The way the economy runs leads to environmental destruction and it doesn’t have to be that way. The industrial revolution accelerated consumption of non-renewable resources and governments allowed corporations to profit at the expense of health and wellbeing. This is untenable. It’s time to shift our economy from one that exists to expand every year (so billionaires like Musk and Bezos) to one that exists for long-term sustainability. Without the environment we won’t even have an economy, and with climate change accelerating we have to refocus our economy immediately.
Parrique says to picture economies like people with metabolismsâ€”when youâ€™re young, you need to eat lots of food, and as a result, produce lots of waste, to get big and strong. But if you keep eating like a rapidly-growing human well into adulthood, thatâ€™s probably not the healthiest way to be. As an adult, it makes more sense to balance out your diet for sustaining your bodyâ€™s current needs.
You already know you’re working too many hours, so let’s change that and save the planet in the process. Economic growth has physical limits and we’re hitting those already as we run out of finite resources, or those resources are getting harder and harder to reach like oil. So to maintain growth we need to switch to a renewable energy based economy and fast. We can also just work less and focus on decreasing the growth of consumer capitalism.
This is where the idea of degrowth comes in. Degrowing our economy focuses on getting rid of things awe don’t need and are incredibly destructive to the environment (like fast fashion) and focusing our attention to bettering society as a whole (like free daycare). Another way to degrowth the economy is to reduce our working weeks to produce more jobs and give everybody more leisure. Aren’t we all working for the weekend anyway?
To get emissions to zero, it will involve a kind of â€œdegrowth,â€ but one targeted specifically at fossil-fuel consumption. â€œThat doesnâ€™t mean we have to degrow everything,â€ Pollin said. â€œWe really need to degrow the fossil fuel industry to zero, but massively expand the clean energy systems, the investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.â€ This is essentially the Green New Deal: a push to increase renewable energy while eliminating fossil fuels, and including an effort to create a just transition for the people who have jobs in that sector.
To Pollin, even this would be a radical improvement. A plan to get to zero carbon emissions in 30 years would mean shutting down one of the worldâ€™s most powerful industries. He thinks that that is ambitious enough without trying to implement other broad societal changes.
â€œIf we take the climate science seriously, we only have a few decades to make huge progress,” Pollin said. “And whether I like it or not, weâ€™re not going to overthrow capitalism in that time.â€