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Economists have long debated whether we can grow our economies forever without destroying the planet. There are a variety of answers, and one in particular captures the imagination of a growing number of people. It's called degrowth.
The idea of degrowth is simple. Rather than aiming for the never-ending growth of GDP, we should consider what really matters for the well-being of people and the planet, while supporting equality and recognizing the diversity of worldviews around the world.
A new article in Ecological Economics suggests that it is time for scientists and members of the public to take degrowth seriously. The problem is no longer testing the limits of green growth or seeking alternative measures of well-being. Instead, it's time to focus on more subtle aspects, which have received little attention in the past.
It is important to ensure that our transition to sustainability does not lose its real meaning. Researchers hope that the use of "degrowth lenses" can help us monitor what really matters. They suggest a research agenda that can help bring about the necessary change, integrating "a plurality of genders, ethnicities, cultural and geographical backgrounds."
First of all, the researchers argue, we must begin to analyze the relevance of degrowth in the countries of the Global South. The previously less industrialized region is now recovering rapidly both in its consumption patterns and in pressures on nature. Therefore, it is time for policy makers to critically rethink regional development policies and well-being indices by making them more locally appropriate.
This change is closely linked to bringing the discussion about ecologically unequal exchange to the international level. It is important that in an age of ecosystem destruction, the Global South is not depleted of its rich resource base that remains for the often questionable pay.
Communities should be given the opportunity to decide how to lead their lives and what to do with their natural assets rather than simply pursuing large-scale development projects. While rapid urbanization is often presented as a benefit to people and nature, it is often linked to the destruction of ecosystems and the loss of traditions that are crucial to maintaining vibrant and prosperous communities.