and non-materialism;
    • observation of the principles of equity, participatory democracy, respect for human rights, and respect for cultural differences.
7. Progress towards degrowth requires immediate steps towards efforts to mainstream the concept of degrowth into parliamentary and public debate and economic institutions; the development of policies and tools for the practical implementation of degrowth; and development of new, non-monetary indicators (including subjective indicators) to identify, measure and compare the benefits and costs of economic activity, in order to assess whether changes in economic activity contribute to or undermine the fulfilment of social and environmental objectives.



Degrowth Conference Barcelona 2010

From Friday 26 to Monday 29 March 2010 the Second International Degrowth Conference took place at the historic building of ‘Universidad de Barcelona’. 500 scientists, civil society members and practionners from more than 40 countries attended the conference.

More than 300 participants took part in working groups for degrowth political proposals and research. Stirring papers are available online in each  section.

Around 80 posters were presented. The poster tour is now online!

Around 50 oral presentations were made.