"Degrowth”: The Only Solution to Curbing Catastrophic Climate Change?

May 11, 2018

How can we prevent the planet from becoming a "Hothouse Earth" that will be less and less hospitable to human life?

In a provocative SGD colloquium presentation on November 2, sponsored by the MDP program, Prof. Brian Petersen of Northern Arizona University argued that a “fundamental shift” in economic, social, and political thinking and behavior is needed around the world, and in particular within developed nations. Such radical change, he argued, must include a recognition that environmental sustainability is intrinsically incompatible with longstanding economic models premised on perpetual economic growth.

Co-author of a forthcoming book on combatting climate change denialism, Petersen rebutted several of the most commonly made arguments against the need for radical change. One of these is that expanded use of alternative energy sources will reduce demand for fossil fuels, while evidence indicates that alternative energy is mostly directed to new consumer purposes. Another debunked argument was that massive “geoengineering” projects can cool down the earth, when in fact their viability is far from certain and their costs unknown.

While alternative energy and technological solutions may have a role to play, stated Petersen, the severity of the climate crisis demands a larger shift to a paradigm of “degrowth” by means of drastically reduced consumption and the reorganization of social relations to emphasize social justice. Acknowledging that there is as yet no established “blueprint” for this process, Petersen and colleagues aim to spark a conversation about degrowth that will enable citizens and policymakers alike to envision a broader alternatives to curbing the worst effects of climate change.