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Ecological Economics 69 (2010) 17411747 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Ecological Economics j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w. e l s ev i e r. c o m / l o c a t e / e c o l e c o nSurveySustainable de-growth: Mapping the context, criticisms and future prospects of anemergent paradigmJoan Martnez-Alier a, Unai Pascual b, Franck-Dominique Vivien c, Edwin Zaccai d,a Department of Economics and Economic History, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, Spainb Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge, United Kingdomc Department of Economics, Universit de Reims Champagne Ardenne, Franced Institute for Environmental Management & Land Planning, Universit Libre de Bruxelles, Belgiuma r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c tArticle history: Sustainable de-growth is both a concept and a social-grassroots (Northern) movement with its origins in theReceived 15 October 2009 elds of ecological economics, social ecology, economic anthropology and environmental and social activist groups.Received in revised form 26 January 2010 This paper introduces the concept of sustainable de-growth by mapping some of the main intellectual inuencesAccepted 23 April 2010 from these elds, with special focus on the Francophone and Anglophone thinking about this emergent notion. WeAvailable online 25 May 2010 propose hypotheses pertaining to the appeal of sustainable de-growth, and compare it to the messages enclosed within the dominant sustainable development idea. We scrutinize the theses, contradictions, and consequences ofKeywords:Sustainable development sustainable de-growth thinking as it is currently being shaped by a heterogeneous body of literature and as itPost-development interacts with an ample and growing corpus of social movements. We also discuss possible future paths for the de-Sustainable economics growth movement compared to the apparent weakening of the sustainable development paradigm.Ecological economics 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.De-growth1. Introduction policies and radical change of behaviour needed at individual and collective scales. We still live in a world of unchecked consumerism, The dominant economic paradigm rewards more instead of better excessive materials use and fossil fuel addiction. As a result, there areconsumption and private versus public investment in man-made rather renewed calls to depart from the promethean economic growththan natural capital. Such triple self-reinforcing biases have been paradigm and to embrace a vision of sustainable de-growth,locked in the social mentality to promote a promethean notion of understood as an equitable and democratic transition to a smallerchrematistic growth. Associated with the neoliberal mantra of the economy with less production and consumption. Such a system, in thesupremacy of markets for fostering prosperity through ever growing eyes of its proponents, would allow a prosperous way down (Odumefciency, the praxis of this economic model is built upon privatisation and Odum, 2006) or at least a soft landing rather than a crash due toof traditional public goods and services and reinforcing economic environmental collapse (Recio, 2008; Martnez-Alier, 2008, 2009;globalisation through international governance structures maintained Kallis et al., 2009). This paper puts into context and traces the conceptthrough the likes of the IMF, WTO, and the World Bank. Even after of sustainable de-growth and provides insights on the implicationsattempts from ecological economics and sister disciplines to demon- of this paradigm.strate the intrinsic limits of this model, we now face continuous De-growth stands here literally for the French word dcroissance.environmental and economic crises compounded by a growing Socially sustainable economic de-growth (la dcroissance conomi-disjuncture between the real economy (in which the value of natural que socialement soutenable) is a concept that is nding its way intocapital is seldom recognised) and the ctitious paper economy of social ecology, human ecology, and ecological economics. Thenance. discussion on de-growth that Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen started In a context of increased global environmental problems, the three decades ago is again a topic for discussion in rich countries. Thissustainable development discourse (20 years after the Brundtland concept is being catapulted in academic circles in conjunction withReport, WCED, 1987) has been unable to produce the overarching wider social and environmental grassroots groups. Not only are ecological economists working on the idea of sustainable de-growth and its implications as an emergent paradigm to break locked-in concepts inherited from the very malleable 1980s idea of sustainable Corresponding author. Universit Libre de Bruxelles, Institut de Gestion delEnvironnement (IGEAT), Directeur du Centre dEtudes du Dveloppement Durable, development (e.g., Martnez-Alier, 2009; Kerschner, 2010), but thereCP 130/02, 50 Av F. Roosevelt, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Tel.: +32 2 650 4332. are also vigorous social debates in non-academic spheres, such as E-mail address: (E. Zaccai). within Northern social movements for environmental and social0921-8009/$ see front matter 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.04.017
  • 2. 1742 J. Martnez-Alier et al. / Ecological Economics 69 (2010) 17411747justice. Altogether there is a ourishing literature directly associated 2. Sources, prole and characteristics of de-growth La Franaisewith this perspective.1 It is not simple to capture the meaning of sustainable de-growth in a Some de-growth analyses can be traced and also paralleled withnutshell. Such explicit opposition to the motto of sustained growth does ecological economics. However, there are also some genuine speci-not imply an exact opposition to economic growth. It advocates instead cities of the French de-growth movement that must be acknowledged ina fundamental change of key references such as the collective order to draw an accurate picture of how it originated and how itimagination (changement dimaginaire) and the array of analysis, connects to the wider notion of sustainable de-growth more broadly.propositions and principles guiding the economy. According to Serge The French de-growth approach has signicant historical intellec-Latouche (2003: 18), perhaps the main intellectual Francophone tual roots. Beginning in the mid-1930s in a society coping with thereference on de-growth,2 a society of de-growth should be understood trauma of the First World War and the economic crisis of 1929,as a society built on quality rather than on quantity, on cooperation Jacques Ellul and Bernard Charbonneau published a manifesto inrather than on competition [] humanity liberated from economism for which they criticized modernity and asked for a revolution ofwhich social justice is the objective. [] The motto of de-growth aims civilisation (see: Troude-Chastenet, 1998). Before the British econo-primarily at pointing the insane objective of growth for growth. De- mist Ernst Fritz Schumachers (1973) publication of Small isgrowth is not negative growth, a concept that would be contradictory Beautiful, Charbonneau (1969) denounced what he called gigantism"and absurd, meaning stepping forward while going backward. (i.e. the big city, the big factory, the accumulation of capital, theLatouche (2006a:16) goes further to point out that de-growth is not a development of advertising and bureaucracy, etc.) and the power ofconcept and that there is no theory of de-growth, as it does not technique as the key of modernity, a theme further studied andcorrespond to a ready-made system. Instead, Latouche describes it as developed by Ellul (1988). Technique, as dened by Ellul, refers to thepolitical slogan with theoretical implications (ibid). totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efciency Supporters of de-growth consider that the attractiveness of this in every eld of human activity. It produces alienation effects for allmotto comes largely from the failure of traditional economic and people in all the aspects of their life to the extent that the modern manpolitical systems and their associated ideologies (e.g., capitalism, ends up becoming the instrument of his own instruments. In the viewsocialism, social-liberalism and possibly sustainable development as of Ellul and Charbonneau, the solution was striving for an asceticwell). For example, according to Aris (2005:75), de-growth provides society where quality of life and solidarity among people, instead ofan explosive word to pulverize current pro-growth ideologies, hence, productivity and individualism, become the dominant social easy way to state that growth is not the solution but a part of the This perspective was not only abstract; the two friends regularlyproblem. However, there is not a single referential text about organized study-camps for young people in mountainous regions ofsustainable de-growth that has yet found its way to the wider France and Spain. At this time, Ellul also came up with the mottoacademic and political arena, as was the case with the Brundtland think globally, act locally.Report or the Rio Declaration for Sustainable Development in 1992.3 It According to Latouche (2006a), the contemporary de-growthcan be argued that sustainable de-growth is both a banner associated movement la franaise is born at the junction of two movements:with social and environmental movements and an emergent concept one coming from political ecologists, e.g., Grinevald (1975, 2006) andin academic and intellectual circles, they are interdependent and affect Gorz (1975, 1988, 2007), and emphasizing the effect of productivismeach other. in critical environmental problems, and the other coming from the The paper is structured as follows. Section 2 contextualizes the idea criticism to the concept of development, e.g., Latouche (1986, 1989,of sustainable de-growth by describing the origins and the main 1993, 1999), Partant (1978, 1988) and Rist (1996).contributions of de-growth thinking in Francophone society which has The rst key line of thought is associated largely with the inuentialso little permeated into English speaking countries. This connects to work of Georgescu-Roegen, considered the father of de-growthbut cannot be totally identied with the idea of sustainable de-growth (Clmentin and Cheynet, 2003:11). De-growth, as the English transla-as emerging in the wider international academic and social movement tion of dcroissance, is associated with the notion of declining as usedspheres. Section 3 addresses the origins of the ecologicaleconomic by Georgescu-Roegens (1975:369) paper Energy and economicidea of sustainable de-growth in order to better understand its myths in which he debated the report on Limits to Growth bybroadening resonance within ecological economics and in particular in Meadows et al. (1972) and the thesis about the steady state economyrelation to the concept of the steady state economy. Since there are championed by Herman Daly (1971, 1974). Georgescu-Roegens thesissome aspects that signicantly differ between the original French de- about the necessity to understand thermodynamics to think adequatelygrowth movement and the wider notion of sustainable de-growth as on economics was endorsed and discussed by important French authorsused by some ecological economists, Section 4 delineates and like Andr Gorz (1975) and Ren Passet (1979), who was anotherdiscusses such differences. Then in Section 5 we reect on the limits pioneer in Ecological Economics (Rpke, 2004). The French translationand weakening that the sustainable development para...