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The anti-colonial politics of degrowth
Jason Hickel
London School of Economics and Political Science, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK
As degrowth ideas speed their way into social movements and aca-
demic research, they have encountered some interesting critiques. In a
recent contribution to this Virtual Forum, Huber (2021) dismissed
degrowth as a preoccupation of middle-class environmentalists in the
global North who feel anxietyabout excess consumption. Such a
movement, he argues, can never hope to connect with the working class,
who are struggling to get by, and certainly cannot connect with social
movements in the global South, where mass poverty is widespread and
where, he claims, the concept of degrowth is largely unknown. These
claims constitute a signicant misrepresentation of degrowth politics.
Let me begin by noting a few facts. High-income countries are the
primary drivers of global ecological breakdown. The global North is
responsible for 92 percent of emissions in excess of the planetary
boundary (Hickel, 2020a), while the consequences of climate break-
down fall disproportionately upon the global South. The South already
suffers the vast majority of the damage inicted by climate breakdown,
and if temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees centigrade, much of the tropics
could experience heat events that exceed the limits of human survival
(Zhang, Held, & Fueglistaler, 2021). Likewise, high-income countries
are responsible for the majority of excess global resource use, with an
average material footprint of 28 tons per capita per year four times
over the sustainable level (Bringezu, 2015). Crucially, these high levels
of consumption depend on a signicant net appropriation from the
global South through unequal exchange, including 10.1 billion tons of
embodied raw materials and 379 billion hours of embodied labor per
year (Dorninger et al., 2021).
In other words, economic growth in the North relies on patterns of
colonization: the appropriation of atmospheric commons, and the
appropriation of Southern resources and labour. In terms of both emis-
sions and resource use, the global ecological crisis is playing out along
colonial lines. This is often framed as a problem of ecological debt, but
this language while useful hardly captures the violence at stake.
Just as Northern growth is colonial in character, so too green
growthvisions tend to presuppose the perpetuation of colonial ar-
rangements. Transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy should be
done as rapidly as possible, but scaling solar panels, wind turbines and
batteries requires enormous material extraction, and this will come
overwhelmingly from the global South. Continued growth in the North
means rising nal energy demand, which will in turn require rising
levels of extractivism. Complicating matters further, decarbonization
cannot be accomplished fast enough to respect Paris targets as long as
energy use in the global North remains so high (Hickel & Kallis, 2020).
To compensate for this problem, IPCC models rely heavily on bioenergy
with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to get us out of trouble. But
deploying BECCS at scale would require land for biofuel plantations up
to three times the size of India, which would almost certainly be
appropriated from the South. This is not an acceptable future, and is
incompatible with socialist values (Hickel, 2020b).
Degrowth calls for rich nations to scale down throughput to sus-
tainable levels, reducing aggregate energy use to enable a sufciently
rapid transition to renewables, and reducing aggregate resource use to
reverse ecological breakdown. This demand is not just about ecology;
rather, it is rooted in anti-colonial principles. Degrowth scholars and
activists explicitly recognize the reality of ecological debt and call for an
end to the colonial patterns of appropriation that underpin Northern
growth, in order to release the South from the grip of extractivism and a
future of catastrophic climate breakdown. Degrowth is, in other words, a
demand for decolonization. Southern countries should be free to orga-
nize their resources and labor around meeting human needs rather than
around servicing Northern growth.
Decolonization along these lines is a crucial precondition for suc-
cessful development in the South. Dependency theorists have pointed
out that catch-updevelopment is impossible within a system predi-
cated on appropriation and polarized accumulation. This is true also
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Political Geography xxx (xxxx) xxx
from an ecological perspective. The alternative is to pursue a strategy of
convergence: throughput should decline in the North to get back within
sustainable levels while increasing in the South to meet human needs,
converging at a level consistent with ecological stability and universal
human welfare.
This much is straightforward. But there are further implications of
degrowth that are worth drawing out here. For degrowth, the problem is
not ultimately the behavior of individual consumers(as in mainstream
environmentalist thought) but rather the structure and logic of the un-
derlying economic system, namely, capitalism. We know that capitalism
is predicated on surplus extraction and accumulation; it must take more
from labor and nature than it gives back. As Marxist ecologists have
pointed out, such a system necessarily generates inequalities and
ecological breakdown. But many economic systems have been extractive
in the past; what makes capitalism distinctive, and uniquely problem-
atic, is that it is organized around, and dependent on, perpetual growth.
In other words, capital seeks not only surplus, but an exponentially
rising surplus.
To understand why this is a problem, we have to grasp what
growth means. People commonly assume that GDP growth is an in-
crease in value (or provisioning, or well-being), when, in fact, it is pri-
marily an increase in commodity production, represented in terms of
price. This distinction between value and price is important. In order to
realize surplus value, capital seeks to enclose and commodify free
commons in order extract payment for access, or, in the realm of pro-
duction, to depress the prices of inputs to below the value that is actually
derived from them. Both tendencies require appropriation from colonial
or neo-colonial frontiers, where labor and nature can be taken for free,
or close to free, and where costs can be externalized. In this sense,
capitalist growth is intrinsically colonial in character, and has been for
500 years. Enclosure, colonization, mass enslavement, extractivism,
sweatshops, ecological breakdown all of this has been propelled by the
growth imperative and its demand for cheap labor and nature.
Of course, there is nothing naturallycheap about labor and nature
at the frontier. On the contrary, they have to be actively cheapened. To do
this, European capitalists advanced a dualist ontology that cast humans
as subjects with mind and agency, and nature as an object to be
exploited and controlled for human ends. Into the category of nature
they shunted not only all nonhuman beings, but also Black and Indige-
nous people, and most women, all of whom were cast as not-quite-fully-
human, in order to legitimize dispossession, enslavement and exploita-
tion (Federici, 2004; Patel & Moore, 2017). Racist discourses were
leveraged to cheapen the lives of others for the sake of growth. Similar
discourses are used today to justify wages in the South that remain
below the level of subsistence (Hickel, 2020d).
Degrowth, then, is not just a critique of excess throughput in the
global North; it is a critique of the mechanisms of colonial appropriation,
enclosure and cheapening that underpin capitalist growth itself. If
growthism seeks to organize the economy around the interests of capital
(exchange-value) through accumulation, enclosure, and commodica-
tion, degrowth calls for the economy to be organized instead around
provisioning for human needs (use-value) through de-accumulation, de-
enclosure and de-commodication. Degrowth also rejects the cheap-
ening of labour and resources, and the racist ideologies that are
deployed toward that end. In all of these ways, degrowth is about
decolonization (Hickel, 2020b; Tyberg, 2020).
These demands align strongly with those of social movements in the
global South. This is clear, for instance, in the Peoples Agreement of
Cochabamba, drafted in 2010 by thousands of grassroots organizations
from more than 130 countries. The Cochabamba statement explicitly
attacks the economics and ideology of growthism and explicitly critiques
excess resource use in the global North (hyper-consumption) as the
driver of overexploitation and unequal appropriation of the planets
commons(WPCC, 2010). It calls for rich nations to address their
ecological debt by reducing resource use to sustainable levels,
decolonizing the atmosphere, and ending the exploitation of poorer
countries. It also calls for a different model of development, one that is
focused on human wellbeing within ecological boundaries, rather than
on perpetual growth. In other words, the Cochabamba statement artic-
ulated degrowth demands from the South well before the concept gained
traction in the North.
These ideas have a long history in anti-colonial thought. Fanon
(1963:314315) critiqued Europes growthist model, lamenting that
Europe had shaken off all guidance and all reasonand was running
headlong into the abyss.” “Let us be clear, he wrote: what matters is to
stop talking about output, and intensication Humanity is waiting for
something other from us than such an imitation.Gandhi (1965:5153)
noted that the industrial growth of Europe and the US depended on
plundering the South. He called for Southern countries to collectively
refuse this arrangement, thus forcibly reducing the surfeitof rich
countries. He rejected growthism and argued that production should be
organized instead around human needs and sufciency, enabling people
to pursue the art of living noblyrather than a complicated material
life based on high speed. Julius Nyerere (1960s) and Thomas Sankara
(1980s) likewise championed a sufciency-oriented approach to devel-
opment, which they saw as key to national self-reliance and thus to
throwing off neo-colonial power.
The critique of growth was in large part pioneered by thinkers in the
global South, including Rabindranath Tagore, Ananda Coomaraswamy,
and the economists Radhakamal Mukurjee and J.C Kumarappa (Gerber
& Raina, 2018). These perspectives have been developed further by
gures such as Amin (1987), ¨
Ocalan (2015), Shiva (2013), Shrivastava
and Kothari (2012). Critiques of growth are represented in the envi-
ronmental justice movement (Martinez-Alier, 2012), within movements
such as the Zapatistas and in Rojava (Nirmal & Rocheleau, 2019), in the
buen vivir movement (Acosta, 2020), in the food sovereignty movement
(e.g., Campesina, 2018), and in the broader post-development literature
(e.g., Escobar, 2015; Kothari et al., 2014; Kothari et al., 2019), all of
which have their roots in the global South. Degrowth scholarship and
activism is aligned with these movements, with demands directed spe-
cically at the North. It is the sharp edge of anti-colonial struggle within
the metropole.
So what about the class politics of degrowth in the North? How do we
reconcile degrowth with the reality of working-class poverty? Degrowth
scholarship points out that energy and resource use in high-income
nations is vastly in excess of what is required to end poverty and to
deliver high levels of wellbeing for all, including universal public
healthcare, education, transportation, computing, communication,
housing, and healthy food (Millward-Hopkins, Steinberger, Rao, &
Oswald, 2020). In other words, high-income nations could scale down
aggregate throughput while at the same time improving peoples lives by
organizing the economy around human needs rather than around capital
accumulationthat is, by distributing income and wealth more fairly,
while decommodifying and expanding public goods (Hickel, 2020b).
These are core degrowth demands. After all, degrowth is part of the
broader ecosocialist movement. What degrowth adds is the assertion
that growth in high-income nations is not required in order to achieve a
ourishing society. What is required is justice. Recognizing this is part of
building class consciousness against the ideology of capital (Hickel,
2020c). But even more importantly, what is the point of a progressive
politics in the North that is not aligned with the struggle for decoloni-
zation in the South? Ecosocialism without anti-imperialism is not an
ecosocialism worth having. And in the face of ecological breakdown,
solidarity with the South requires degrowth in the North.
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John Hunt Publishing.
Amin, S. (1987). A note on the concept of delinking. Review, 10(3), 435444.
Bringezu, S. (2015). Possible target corridor for sustainable use of global material
resources. Resources, 4(1), 2554.
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Dorninger, C., et al. (2021). Global patterns of ecologically unequal exchange. Ecological
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Escobar, A. (2015). Degrowth, postdevelopment, and transitions. Sustainability Science,
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Federici, S. (2004). Caliban and the Witch. New York: Autonomedia.
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Gerber, J.-F., & Raina, R. S. (2018). Post-growth in the global South? Ecological
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Hickel, J. (2020b). Less is more. London: Random House.
Hickel, J. (2020c). What does degrowth mean? A few points of clarication.
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J. Hickel
... Instead, they sold the imaginary view of a non-existent cultural democracy, without this meaning the creation of conditions for the effective social emancipation of the citizens of developing countries, former colonies. The phenomenology of the processes of cultural non-identification with the inhabited place (Stavrides, 2016/2021) may have contributed to the assumption of anti-colonial activism (Hardt & Negri, 2019;Hickel, 2021). The nihilistic logic makes the iconoclastic double condition explicit in these sociological processes. ...
... Art as the epistemology of decolonisation (Balona de Oliveira, 2019; Soares, 2020) allows the adoption of a community aesthetic program (Stavrides, 2016/2021), anticolonial (Hickel, 2021) that triggers a mindful critique of the social and human development state, fulfilling the duty of denunciation, underlying the social function of art. Contemporary thinking and the dialectic exercised by contemporary art, namely through new curatorial projects (Ribeiro, 2021), have made it possible to criticise the mechanisms of imperialist appropriation (Hickel, 2020(Hickel, , 2021 within cultural institutions (Soares, 2020). ...
... Art as the epistemology of decolonisation (Balona de Oliveira, 2019; Soares, 2020) allows the adoption of a community aesthetic program (Stavrides, 2016/2021), anticolonial (Hickel, 2021) that triggers a mindful critique of the social and human development state, fulfilling the duty of denunciation, underlying the social function of art. Contemporary thinking and the dialectic exercised by contemporary art, namely through new curatorial projects (Ribeiro, 2021), have made it possible to criticise the mechanisms of imperialist appropriation (Hickel, 2020(Hickel, , 2021 within cultural institutions (Soares, 2020). Colonialism was at the genesis of the great European art collections, used as a propaganda instrument under the pretext of the Christian and civilised will (Goes, 2020) to hide the real motivations of a hegemonic western elite: domination and economic exploitation of lands. ...
Full-text available
O Dever de Memória, título que Primo Levi (2011) deu a um dos seus livros, consubstancia toda a lógica que está subjacente à restituição cultural, num processo que está em marcha, tendente a promover a reparação dos danos provocados pelo colonialismo. Muito embora a reparação nunca seja completamente concretizada, a atitude que lhe está subjacente pode atenuar ressentimentos, num sinal assente na diversidade e não, como quase sempre aconteceu, numa lógica unilateral, decorrente de um olhar ocidental. Através da utilização da memória, que, no caso de Levi, incidiu sobre o holocausto — a que se reporta a cunhagem da expressão “dever de memória” —, foi dado o seu testemunho enquanto judeu que foi prisioneiro dos nazis, para que nada semelhante alguma vez voltasse a acontecer. Há um urgente dever de memória tendente a reparar atrocidades cometidas em tempo colonial, através do exercício da violência por parte de quem colonizava. Por conseguinte, a ideia de “dever da memória” quer significar a responsabilidade ética de nunca esquecer. Cultural Restitution As a Duty of MemoryA Restituição Cultural Como Dever de MemóriaVítor de Sousa Centro de Estudos de Comunicação e Sociedade, Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade do Minho, Braga, PortugalSheila Khan Centro de Estudos de Comunicação e Sociedade, Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade do Minho, Braga, Portugal Escola de Ciências Humanas e Sociais, Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, Vila Real, PortugalPedro Schacht Pereira Department of Spanish and Portuguese, College of Arts and Science, The Ohio State University, Ohio, United States of AmericaThe Duty of Memory, the title that Primo Levi (2011) gave to one of his books, em-bodies the whole logic that underlies cultural restitution in a process that is underway, aimed at promoting the repair of the damage caused by colonialism. Although repara-tion will never be completely achieved, the attitude underlying it may reduce resentment in a sign based on diversity and not, as has almost always been the case, on a unilateral logic stemming from a western gaze. Through the use of memory, Levi focused on the holocaust — from which he coined the expression “duty of memory” — he gave his tes-timony as a Jew who was a prisoner of the Nazis so that nothing similar would ever hap-pen again. An urgent duty of memory is to repair atrocities committed in colonial times through the use of violence by those who colonised. Therefore, the “duty of memory” represents the ethical responsibility never to forget.
... Instead, they sold the imaginary view of a non-existent cultural democracy, without this meaning the creation of conditions for the effective social emancipation of the citizens of developing countries, former colonies. The phenomenology of the processes of cultural non-identification with the inhabited place (Stavrides, 2016(Stavrides, /2021 may have contributed to the assumption of anti-colonial activism (Hardt & Negri, 2019;Hickel, 2021). The nihilistic logic makes the iconoclastic double condition explicit in these sociological processes. ...
... Art as the epistemology of decolonisation (Balona de Oliveira, 2019; Soares, 2020) allows the adoption of a community aesthetic program (Stavrides, 2016), anticolonial (Hickel, 2021 that triggers a mindful critique of the social and human development state, fulfilling the duty of denunciation, underlying the social function of art. Contemporary thinking and the dialectic exercised by contemporary art, namely through new curatorial projects (Ribeiro, 2021), have made it possible to criticise the mechanisms of imperialist appropriation (Hickel, 2020(Hickel, , 2021 within cultural institutions (Soares, 2020). Colonialism was at the genesis of the great European art collections, used as a propaganda instrument under the pretext of the Christian and civilised will (Goes, 2020) to hide the real motivations of a hegemonic western elite: domination and economic exploitation of lands. ...
... The devaluation of labour costs, which sustains modern capitalist growth, was ensured over centuries by colonial exploitation (Hickel, 2020(Hickel, , 2021Vale de Almeida, 2000) via slavery and justified by the cultural backwardness of the racial minority of the dominated peoples. Ideologies that use racism were implanted within contemporary societies to justify labour exploitation and the devaluation of human resources (Hickel, 2020(Hickel, , 2021. ...
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This article aims to contribute to the reflection on the phenomenologies of non-identification with the cultural and artistic heritage, namely the architectural and sculptural, installed in the urban public space. Contemporary iconoclastic practices have made the political and media debate aware of the quality and pertinence of cities' aesthetic and artistic transformations. I aim to establish possible relationships between iconoclastic phenomena, contemporary mythography and postcolonial and neo-colonial discursive ways, addressing the social and political issues underlying racism, which may be at the origin of iconoclastic practices against heritage. I conducted a selected review of the scientific literature published in the last 20 years, namely authored by others. On that basis, I tried to demonstrate how the contemporary art and curatorial artivism within museological institutions contributed to challenging institutional historical narratives and the progressive deconstruction of Lusotropicalist discursive practices, which institute colonialism and slavery as acceptable historical inevitabilities. I found that western hegemonic thinking is based on a false ideological construction of identity, supported by an alleged moral and racial superiority , to justify pursuing a model of economic exploitation structured in cultural domination. I concluded that multiculturalism within cultural institutions, safeguarding cultural diversity and heritage interpretation in the public space, could ensure inclusion and social cohesion, develop feelings of belonging, and mitigate inequalities and violence.
... However, a broad 'critique of growth was in large part pioneered by thinkers in the global South' (Hickel, 2021). This is particularly connected with a criticism of Western development thinking, in which the ideas of progress and economic growth are strongly intertwined (Sachs, 1992(Sachs, , 1999(Sachs, , 2019Escobar, 2015a, c). ...
... And that criticism is also shared by thousands of grassroots organizations as is exemplified in the People's Agreement of Cochabamba (WPCCC, 2010). It may be clear that economic growth in the North relies on patterns of colonization, and that degrowth is therefore a demand for decolonization (Hickel, 2020(Hickel, , 2021. ...
... Capitalist reproduction involves various forms of imperialism and colonialism that have led to dependency in the global South (Hickel 2021;Veltmeyer and Petras 2015). For instance, many negative consequences arise from extractivism for exports of primary goods to the global North, which usually entails the growth of poverty, inequality, and environmental injustices across extractive zones (Toledo et al. 2013). ...
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... Degrowth is a multi-layered concept (D'Alisa et al., 2014). It combines critiques of capitalism (Feola, 2019), colonialism (Hickel, 2021), patriarchy (Hanaček et al., 2020), productivism (Kallis, 2019), and utilitarianism (Romano, 2019), whilst envisioning more caring (Dengler and Lang, 2022), just (Muraca, 2012), convivial (Vetter, 2018), happy (Fanning et al., 2021), and democratic societies (Brand et al., 2021). Capturing the essence of degrowth is difficult because it carries at least three denotations (Parrique, 2019: 171-234): (1) degrowth as decline of environmental pressures; (2) degrowth as emancipation from certain ideologies deemed undesirable, like extractivism, neoliberalism, and consumerism; and (3) degrowth as a utopian destination, a society grounded in autonomy, sufficiency, and care. ...
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Degrowth – the planned and democratic reduction of production and consumption as a solution to the social-ecological crises – is slowly making its way to the sphere of policy-making. But there is a problem: proposals are scattered through a voluminous literature, making it difficult for decision-makers to pinpoint the concrete changes associated with the idea of degrowth. To address this issue, we conducted a systematic mapping of the degrowth literature from 2005 to 2020 using the RepOrting standards for Systematic Evidence Syntheses (ROSES) methodology. Out of a total of 1166 texts (articles, books, book chapters, and student theses) referring to degrowth, we identified 446 that include specific policy proposals. This systematic counting of policies led to a grand total of 530 proposals (50 goals, 100 objectives, 380 instruments), which makes it the most exhaustive degrowth policy agenda ever presented. To render this toolbox more accessible, we divided it into in 13 policy themes – food, culture and education, energy and environment, governance and geopolitics, indicators, inequality, finance, production and consumption, science and technology, tourism, trade, urban planning, and work – systematically making the difference between goals, objectives, and instruments. Following this, we assess the precision, frequency, quality, and diversity of this agenda, reflecting on how the degrowth policy toolbox has been evolving until today.
... Another demand rests with the halting or slowing down of the continued colonization of the atmosphere with increasing greenhouse gas emissions and insufficient shifts where they are most needed. Mitigation within over-developed countries remain fractured and delayed, as degrowth has not taken hold to reduce hyper-consumption, materials throughput, and systemic wastage in many countries of the Global North (Hickel, 2021;Kallis et al., 2020). Instead, there is widespread export of the problem (carbon leakage) and finger-pointing and blame-game, where wealthier colonial and imperial states can export and offshore their emissions, while weaker countries or those with lax environmental regulations, have their emissions go up. ...
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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an assemblage of interwoven goals intended to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030” ( United Nations, 2020 ). The SDGs have been the subject of extensive research and debate, particularly regarding their feasibility and global applicability in our COVID-19 world. This research considered the question of progress toward sustainable development from the perspective of professionals involved in sustainability education and movements across diverse Global South settings. Participants emphasized three key themes: the role of poverty in sustainability efforts and challenges within the Global South, shortcomings of Global North-based notions and strategies of development, and the importance of local knowledge derived from Global South perspectives. The discussion considers more emancipatory possibilities for sustainable and just living.
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This article reviews the theoretical concept of ‘sustainable adaptation’ to climate change and water scarcity using a gender-relations approach by answering the following questions: i) What is a sustainable adaptation to climate change? ii) Based on a literature review, how does gender interact with climate change ad�aptation to water scarcity and droughts in rural India? (iii) How do the concepts of sustainable adaptation, degrowth, and gender relations interact on the ground, pertaining to water justice? The paper argues that climate change adaptation and development goals can harmonize only if they rectify root causes of vulnerabilities. For adaptation ac�tions to yield sustainable outcomes, they need to be embedded in a just degrowth politics that transforms unequal power relations, including gender relations with water. In India, degrowth is about ecological, economic, and social justice that calls for transformation of the economy. This transformation looks into the life�cycle of goods - how goods are produced, composed, assembled, distributed, consumed, and regenerated today; further degrowth strategy explores alternate, just, non-extractive, decolonial, and democratically led trajectories that sustain the web of life. This paper discusses five interrelated principles of sustainable degrowth-based adaptation that center on community-based notions of water and gender justice.
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Political Ecology syllabus for MSc students in geography (or related) - would need two semesters to cover it! Will be updated from time to time. Feel free to use/modify
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Extreme heat under global warming is a concerning issue for the growing tropical population. However, model projections of extreme temperatures, a widely used metric for extreme heat, are uncertain on regional scales. In addition, humidity needs to be taken into account to estimate the health impact of extreme heat. Here we show that an integrated temperature–humidity metric for the health impact of heat, namely, the extreme wet-bulb temperature (TW), is controlled by established atmospheric dynamics and thus can be robustly projected on regional scales. For each 1 °C of tropical mean warming, global climate models project extreme TW (the annual maximum of daily mean or 3-hourly values) to increase roughly uniformly between 20° S and 20° N latitude by about 1 °C. This projection is consistent with theoretical expectation based on tropical atmospheric dynamics, and observations over the past 40 years, which gives confidence to the model projection. For a 1.5 °C warmer world, the probable (66% confidence interval) increase of regional extreme TW is projected to be 1.33–1.49 °C, whereas the uncertainty of projected extreme temperatures is 3.7 times as large. These results suggest that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C will prevent most of the tropics from reaching a TW of 35 °C, the limit of human adaptation. Limiting global warming to 1.5 °C will prevent tropical regions from reaching the limit of human adaptability, according to robust dynamical constraints on projected heat stress.
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Degrowth is a planned reduction of energy and resource use designed to bring the economy back into balance with the living world in a way that reduces inequality and improves human well-being. Over the past few years, the idea has attracted significant attention among academics and social movements, but for people new to the idea it raises a number of questions. Here I set out to clarify three specific issues: (1) I specify what degrowth means, and argue that the framing of degrowth is an asset, not a liability; (2) I explain how degrowth differs fundamentally from a recession; and (3) I affirm that degrowth is primarily focused on high-income nations, and explore the implications of degrowth for the global South.
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It is increasingly clear that averting ecological breakdown will require drastic changes to contemporary human society and the global economy embedded within it. On the other hand, the basic material needs of billions of people across the planet remain unmet. Here, we develop a simple, bottom-up model to estimate a practical minimal threshold for the final energy consumption required to provide decent material livings to the entire global population. We find that global final energy consumption in 2050 could be reduced to the levels of the 1960s, despite a population three times larger. However, such a world requires a massive rollout of advanced technologies across all sectors, as well as radical demand-side changes to reduce consumption – regardless of income – to levels of sufficiency. Sufficiency is, however, far more materially generous in our model than what those opposed to strong reductions in consumption often assume.
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Ecologically unequal exchange theory posits asymmetric net flows of biophysical resources from poorer to richer countries. To date, empirical evidence to support this theoretical notion as a systemic aspect of the global economy is largely lacking. Through environmentally-extended multi-regional input-output modelling, we provide empirical evidence for ecologically unequal exchange as a persistent feature of the global economy from 1990 to 2015. We identify the regions of origin and final consumption for four resource groups: materials, energy, land, and labor. By comparing the monetary exchange value of resources embodied in trade, we find significant international disparities in how resource provision is compensated. Value added per ton of raw material embodied in exports is 11 times higher in high-income countries than in those with the lowest income, and 28 times higher per unit of embodied labor. With the exception of embodied land for China and India, all other world regions serve as net exporters of all types of embodied resources to high-income countries across the 1990-2015 time period. On aggregate, ecologically unequal exchange allows high-income countries to simultaneously appropriate resources and to generate a monetary surplus through international trade. This has far-reaching implications for global sustainability and for the economic growth prospects of nations.
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The notion of green growth has emerged as a dominant policy response to climate change and ecological breakdown. Green growth theory asserts that continued economic expansion is compatible with our planet’s ecology, as technological change and substitution will allow us to absolutely decouple GDP growth from resource use and carbon emissions. This claim is now assumed in national and international policy, including in the Sustainable Development Goals. But empirical evidence on resource use and carbon emissions does not support green growth theory. Examining relevant studies on historical trends and model-based projections, we find that: (1) there is no empirical evidence that absolute decoupling from resource use can be achieved on a global scale against a background of continued economic growth, and (2) absolute decoupling from carbon emissions is highly unlikely to be achieved at a rate rapid enough to prevent global warming over 1.5°C or 2°C, even under optimistic policy conditions. We conclude that green growth is likely to be a misguided objective, and that policymakers need to look toward alternative strategies.
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This article lays out both a critique of the oxymoron ‘sustainable development’, and the potential and nuances of a Post-Development agenda. We present ecological swaraj from India and Degrowth from Europe as two examples of alternatives to development. This gives a hint of the forthcoming book, provisionally titled The Post-Development Dictionary, that is meant to deepen and widen a research, dialogue and action agenda for activists, policymakers and scholars on a variety of worldviews and practices relating to our collective search for an ecologically wise and socially just world. This volume could be one base in the search for alternatives to United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in an attempt to truly transform the world. In fact, it is an agenda towards the pluriverse: ‘a world where many worlds fit’, as the Zapatista say.
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This article proposes that the 'Green Economy' is not an adequate response to the unsustainability and inequity created by 'development' (a western cultural construct), and puts forward alternative socio-environmental futures to (and not of) development. 'Sustainable development' is an oxymoron. Therefore, instead of the 'post-2015 development agenda', we argue in favour of the '2015 post-development agenda'. We discuss Buen Vivir from Latin America, Degrowth from Europe and Ecological Swaraj (or Radical Ecological Democracy) from India. The intention is to outline that there is politics beyond a unilinear future, unsustainable and unjust, consisting primarily of economic growth.