The 4th. Degrowth conference took place in Leipzig in early September. Among the 3000 scientists, artists and activists, two NETGREEN members participated: Karen Jeffrey (nef, New Economics Foundation) and Marius Hasenheit (Ecologic Institute). Karen Jeffrey presented the NETGREEN paper “Pathways towards an environmentally sustainable economy: Explaining the differences” and the BRAINPOOL paper “Lessons from the Beyond GDP world for degrowth”. With the first paper, she presented the trail of logic that shapes individuals’ views of which pathways should be taken in order to reach an environmentally sustainable economy, as well as points of divergence. With the help of the second paper, Karen Jeffrey explained where the barriers for using the Beyond GDP indicators lay and how to overcome them. She also presented the synergies and tensions between the Degrowth and Beyond GDP communities.
When it came to concrete policy options and perspectives on the conference, a wide and heterogeneous range of measures and ideas were discussed. Beside enabling and helping citizens to live in an environmental way a 'good life' (such as affordable/free public transport etc.), raising standards and introducing limitations to pollution, energy and resource use were discussed.
Once again, GDP was criticized harshly. However, there were unfortunately only a few links to existing work and alternative proposals, such as using GDP complementary indicators (e.g. by the FP7 project In-stream or the European Beyond GDP initiative.
Amongst the alternative proposals suggested were shifting of subsidies (e.g. from fossil fuels) and tax benefits (in Germany e.g. when buying a company car). Instead of those recipients, renewable energies, cradle2cradle , cooperatives and local production should receive more public help. However, renewable energies and cradle2cradle were both discussed controversially. Not only local production, but local societies should get more space to exchange, get engaged and improve resilience. Often the panelists, such as Giorgos Kallis recommended a mix of grassroots movements and local economies, flourishing from the bottom up alongside structural change from the top down. Concrete suggestions included a minimum wage, working time reduction and restructuring debt. In terms of bottom up, one of the keynote speakers, Euclides Andre Mance, proposed solidarity as the most important component of achieving a transition
It was suggested to foster the pioneering task of the public sector in energy efficiency issues and work time cuts. The education system was recommended to strengthen the focus on environmental problems, while practically creating awareness with the use of school gardens. Increasing urban sprawl (soil sealing in general), flights, energy use, resource extraction and its import were suggested to be higher taxed or limited.
While the Degrowth movement often seems to be either reduced to abstinence or liberation from 'ballast from wealth', its real issue seems to be the strong focus on individual lifestyles. At the conference, many lectures and workshops only dealt with mental infrastructures and intrinsic drivers of growths. This focus is certainly crucial to alter consumption patterns and lifestyles, but left too little space to discuss policy perspectives and the 'big picture'. In fact, one could call the lack of explicit recognition of the importance of renewable/low-carbon technologies as part of the transition as a weakness of the movement.
It seems like there are radical proposals indeed, claiming a 'system change', but nonetheless a wide range of suggestions are 'classical' environmental policies. As at many other conferences, some discussions touched on how to reform the definition of well-being, the tax system, legal framework and subsidies. Interestingly, it seems that many Degrowth stakeholders are not aware that their proposals are in fact very similar proposals to those of their 'opponents' from the Green Economy movement. However, the focus on the bottom-up approach within the Degrowth movement became very clear at the Degrowth conference. Until now, it seems like there is a lack of concrete proposals offered by the movement. Nonetheless, one can acknowledge that they effectively brought environmental concerns back into public discussion, by being very consistent in questioning of the growth paradigm.