Degrowth: Vision of sustainable societies

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Translation of the Friends of the Earth France’s manifesto, “Les amis de la Terre”.

This manifesto exposes the roots of the ecological and social crisis and our vision of sustainable societies. Relying on the concept of ecological space we propose alternatives to capitalism and to “infinite growth”.

Ecological and Social Crisis

Climate change, biodiversity disruption, environmental degradation, water and soil pollution and natural resources depletion are the main forms of ecological crisis. The current economic model, capitalistic and productivist, based on competition and growth, benefits a minority of the world population, whose way of life, based on hyper-consumption, persists only on the condition of maintaining the majority in poverty and precariousness.

So-called sustainable development, green or dematerialized economy projects are no exception to this rule. Advances in energy efficiency are immediately wiped out by increased production and consumption. The generalization to all humans of the dominant way of life, even “green”, will exhaust soils, water, forests, the main minerals and energy resources in a few decades , not only without resolving climate change, but by multiplying the risks of major conflicts.

Likewise, we must denounce the belief that scientific solutions could solve current problems without challenging the dogma of growth. Nuclear energy, GMOs, geological storage of CO2, nanotechnologies, all these technologies implemented without democratic debate pose risks to the health and safety of populations, to ecosystems and to freedoms.

What are sustainable communities

For Friends of the Earth, there is no single model of society. There are sustainable societies as diverse as human societies can be, each of them having as absolute imperatives respect for democratic principles, social, economic and ecological justice, gender equality, a culture of peace and harmony with nature; and conflict resolution based on methods of non-violence.

These sustainable societies each respond in their own way to two imperatives: sobriety in the use of resources, and equity in the sharing of resources, knowledge and techniques, within the same society and between societies.

Transitions toward sustainable communities

The creation of sustainable communities is essential and urgent. We need to find ways how to reach that in these three basic and inseparable levels of intervention:

  • On an individual level, because nothing can be done without awareness and a change of behavior
  • On the level of alternative collectives which contribute to the realization of changes
  • On the level of public politics because no change is possible without applying national and international laws and regulations which support sustainability

To achieve sustainable societies, the dogma of growth and its indicator, GDP, must cease to be an absolute benchmark. The transition will pass, especially in the rich countries, through a phase of decrease in production and consumption, freeing oneself from the “imaginary of growth”.

The depletion of natural resources is due to the overconsumption of the richest rather than to the growth of the world population. The viability of life on Earth, however, requires a stabilization of the population. Experience shows that this always accompanies the progression of freedoms, education and social rights.

An essential condition of the transition is the relocation of activities, a solidarity relocation, open to other companies. Relocating means basing the economy and exchanges on direct links, rather than on anonymity and standardization; it is to put in the foreground the short sectors and the local productions which can provide many jobs; it is to put an end to the predatory exploitation of resources in distant lands. It is not a question of “living in autarky”, but of ensuring that international exchanges benefit all populations rather than a few firms or speculators.

All over the world, experimental solutions for a transition to sustainable societies are developing, from the movement of Cities in Transitions to that of voluntary simplicity, from community-supported-agriculture to eco-villages. Friends of the Earth resolutely support all of these initiatives. But the transition to sustainable societies cannot be based on a simple accumulation of alternatives, which will not be enough to change the dominant modes of production and power structures. Global measures, affirming the preponderance of political solutions led by citizens, will be essential.

The democratic requirement

The State remains the guarantor of the general interest in the face of particular interests. It must be encouraged to play its role of regulator, using the most appropriate tools: regulation, ecological taxation, maintenance and control of public services, education geared towards solidarity.

But the state today finds itself instrumentalized by the economic powers. Faced with this drift, representative democracy is not enough. We must invent forms of federal democracy, relocated, participatory, aimed at empowering all citizens. These relocated powers will acquire forms of cooperation at all scales and a timetable of objectives to be achieved. International relations will also have to be reinvented, to achieve governance in the service of global solidarity, rather than that of commercial, financial or nationalist interests.

The defense and extension of rights, in particular those relating to “universal commons”, must be reaffirmed. A third generation of rights taking into account the ecological dimension must complete the first generation relating to political rights and the second which determines social rights.

Likewise, Friends of the Earth support the democratic intervention of citizens in determining research policies and technological choices, and call for the application of the principle of precaution and moratoriums on high-risk technologies.

Rethinking the business and the economy

The failures of communism must not be a pretext to mask those of capitalism and delay its overtaking. Incapable of taking into account the limits of the planet, which discredits it in order to resolve the ecological crisis, it always deepens social inequalities, which discredits it in order to organize an equitable sharing of resources. Therefore, capitalist logic is not part of a sustainable world.

The concentration of large companies and banks must be severely limited. Strict regulation of the markets, primarily the financial, investment and trade markets is also imperative. Faced with drifts going as far as the appropriation the living, private property must be strictly regulated according to the imperatives of the general interest. Traditional or innovative forms of use rights and collective property with user usufruct will be encouraged . Friends of the Earth support all forms of entrepreneurship that offer alternatives to the current dominant model: local small and medium-sized businesses, cooperatives, associations, solidarity finance organizations, etc.

Less goods, more relationships

Sustainable societies are not synonymous with a return to poverty and regression. Innovations and personal achievements are encouraged as long as they contribute to the general interest. Since the objective is no longer to grow materially, the relationship to time and work can be rethought. Thus, human beings will be able to devote themselves to a multitude of activities that bring joys and pleasures, giving meaning to life.

Sustainable societies will allow the expression of solidarity, generosity and honesty, values ​​which are essential to face the challenges they will encounter. Their construction must be based on an awareness: that of the need not to exceed our limits (infinite growth is not possible in a finite world), and be based on everything that makes sustainability desirable. Quantitatively sustainable, friendly among their members, united with other societies, respectful of the biosphere and of all the inhabitants of the planet, these are the societies we want.