ArticlePDF Available

Degrowth, political acceptability and the Green New Deal



Endless economic growth on a finite planet is impossible. This is the premise behind the degrowth movement. Despite this sound rationale, the degrowth movement has struggled to gain political acceptability. We have sought to understand this limited uptake of degrowth discourse in the English-speaking world by interviewing Canadian activists. Activists have a proximity to the political realm – both with its barriers and openings – that scholars working primarily in academic institutions sometimes lack. Our interviews reveal that class interests – particularly those of fossil fuel companies – are a substantial barrier to realizing degrowth goals. Interviewees highlighted the importance of centring class-conscious environmentalism, ‘anti-purity’ politics, and decolonization as essential parts of a degrowth agenda capable of overcoming these class interests. We conclude by unpacking how the Green New Deal – a discourse and movement that gained considerable traction after we completed our interviews – addresses the obstacles shared by our interviewees, thus making it a promising ‘non-reformist reform’ for the degrowth movement to pursue.
Degrowth, political acceptability and the
Green New Deal
Claire OManique, James K Rowe and Karena Shaw
School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, Canada
We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and
fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!(Greta Thunberg)
Endless economic growth on a finite planet is impossible. This is the premise behind the
degrowth movement. Despite this sound rationale, the degrowth movement has struggled
to gain political acceptability. We have sought to understand this limited uptake of
degrowth discourse in the English-speaking world by interviewing Canadian activists.
Activists have a proximity to the political realm both with its barriers and openings
that scholars working primarily in academic institutions sometimes lack. Our interviews
reveal that class interests particularly those of fossil fuel companies are a substantial
barrier to realizing degrowth goals. Interviewees highlighted the importance of centring
class-conscious environmentalism, anti-puritypolitics, and decolonization as essential
parts of a degrowth agenda capable of overcoming these class interests. We conclude
by unpacking how the Green New Deal a discourse and movement that gained consider-
able traction after we completed our interviews addresses the obstacles shared by our
interviewees, thus making it a promising non-reformist reformfor the degrowth move-
ment to pursue.
Keywords: degrowth, Green New Deal, decolonization, climate change, class-conscious
Degrowth is a social movement and field of research founded on the premise that perpe-
tual economic growth is incompatible with the biophysical limits of our finite planet.
The degrowth movement is an important incubator for vital critiques of economic
growth, such as the one broadcast by Greta Thunberg at the UN Climate Action Summit
in 2019. Its proponents stress that degrowth does not amount to a ready-made system,
but is best conceived as offering a visionary guideline for communities.
This concep-
tion is reflected in the Degrowth Declaration Barcelona (2010), which emerged out of
the 2nd International Degrowth Conference and states: we do not claim to have a
1. Greta Thunberg, HowDareYou?YouhaveStolenMyDreamsandMyChildhood
(Speech at UN Climate Action Summit, 23 September 2019) <
watch?v=TMrtLsQbaok> accessed 16 March 2020.
2. G DAlisa, F Demaria and G Kallis, Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era (Routledge,
Abingdon 2014).
3. T Jackson, New Economyin G DAlisa and others (eds), Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a
New Era (Routledge, Abingdon 2014) 17881.
Journal of Human Rights and the Environment
First published online: April 2021; doi: 10.4337/jhre.2021.0001
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
The Lypiatts, 15 Lansdown Road, Cheltenham, Glos GL50 2JA, UK
and The William Pratt House, 9 Dewey Court, Northampton MA 01060-3815, USA
recipe for the future, but we can no longer pretend that we can keep growing as if noth-
ing has happened the challenge now is how to transform, and the debate has just
Policy ideas that are supported across the degrowth literature include: major shifts in
labour including reduction in overall work hours; a universal basic income; free post-
secondary education; maximum salary caps; reducing advertising; ending subsidies for
polluting industries; strongly enforcing environmental limits such as the global carbon
budget; ending the GDP as a measurement of economic health; and adopting strong
redistributive policies.
Degrowth alternatives draw upon a wide array of pre-existing
and proposed social arrangements such as cooperatives; eco-communes; urban gar-
dens; decentralized renewable energy schemes; community currencies; barter mar-
kets; and public health, including elder and child care.
To date, most degrowth scholarship has focused on building the normative case for
the necessity of reducing economic throughput, especially in the Global North.
is, however, a gap in the degrowth literature regarding how to popularize a concept
that is yet to enter the mainstream discourse in any kind of sustained way (Thunbergs
highly public critique of growth was an exceptional case). Degrowth debate is suffer-
ing, writes Maria Joutsenvirta, from a wide gap that exists between its radical, nor-
mative, ideas and analysis about how to bring these ideas from outside the cultural
norm into mainstream thinking and practices.
More recently, at the 2018 Malmö
Conference on Degrowth, participants observed a gap in the degrowth discourse
around the question of how to move towards a degrowth society.
The degrowth movement is marginal across the G-7, the group of national econo-
mies primarily responsible for climate change and most needing contraction in order
to avoid causing further ecological damage.
Greater inroads have been made in parts
of Western Europe, namely France and Spain, where degrowth discourse is prominent
among progressives, even if it has not fully entered the political mainstream.
4. Degrowth Declaration Barcelona (March 2010) <
uploads/2015/05/Degrowth_Declaration_Barcelona_2010.pdf> accessed 16 March 2020.
5. G Kallis, In Defense of Degrowth(2011) 70(5) Ecological Economics 87380;
D Raventós, Basic Income: The Material Conditions of Freedom (Pluto Press, London 2007).
6. N Videira and others, Improving Understanding on Degrowth Pathways: An Exploratory
Study Using Collaborative Causal Models(2014) 55 Futures 5877.
7. M Koch and others, Shifting Priorities in Degrowth Research: An Argument for the Cen-
trality of Human Needs(2017) 138 Ecological Economics 7481.
8. M Joutsenvirta, A Practice Approach to the Institutionalization of Economic Degrowth
(2016) 128 Ecological Economics 23; H Buch-Hansen, The Prerequisites for a Degrowth Paradigm
Shift: Insights from Critical Political Economy(2018) 146 Ecological Economics 15763;
S Schindler, Detroit after Bankruptcy: A Case of Degrowth Machine Politics(2016) 53(4)
Urban Studies 823.
9. J Herbert and others, Beyond Visions and Projects: The Need for a Debate on Strategy in
the Degrowth Movement(, 3 October 2018) <
movement/> accessed 16 March 2020.
10. H Buch-Hansen, Capitalist Diversity and De-Growth Trajectories to Steady-State Econo-
mies(2014) 106 Ecological Economics 15763.
11. L Sicuro, Differences and Similarities between Degrowth Movements in Italy and
France: A Comparison Between their Ideas on the European Union(2016) European Environ-
ments: How a New Climate is Changing the Old World 96; G DAlisa and G Kallis, Degrowth
and the State(2020) 169 Ecological Economics 106486.
Degrowth, political acceptability and the Green New Deal 255
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
The English-speaking countries in the world or what Naomi Klein calls the
Anglosphere’–have been particularly unwelcoming of degrowth discourse.
Our analysis is focused on English-speaking Canada, where an organized
degrowth movement is barely visible, despite efforts to build one. The central ques-
tion guiding our analysis is: Under what conditions might degrowth garner more poli-
tical support in the Anglosphere? While some of the lessons we share below are
specific to the Canadian context, many are potentially transferable to other regions
in the Anglosphere, particularly the United States and Australia. These three countries
share (although by no means exclusively) some political, cultural and economic simi-
larities, including substantial fossil fuel industries, legacies of settler colonialism,
increasing concentrations of wealth and consequent inequality, and patterns of
media ownership each of which shapes the landscape of possibility for social
Because there is a general gap in the degrowth literature on the question of political
acceptability, and because little has been written about specific barriers to degrowth in
North America, we chose to interview Canadian activists who have a proximity to the
political realm both with its barriers and openings that scholars working primarily
in academic institutions sometimes lack. If degrowth is to effectively move from a
normative case to concrete transition, then activist knowledge is likely to play a cru-
cial role in mapping pathways to acceptability. This is not to deny the importance of
scholarly research, however. Indeed, throughout this analysis we seek to integrate our
interview findings with critical political economy literatures that speak to the accept-
ability gap facing degrowth, drawing in particular on the work of André Gorz, David
Harvey, Nicole Aschoff and Matthew Huber. What binds these authors together is a
particular focus on the role of specific class interests such as the owners of fossil
capital in blocking anti-capitalist transformation. We engage these authors (who
stand outside the degrowth literature) because their work complements what we
heard from activists on the ground.
The two primary questions we asked our interviewees were:
(1) What barriers exist to advancing a degrowth agenda in Canada?
(2) What are the best pathways for overcoming these barriers to degrowth?
In response to our first research question the most common barrier named by activists
was neoliberalism. This barrier is addressed in the existing degrowth literature and is
thus not a novel finding.
The next most common barrier named, however, is one that
has received scant attention from within the degrowth movement: the concentrated
political power of a particular fraction of capital, namely the owners of fossil fuel
companies. Findings from our interviews help to clarify how these specific class inter-
ests are a significant barrier to even opening the conversation about degrowth in the
Anglosphere and beyond.
In response to our second question, organizers highlighted the importance of cul-
tivating a more class-conscious environmentalism. For our interviewees, this meant
targeting the class interests aligned against degrowth, but also better addressing
aspirations of working-class individuals and groups who have not historically been
12. N Klein, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for the Green New Deal (Simon and Schuster, New
York 2019).
13. Buch-Hansen (n 8) 15763; M Markantonatou (Kolleg Postwachstumsgesellschaften 2013)
Working Paper, retrieved from <
WorkingPaper/wp5_2013.pdf> accessed 16 March 2020.
256 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 12 No. 2
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
well-represented by mainstream environmentalism.
One reason that the political
right has been historically successful at deploying the zero-sum framing of jobs
vs. the environmentis that mainstream environmentalism has not adequately
addressed the question of livelihood.
To support the emergence of a more class-
conscious environmentalism in general, and a degrowth movement in particular,
our interviewees recommended an anti-purityapproach to politics.
An anti-purity environmentalism recognizes our complex entanglements withthe very
systems we are seeking to transform (such as growth-based capitalism), and sees trans-
formative change as a process that moves through these systems rather than trying to
escape them with often individualized pursuits of lifestyle purism.
An anti-purity envir-
onmentalism also recognizes the power of systems to shape peoples consciousness and
does not rush to condemn others for holding different views. Practically, this approach
means remaining open to possible allies who do not currently hold ones exact political
commitments, such as and including the pursuit of degrowth.
The final major recommendation made by our interviewees emphasized the impor-
tance of making degrowth explicitly anti-colonial. While decolonial perspectives exist
in the current degrowth literature,
such an integration between decolonial and
degrowth strategies remains an understudied possibility, particularly in settler-colonial
contexts such as Canada and the United States.
There are, however, tensions between
pursuing an anti-colonial and a class-conscious degrowth movement in settler-colonial
contexts where decolonization might mean a return of lands and/or a reshaping of
power relations in ways that a settler majority might be resistant to.
A year after completing our interviews in 2018, a movement emerged in the United
States and Canada that has begun to address all of the recommendations made by our
interviewees, while showing promise for reconciling the tension between decoloniza-
tion and majoritarian support for degrowth in settler-colonial contexts: the movement
for a Green New Deal (GND). Indeed, a number of the activists we interviewed are
14. R White, Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Livingin William Cronon
(ed), Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature (WW Norton & Company, New York
15. M Huber, Five Principles of a Socialist Climate PoliticsThe Trouble (16 August 2018)
accessed 17 March 2020.
16. A Shotwell, Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times (University of
Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 2016).
17. C Dengler and L Seebacher, What about the Global South? Towards a Feminist Decolo-
nial Degrowth Approach(2019) 157 Ecological Economics 246; P Nirmal and D Rocheleau,
Decolonizing Degrowth in the Post-Development Convergence: Questions, Experiences, and
Proposals from Two Indigenous Territories(2019) 2(3) Environment and Planning E: Nature
and Space 465.
18. K Frost, First Nations Sovereignty, Environmental Justice, and Degrowth in Northwest BC,
Canada(2019) 162 Ecological Economics 133; P Perkins, Climate Justice, Commons &
Degrowth(2019) 160 Ecological Economics 183; J Tyberg, Unlearning: From Degrowth to Deco-
lonization (Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung, 2020) <>
accessed 17 June 2020.
Degrowth, political acceptability and the Green New Deal 257
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
now working towards the achievement of a GND. The GND is an umbrella term for a
public investment strategy that seeks to mitigate climate change by transitioning
economies off reliance upon fossil fuels and onto renewable energy sources.
Crucially, the GND is not solely an environmental proposal but is also meant to
ensure a socially just transition that guarantees good jobs for displaced workers
while addressing longstanding colonial and racial injustices.
The GND does not
explicitly seek to upend capitalism or to target the dangers of ongoing economic
growth, however, and thus remains in some tension with degrowth. Instead, the
GND potentially offers a transitional approach that could help set the socio-political
conditions for a deeper transformation.
COVID-19 struck as we were submitting our first draft of this analysis. Since then, the
movement for a GND has begun using the language of Just Recoveryin Canada, and
has gained additional exposure because there is growing agreement that significant eco-
nomic stimulus will be required in order to avoid prolonged economic depression.
While the pandemic context may have opened up political space for the GND, it has
created some challenges for degrowth. Indeed, critics have used the lockdowns resulting
from the pandemic to demonstrate the dangers of rapid economic contraction.
Degrowth advocates have pushed back against these framings, noting how degrowth
names a carefully planned contraction, not a rapid and painful one such as that recently
experienced by so many in North America.
These pandemic-instigated debates have
helped to clarify the distance that degrowth still needs to cover in order to achieve poli-
tical acceptability. At the same time, responses to the COVID-19 crisis reveal growing
room for a transitional programme such as the GND. The GND appears potentially well
suited to serve as a non-reformist reformon the path towards the political acceptability
of degrowth.
A longstanding challenge for anti-capitalist theories of transition has been to
articulate the relationship between reforms and system transformation. In 1967,
French philosopher André Gorz introduced the concept of non-reformist reforms
to help fellow anti-capitalists think through the process of transition.
For Gorz,
19. M MacArthur and others, Canadas Green New Deal: Forging the Socio-Political Foun-
dations of Climate Resilient Infrastructure?(2020) 65 Energy Research & Social Science
20. A Germanos, Nearly 200 Groups in Canada Vow to Fight for Covid-19 Recovery that
Puts Human and Ecological Health FirstCommon Dreams (25 May 2020) <https://www.
puts-human-and-ecological> accessed 6 June 2020; C Kilian, When Economic Depression Fol-
lows Pandemic, No Time to WasteThe Tyee (16 April 2020) <
04/16/Economic-Recession-Follows-Pandemic/> accessed 6 June 2020.
21. L Seaton, In the Midst of an Economic Crisis, Can DegrowthProvide an Answer?The
Guardian (24 April 2020) <
crisis-degrowth-green-new-deal> accessed 6 June 2020; B McAleenan, The Coronavirus Crisis
Reveals the Misery of Degrowth”’ The Spectator (27 March 2020) <
uk/article/the-coronavirus-crisis-reveals-the-misery-of-degrowth-> accessed 6 June 2020.
22. S Alexander, Is the Economic Shutdown what Degrowth Advocates have been Calling For?
Resilience (24 March 2020) <
shut-down-what-degrowth-advocates-have-been-calling-for/> accessed 6 June 2020; G Kallis
and others, The Case for Degrowth in a Time of PandemicOpen Democracy (14 May 2020)
<> accessed
6 June 2020.
23. A Gorz, A Strategy for Labour (Beacon Press, Boston 1967).
258 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 12 No. 2
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
non-reformist reform entails change that, instead of placating concerns and maintain-
ing the system, creates the conditions for deeper transformation. As Gorz himself has
acknowledged, distinguishing between a system-maintaining reform and a system-
changing one is not always straightforward.
He was critical of fellow anti-capitalists
for dismissing possible reforms for their lack of apparent radicalism. For him, this
dismissal overlooked the processual nature of how support for radical demands are
constructed in and through the struggle for plausible objectives corresponding to
the experience, needs, and aspirations of the workers.
What starts out as a see-
mingly mild agenda for reform, in other words, can gain momentum to enable deeper
transformation. The key for Gorz is that non-reformist reforms need to significantly
disrupt the status quo while building capacity for those further transformations by giv-
ing social movements experience in building their ranks and winning demands. Based
on our interviews, we think the GND has the potential to be a non-reformist reform
that can open up political space for degrowth in the Anglosphere.
Below, in section 3, we further unpack our movement-relevantmethodology. In
sections4and5weturntoourinterviewfindings on the barriers to degrowth in
Canada and possible pathways towards its political acceptability. In section 6 we
explore the ways in which the GND could become a compelling non-reformist
reformfor the degrowth movement. Specifically, we examine how the GND builds
popular support by emphasizing working-class job creation support capable of
challenging the elite class interests opposed to degrowth. Likewise, we examine
how the GND can potentially address calls for a decolonial environmentalism,
although tensions remain between efforts to build majoritarian support and the
decolonial imperative in settler-colonial contexts such as Canada. Before turning
to our conclusion, we will explore how these ongoing tensions are being addressed
by advocates for the GND.
Our project was designed to produce movement-relevantresearch.
For Richard
Flacks, movement relevance means producing useable knowledge for those seeking
social change.
Bevington and Dixon, who draw from Flacks, argue that particular
research strategies can increase the potential that ones work will be relevant for social
change practitioners.
The primary principle that Bevington and Dixon highlight is
direct engagement with the movements and activists in question. They argue that
Scholars who rely too heavily on secondary sources are not contributing new infor-
mation and more often simply perpetuate limited or outdated analyses.
By conduct-
ing interviews with activists and putting their knowledge into conversation with
literature on critical political economy, we have sought to make this research relevant
to the degrowth movement.
24. ibid 7.
25. ibid 121.
26. R Flacks, Knowledge for What? Thoughts on the State of Social Movement Studies
(2004) Rethinking Social Movements: Structure, Meaning, and Emotion 13554.
27. ibid 138.
28. D Bevington and C Dixon, Movement-Relevant Theory: Rethinking Social Movement
Scholarship and Activism(2005) 4(3) Social Movement Studies 185208.
29. ibid 199.
Degrowth, political acceptability and the Green New Deal 259
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
There is not currently a robust degrowth movement in North America. At the time
of our research we found just two organizations in Canada specifically using the lan-
guage of degrowth. As such, we chose to engage interviewees drawn from a broad
spectrum of environmental organizations, that is, those who explicitly use the term
degrowth; those whose values align with degrowth, but who operate outside of the
discourse of degrowth; and those whose values and activities do not align with
degrowth. Our objective was to cast a wide net in order to gain a broad understanding
of the environmental organizing landscape in Canada, and to examine the state of
debate about transitions and alternative economics within this movement. Our analy-
sis was also undertaken to investigate why certain actors and organizations might be
hesitant to embrace degrowth.
Participant recruitment was initially carried out over email after composing a list of
environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) and grassroots organiza-
tions that, based on their online presence, met the above-mentioned parameters.
Snowball sampling increased our recruitment of interviewees. In total, we reached
out to 26 organizations or individuals and conducted semi-structured interviews
with 14 people from across Canada working in different capacities to build and to
advocate for alternative economic systems in order to address the ecological crisis.
The interviewees come from across Canada, including three from Ontario, two from
Saskatchewan, one from Nova Scotia, one from Quebec, and seven from British
Columbia (see the Appendix for the list of research participants).
It is important to note that the majority of interviewees were white men. This is
reflective of the ENGO landscape, and particularly of the degrowth movement,
which has historically been a predominantly white organizing space.
The environ-
mental movements whiteness is, of course, another limitation upon broadening the
appeal of degrowth in the Anglosphere. Unsurprisingly, the issue of racial justice
was primarily raised by the activists of colour we spoke to. However, some white acti-
vists also spoke about the whiteness within their organization as a barrier to building
the sorts of broad-based, justice movements they feel are necessary. Partly reflective
of the Canadian organizing space, where Indigeneity is centred in discussions of race,
our interviewees (both white and racialized) regularly addressed the importance of
decolonization. But the enduring whiteness of North American environmentalism
remains its own distinct barrier for the degrowth movement, one requiring more
30. The research protocol was reviewed and approved by the Human Research Ethics Board
at the University of Victoria (protocol 17-315).
31. C Teelucksingh, Diverse Environmentalism and Inclusivity in Torontos Green Econ-
omy(2019) 5(1) Environmental Sociology 47; H Gibson-Woodand and S Wakefield, ‘“Parti-
cipation, White Privilege and Environmental Justice: Understanding Environmentalism among
Hispanics in Toronto(2013) 45(3) Antipode 641; J Curnow and A Helferty, Contradictions of
Solidarity: Whiteness, Settler Coloniality, and the Mainstream Environmental Movement
(2018) 9(1) Environment and Society 145.
32. It is noteworthy, however, that prominent environmental leaders of colour have been cen-
tral to the pursuit of the Green New Deal in the United States (Varshini Prakash and Alexandria
Ocasio-Cortez) and in Canada (Matthew Green and Nayeli Jimenez). The racial justice and
decolonization lenses used by the movement for a Green New Deal is another reason why
we think it is a particularly powerful pathway to wider acceptability for the majority white
degrowth movement.
260 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 12 No. 2
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
There was a general consensus among interview participants that the degrowth move-
ment has had minimal influence, not only on policy and institutions in Canada, but on
environmental organizing. Many respondents spoke of the difficulties they experience
in trying to advance a degrowth perspective, with some participants or their organiza-
tions deciding not to embrace degrowth because it was not considered a politically
acceptable position to take. These respondents expressed a concern that the discourse
of degrowth would not resonate with key stakeholders, and that this might impede
meaningful action on the ground.
As noted above, the degrowth literature has generally overlooked the question of
operationalization. Likewise, there is little available analysis of the specific barriers
faced by the degrowth movement. Recent scholarship, however, has explicitly
named capitalism as a fundamental barrier.
Indeed, a survey conducted by Matthias
Schmelzer and Dennis Eversberg of attendees at the 2014 International Degrowth
Conference in Leipzig found that participants were united by a consensual support
for universalist, feminist, grassroots, democratic and anti-capitalist ideas.
scholarship clarifies how degrowth is antithetical to the specific form of neoliberal
capitalism that has become globally hegemonic.
This clarification is promising,
but moving beyond neoliberal capitalism towards alternative economies requires an
articulation of the specific barriers that such a transformation faces.
The barriers to the political acceptability of degrowth that were named by our inter-
viewees included: neoliberalism, capitalism, the power of the fossil fuel industry, the
consolidation of corporate power more generally, growing social inequality and inse-
curity, and the sheer complexity of the issues that degrowth seeks to address. The
most common barrier identified by the activists we spoke to was neoliberalism.
This is not a surprising finding, and one that is reflected in the existing degrowth lit-
erature. The next most common barrier named, however, is one that has received lim-
ited attention from within the degrowth movement and discourse: the concentrated
power of a particular group of capitalist actors, namely the owners of fossil fuel com-
panies. These two barriers have arguably worked together to frustrate conversations
about the limits of economic growth in fossil fuel producing regions such as Canada
and the United States, since neoliberal policies have had the effect of redistributing
wealth and power upwards to owners of capital who fiercely resist threats to their
33. G Kallis and H March, Imaginaries of Hope: The Utopianism of Degrowth(2015) 105(2)
Annals of the Association of American Geographers 36068; S Paulson, Degrowth: Culture,
Power and Change(2017) 24(1) Journal of Political Ecology 42548; C Bauhardt, Solutions
to the Crisis? The Green New Deal, Degrowth, and the Solidarity Economy: Alternatives to the
Capitalist Growth Economy from an Ecofeminist Economics Perspective(2014) 102 Ecological
Economics 6068; K Klitgaard, Heterodox Political Economy and the Degrowth Perspective
(2013) 5(1) Sustainability 27697.
34. M Schmelzer and D Eversberg, Beyond Growth, Capitalism, and Industrialism? Consen-
sus, Divisions and Currents within the Emerging Movement for Sustainable Degrowth(2017)
9(1) Interface: A Journal on Social Movements 327.
35. Buch-Hansen (n 8) 15763; Markantonatou (n 13).
36. D Faber, Global Capitalism, Reactionary Neoliberalism, and the Deepening of Environ-
mental Injustices(2018) 29(2) Capitalism Nature Socialism 828.
Degrowth, political acceptability and the Green New Deal 261
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
Below we place our interviewee accounts of these two primary barriers into conversa-
tion with authors from critical political economy: David Harvey and Nicole Aschoff.The
reason we mobilize Harvey and Aschoff who are not degrowth scholars is that their
work focuses on the role of specific class interests in blocking anti-capitalist transforma-
tion, and this focus resonates with what we heard from our interviewees.
For David Harvey, neoliberalism is best understood to be a class project [m]asked
by a lot of rhetoric about individual freedom, liberty, personal responsibility and the
virtues of privatization, the free market, and free trade’–as he puts it in The Enigma
of Capital.
[Neoliberalism] legitimised draconian policies designed to restore and
consolidate capitalist class power.
A similar view was shared with us by intervie-
wee Guy Dauncey, who noted that: the whole neoliberal agenda is actually simply a
smoke screen for wealthier people to get wealthier.
Data supports Harvey and
Daunceys view. In Canada, a consequence of the embrace of neoliberal policies is
that today the two wealthiest Canadians have the same combined wealth as the poor-
est 30% of Canadians.
Over the past 20 years, the richest income earners in Canada
(the top quintile) have been the only group to see their share of national income
increase, while all other quintiles have seen their share diminish.
This gives a
small handful of elites not only in Canada, but globally unprecedented power
over political and economic institutions.
How does this accumulation and disparity
impact the possibilities and potential for degrowth?
Today, it is the ideas and narratives produced by economic elites that primarily
shape the terms of political debate.
As author Nicole Aschoff observes about global
elites, they promote market-based solutions to the problems of corporate power, tech-
nology, gender divides, environmental degradation, alienation and inequality. Their
visions carry within them a systemic and coherent meaning that seems possible,
safe, and achievable within capitalism.
There are thus very powerful figures direct-
ing the global economy and its adherence to growth ideology. For the capitalist class,
any move to degrowth threatens their ability to generate profit, thus undermining their
power. So, while the majority of people could benefit from the sorts of proposals that
degrowth offers, those who hold positions of power would not, and so they resist eco-
nomic transformation fiercely.
37. D Harvey, The Enigma of Capital: And the Crisis of Capitalism (Oxford University Press,
Oxford 2010) 10.
38. ibid.
39. Interview with Guy Dauncey, climate activist and author (Victoria Canada, 23 February
40. The CBC, 2 Richest Canadians Have More Money than 11 Million Combined(15 January
2017) <>
accessed 18 April 2019.
41. L Osberg, The Age of Increasing Inequality: The Astonishing Rise of Canadas1%(James
Lorimer & Company, Toronto 2018).
42. D Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2010).
43. N Aschoff, The New Prophets of Capital (Verso Books, New York 2015); T Wanner,
The New Passive Revolutionof the Green Economy and Growth Discourse: Maintaining
the Sustainable Developmentof Neoliberal Capitalism(2015) 20 New Political Economy
44. Aschoff (n 43) 8.
45. See Buch-Hansen (n 8); W Boonstra and S Joosse, The Social Dynamics of Degrowth
(2013) 22(2) Environmental Values 17189.
262 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 12 No. 2
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
A number of interviewees singled out the role of fossil capital in blocking needed
climate action, let alone degrowth. The power and recalcitrance of fossil capital is a
major challenge across the Anglosphere. The United States is the worlds largest oil
producer; Canada is the fourth largest producer (Saudi Arabia and Russia round out
the top four);
and Australia is the worlds largest coal exporter and increasingly a
major player in the export of liquefied fracked gas.
As Jody Chan from The Leap
told us about fossil fuel companies in Canada: The regulator and the whole govern-
ment has been totally captured by the industry at all levels, making it hard to affect
needed change.
The interests of this powerful industry are not only reflected in
governmental decision-making but are also now embedded in popular common
sense. Speaking about the context in Saskatchewan, an oil-producing province in
Canada, Rachel Malena-Chan told us: Industry is totally woven into social and cul-
tural life as well as political and economic life, so you are kind of painted as an enemy
of the people if you oppose or critique these industries.
Given the dominance of neoliberalism and fossil capital in Canadian politics, it comes
as little surprise that degrowth remains politically marginal. The terms of political debate
and public opinion have been too constricted by powerful interests to allow for
degrowths breakthrough into the mainstream.
Some interviewees shared stories of
trying to raise the question of economic growth with progressive politicians and
being told that while the politicians understood the activistsposition and arguments,
such debates were not perceived as politically viable in the current moment: In
terms of talking with politicians, said Mark Bigland-Pritchard, even the sympathetic
ones are saying we cant talk about growth.
Similarly, Bill Rees shared with us:
A colleague of mine and I wrote a manifesto for degrowth and limits to growth with exam-
ples from the UK and Europe, which we have distributed to select members of Parliament.
We have tried to get a Parliamentary Discussion underway in Ottawa, but honestly, we were
told point blank by members of the Liberal Party that the party caucus is utterly committed
to the growth ethic, and that there is no way that we could get a discussion going about
46. Investopedia, The Worlds Top Oil Producers of 2019(Investopedia, 22 April 2020)
<> accessed 15 June 2020.
47. S Mufson, Australia Leads the World in Liquified Natural Gas ProductionThe Washington
Post (Washington DC, 11 February 2020) <
11ea-9313-6cba89b1b9fb_story.html> accessed 15 June 2020.
48. Interview with Jody Chan, Organizing Coordinator, The Leap (Online from Victoria
Canada, 11 January 2018); see also N Graham, WK Carroll and D Chen, Big Oils Political
Reach: Mapping Fossil Fuel Lobbying from Harper to Trudeau(CCPA, Vancouver
5 November 2019).
49. Interview with Rachel Malena-Chan, Climate Justice Saskatoon (Online from Victoria
Canada, 22 February 2018); see also S Enoch and E Eaton, A Prairie Patchwork: Reliance
on Oil Industry Philanthropy in Saskatchewan Boom Towns(CCPA, Vancouver 28 May
2018); S Enoch and E Eaton, Crude Lessons: Fossil Fuel Industry Influence on Environmental
Education in Saskatchewan(CCPA, Vancouver 5 December 2019).
50. The regime of obstructionblocking progress on climate action in Canada is led by the
fossil fuel industry but also includes associated industries, particularly Canadian banks which
play a central role by financing oil and gas exploration through both loans and equity stakes.
See WK Carroll, Regime of Obstruction: How Corporate Power Blocks Energy Democracy
(AU Press, Edmonton 2020).
51. Interview with Mark Bigland-Pritchard, Climate Justice Saskatoon (Online from Victoria
Canada, 22 February 2018).
Degrowth, political acceptability and the Green New Deal 263
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
degrowth within the government. Also, there seems to be no support for an all-party com-
mittee or task force on the steady state, or degrowth, in Canada, certainly not at present.
The politico-economic landscape in the Anglosphere remains animated by neoliberal
logics that work to support ongoing economic growth, which accrues primarily to eco-
nomic elites.
In the Canadian context the embrace of neoliberalism combined with
the political dominance of fossil fuel companies, which are the most active lobbyists
in the country, presents specific challenges for degrowth.
An important take-away
from our interviews, and from critical political economy scholars such as Harvey, is
the need for greater attention within the degrowth movement to how particular class
interests are a massive barrier to realizing degrowth goals. Having an oppositional
stance to capitalism is an important first step. But to effect economic change it is impor-
tant to target the specific class interests arrayed against such a transformation.
In response to our second research question –‘what are the best pathways for over-
coming these barriers to degrowth?’–our interviewees identified key priorities and
strategies for expanding the political viability of degrowth. These included: raising
class consciousness and economic literacy; rejecting a politics of purity; ensuring
that degrowth is a decolonial project; pursuing counter-hegemonic movement build-
ing; and employing multiple communicative frames and entry-points. Combining
these suggestions together, we hear our interviewees advocating for a class-conscious,
anti-purity, and decolonial environmentalism.
The degrowth movement is engaged in a battle of ideas to replace those currently
animated by neoliberal capitalism. This struggle is taking place in a highly uneven poli-
tical landscape, where the consequences of forty years of neoliberalization have given
rise to the massive concentrations of power and wealth that limit the prospects of suc-
cess for left-wing social movements. These conditions are why our interviewees argue
that degrowth should become more explicit about the specific class interests blocking
economic transformation, advancing what we are calling a class-conscious environ-
mentalism. This strategy has two meanings. One emphasizes the need to heighten
awareness of class-based opposition to degrowth and to specifically target that opposi-
tion. The second emphasizes the need to craft policies that appeal to the multi-racial
working class: only with broad working-class support can the concentrated power of
economic elites opposed to degrowth be effectively opposed. Speaking to the first
meaning of class-conscious environmentalism, Harjap Grewal shared with us:
In the climate movement we dont often question who is in the room, and that a certain class
of people actually benefit from maintaining the economic order. But if you add a class ana-
lysis to this the conversation becomes clear, because how do you get somebody with ruling
class interests to say that a corporate capitalist solution is not viable? And so, I think a
52. Interview with William Rees, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia, Direc-
tor, One Earth Institute (Online from Victoria Canada, 30 March 2018).
53. T Di Muzio, The 1% and the Rest of Us: A Political Economy of Dominant Ownership
(Zed Books Ltd, London 2015).
54. Graham, Carroll and Chen (n 48).
264 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 12 No. 2
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
concern that myself and others have been grappling with is that there has been an erosion of
class consciousness which otherwise would inform these debates much more clearly.
Grewal went on: There needs to be a raising of a class analysis [because] that con-
sciousness allows people to recognize the different interests shaping decision-
Grewals position pushes back against a mainstream environmentalism that has
historically been too focused on individual actions such as replacing light bulbs, driv-
ing less, and changing diets.
These actions matter, but focusing primarily on life-
style changes assumes that we all hold equal blame for environmental problems,
which is untrue. For example, the 100 largest oil companies are responsible for
approximately 71 per cent of all climate changing emissions.
Presenting climate
change as an everybody problemfeeds neoliberal climate policies such as the Cana-
dian Liberal Partys national carbon tax, which taxes ordinary Canadians, but offers
big exemptions to the fossil fuel industry itself.
Neoliberal climate policy is unpop-
ular in Canada in part because it protects elites while blaming and taxing regular
According to Grewal, we need an environmentalism in general, and a degrowth
movement in particular, that targets the primary culprits while making life easier,
not harder, for regular citizens. This would help build a degrowth movement that
appeals to multi-racial working-class interests an appeal which is crucial to building
the grassroots power capable of overcoming the concentrated political and economic
power of the owning class. The necessity for this shift is increasingly apparent:
according to the author Matthew Huber, mainstream environmentalismsentire poli-
tical strategy on climate change as it exists now does not appeal to working class con-
He continues:
On the one hand, many climate policies are largely technocraticfixes that aim to tweak
market incentives in ways opaque to working class sensibilities. Try explaining a cap
and tradesystem to your average person (I have a hard enough time teaching this material).
More problematically, one could argue climate policies often appear antagonistic to strug-
gling workers. Taxes, fees, and internalizing costsare the language of the policies. If any-
one in the climate debate appears to be advocating for working people it is the right who
often claim climate policies will costeveryday people dearly.
55. Interview with Harjap Grewal, Council of Canadians (Online from Victoria, Canada,
7 February 2018).
56. ibid.
57. A Szaz, Shopping Our Way to Safety: How We Changed from Protecting the Environment
to Protecting Ourselves (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 2009); M Huber, Ecolo-
gical Politics for the Working Class(2019) 3(1) Catalyst.
58. P Griffin, The Carbon Majors Database: CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017(17 July
2017) <> accessed
5 June 2020.
59. J Wilt, The Leftists Case Against the Carbon TaxBriarpatch (20 December 2018)
accessed 12 February 2020.
60. ibid; Huber (n 57).
61. Huber (n 15).
62. ibid.
Degrowth, political acceptability and the Green New Deal 265
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
As Huber notes, the political right has historically been successful at positioning
themselves as defenders of working-class lifestyles, particularly of their jobs, in the
face of environmentalist pressure for reform. Both Grewal and Huber point to how
the degrowth movement needs to better position itself as champions not only of eco-
logical but also of economic betterment for working people left behind by neoliber-
alisms upward redistribution of wealth.
Taking class more seriously has considerable potential to help broaden support for
degrowth. So does meeting people where they are, which means not being condem-
natory when potential allies do not express the same values as the degrowth move-
ment. This concern was shared by Jody Chan from Leap, who asked:
How do we communicate these ideas about capitalism, and racial justice, and intersection-
ality, but communicate in a way that is inviting people to join the movement and not have it
be a barrier of entry to have a certain amount of ideological purity? How can we bring peo-
ple in who are at different points in their journey of learning about these concepts? And its
challenging, because I think there is tendency within movements to signal how radical your
politics are by using all the right words, and listing all the right things every time, but actu-
ally that can be detrimental to communicating, and clarity, and storytelling.
Chan is advocating an anti-purity environmentalism. This was a consistent theme in
our interviews, particularly with those working to pursue change directly, on the
ground, making an anti-purity approach one of the primary pathways recommended
for the degrowth movement. An anti-purity politics has multiple applications, includ-
ing the accessible communications and pedagogic generosity encouraged by Chan.
It also involves acknowledging the complex and contradictory entanglements that we
negotiate as subjects of neoliberal capitalism. Rather than rejecting certain actions or
actors outright as not being radical enough, the goal should be finding strategies in the
present that materially improve peoples lives while setting conditions for deeper
transformations in the future. Chelsea Fougère of Solidarity Halifax spoke to us
about moving beyond a reform/radical binary that can divide movements:
I am pretty much game for using whatever tools are in the arsenal. Ultimately, I want to see revo-
lution, but in the meantime, I am not against reform if that is going to make things better.
Because you know we might not get the revolution tomorrow, but if people can get a liveable
wage tomorrow, then great. So, I want to see big change, but that doesnt mean that I amgoing to
get in anybodys way if they are going to try to do more immediate changes.
Social movements tend to be more successful when they are open to the different con-
tributions that both their incremental and radical wings make.
Moreover, publics can
be alienated by radical visions that are too abstracted from the material realities of
their lived experience and conditions. Indeed, Fougère commented to us how anti-
capitalist politics is often so theoretical and academic and can be frustrating and alie-
nating to the people that they are supposed to be mobilizing.
The very critique of
growth that is integral to the degrowth movement has the potential to alienate
63. Chan (n 48).
64. Shotwell (n 16).
65. Interview with Chelsea Fougère, Solidarity Halifax (Online from Victoria Canada,
13 March 2018).
66. JK Rowe and M Carroll, Reform or Radicalism: Left Social Movements from the Battle
of Seattle to Occupy Wall Street(2014) 36(2) New Political Science 14971.
67. Fougère (n 65).
266 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 12 No. 2
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
supporters worried about what limits to growth might mean for job prospects and
material well-being. The movement need not abandon its core mission of fundamental
economic transformation, but it will be better able to build broad support if it is open
to strategies that operate within the growth paradigm while pushing towards deeper
transformation. This acknowledgement of the constraints that political economic con-
text places on organizing is central to an anti-purity environmentalism.
The final core pathway for degrowth that emerged from our interviews is the
importance of reckoning with colonial history in the Anglosphere. While decolonial
perspectives exist in the current degrowth literature,
the integration of decolonial
and degrowth perspectives remains an understudied challenge, particularly in
settler-colonial contexts such as Canada and the United States.
Many of our inter-
viewees noted the critical role that Indigenous resurgence is having in reshaping and
transforming the political landscape in Canada. Devlin Fernandes of Ecotrust Canada,
for example, stated that Indigenous communities, and in particular Indigenous youth,
are going to be such an asset in the transformation of our country and bringing ideas,
and political power and energy and voice to some of these issues.
Likewise, Rachel
Malena-Chan noted that Where I am most energized in my work is learning more
about Indigenous ways of knowing and more about reciprocity with the environment,
because it is the big picture repositioning of what people are, the role that human
agents play in the planets systems and in our relationships.
Indigenous-led movements bring to the fore the ways that economic growth and
capitalist expansion in Canada continue to require the dispossession of the land and
lifeways of Indigenous communities.
With 17 per cent of CanadasGDPcoming
from natural resources in 2017 (representing 47 per cent of the total value of Canadas
merchandise export),
the growth imperatives of capitalism in Canada continue to
involve the exploitation of Indigenous lands, despite Indigenous and settler resis-
Degrowth has helped to challenge narratives that associate growth with pro-
gress and development. However, there remains a need to foreground the violence
that the pursuit of, and attachment to, economic growth has had and continues to
have on Indigenous communities. This attentiveness will transform the objectives
and proposals of degrowth to include supporting Indigenous sovereignty, rights and
title to land, while resisting ongoing colonial structures as fundamental components
of degrowth in Canada and in the broader Anglosphere. Despite the fact that decolo-
nial perspectives have appeared in the degrowth literature, it is common for degrowth
68. Dengler and Seebacher (n 17) 246; Nirmal and Rocheleau (n 17) 465.
69. Frost (n 18) 133; Perkins (n 18) 183; Tyberg (n 18).
70. Interview with Devlin Fernandes, Senior Manager, Ecotrust (Online from Victoria
Canada, 25 January 2018).
71. Malena-Chan (n 49).
72. G Coulthard, For Our Nations to Live, Capitalism Must DieUnsettling America
(5 November 2013) <
live-capitalism-must-die/>; E Tuck and KW Yang, Decolonization is Not a Metaphor
(2012) 1(1) Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 140.
73. NRCAN, 10 Key Facts on Canadas Natural Resources(2018) <https://www.nrcan.gc.
ca/sites/> accessed
16 March 2020.
74. E Deranger, I Feel Betrayed by the Government and a System that has Destroyed the
Spirit of my PeopleNational Observer (24 April 2018) <
accessed 17 April 2019.
Degrowth, political acceptability and the Green New Deal 267
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
proposals to ignore histories of colonial dispossession.
It is not enough to assume that
pursuing degrowth alone will lead to Indigenous reconciliation, or to self-determination,
or improve the material conditions of Indigenous communities. Rather, to meet the jus-
tice goals underpinning degrowth, any degrowth project in the Canadian context must
be informed by and work explicitly towards decolonization.
There are, however, possible tensions between building a degrowth movement
attuned to multi-racial working-class interests while simultaneously pursuing a deco-
lonial politics that asks settlers to rescind their colonial privileges, which can include
land itself (held privately or by colonial governments). A contemporary site at which
these tensions are being concretely engaged is the movement for a Green New Deal.
Indeed, the GND potentially engages all of the pathways suggested by our intervie-
wees: a class-conscious environmentalism, anti-purity politics, and a decolonial
As noted above, just after we completed our interviews a movement emerged in the
United States and Canada that engages all of the recommendations made by our inter-
viewees. In particular, the GND is well positioned to overcome the industry interests
arrayed against it because it seeks to address working-class aspirations by centring job
However, the GND does not currently address critical questions of growth,
an omission that some in the degrowth community have warned leaves open the pos-
sibility for the ever-expanding production of green productsfacilitated by the state
rather than by private industry.
This limitation of the GND should not be over-
looked. However, notwithstanding this limitation, the GNDs contested vision for a
rapid and equitable transition away from fossil fuels positions it as a non-reformist
reformthat can potentially be pushed further along the longer road towards
degrowth. The GND is politically popular among the public in North America in
ways that degrowth is not, and has a growing movement of youth climate justice acti-
vists organizing around it.
While the GND is not explicitly anti-growth, it poten-
tially creates space for degrowth ideas within our currently constrained political
economy, especially if advocates of degrowth engage with the GND movement
75. PA Victor, Growth, Degrowth and Climate Change: A Scenario Analysis(2012) 84
Ecological Economics 20612.
76. K Aronoff, Whos Afraid of the Green New Deal? A New Report from the Public
Accountability Initiative Tracks the Bipartisan Consensus in Opposition to the Green New
DealThe Intercept (28 February 2019) <
climate-change-politics/> accessed 14 December 2020.
77. P Burton and M Sommerville, Degrowth: A Defence(2019) New Left Review 115;
J McCollum, Limits of the Green New Deal(Marxist Sociology Blog, 11 December 2019)
<> accessed 7 June 2020;
B Akbulut and others, Who Promotes Sustainability? Five Theses on the Relationships
between the Degrowth and the Environmental Justice Movements(2019) 165 Ecological Eco-
nomics 106418.
78. A Ballingall, Majority of Canadians Support a Green New Deal,Poll FindsThe
Toronto Star (Toronto, 17 April 2019) <
majority-of-canadians-support-a-green-new-deal-poll-finds.html> accessed 14 June 2020;
P Bergquist, M Mildenberger and LC Stokes, Protesters Want Justice Including on Social,
268 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 12 No. 2
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
and ensure that their voices are heard around important decision-making tables.
Below we introduce a brief history of the GND before turning to discuss how it poten-
tially aligns with our intervieweescalls for a class-conscious anti-purity environ-
mentalism and a decolonial stance.
The GND draws on the history of the New Deal programme enacted by Franklin
Roosevelt under intense pressure from grassroots social movements after the Great
The GND evokes the New Deal as a model for how multiple sectors
of the economy and society can be rapidly transformed through distributive policies
adopted by the Federal government expressing a unified vision.
However, the GND
is markedly different and more ambitious than the New Deal. Indeed, it seeks to
redress many of the injustices of the New Deal, which served mainly to benefit
white America, while furthering exclusionary policies against racialized peoples
and fuelling the dispossession of Indigenous peoples.
In contrast, the GND holds
equity as core to the goals and design of the plan.
The GND was launched into mainstream political discourse in the United States in
November 2018 when youth activists from the Sunrise Movement held a sit-in in US
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosis office.
The Sunrise activists defined the GND
as a ten year government mobilization to transform to 100% renewable energy by
2030 through a just transition for workers and frontline communities and a work guar-
antee for all that provides a good job.
Their sit-in was joined by newly elected con-
gresswomen and democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
In February of
2019, Ocasio-Cortez, alongside Democratic Senator Ed Markey, tabled the Green
New Deal Resolution in the US Congress, a resolution that drew on the vision
advanced by the Sunrise Movement.
The resolution calls on the US Government
to transform the American economy and society through a massive ten-year govern-
ment mobilization to get to net-zero GHG emissions through a fair and just transition
for communities and workers.
Economic and Climate DemandsThe Washington Post (Washington DC, 12 June 2020)
social-economic-climate-demands/> accessed 14 June 2020.
79. K Aranoff and others, A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal (Verso Books,
New York 2019).
80. ibid.
81. N Estes, A Red DealJacobin (New York, 6 August 2019) <https://www.jacobinmag.
environment> accessed 10 February 2020; R Gunn-Wright and R Hockett, The Green New
DealNew Consensus (February 2019) <
82. ibid.
83. KB Brown and others, A Real Green New Deal Means Class StruggleJacobin (New York,
21 March 2019) <>
accessed 16 March 2020.
84. The Sunrise Movement, Green New Deal<
new-deal> accessed 18 February 2020.
85. Brown and others (n 83).
86. L Friedman, What is the Green New Deal? A Climate Proposal, ExplainedThe New
York Times (New York, 21 February 2019) <
green-new-deal-questions-answers.html> accessed 16 March 2020.
87. A Ocasio-Cortez, H. Res.109 Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to
Create a Green New Deal (7 February 2019).
Degrowth, political acceptability and the Green New Deal 269
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
In Canada there have been similar calls:
the Canadian movement for a GND
began in February 2019 at Powershift, a Canadian youth climate justice conference.
Later that year The Pact for a Green New Deal was launched by a coalition of over
150 organizations from different sectors, including: environmental; labour; migrant
justice; Indigenous; and artists.
The Pact hosted over 150 Town Hall meetings
across Canada, and brought together 7000 people to create a collective vision of a
Canadian Green New Deal.
At around the same time a cross-Canada youth move-
ment called Our Time was formed to push for a GND in the 2019 Federal Election.
The movement worked to advance four pillars of a GND, which comprise: acting on
the best available science; creating millions of jobs through a transition to 100 per
cent renewable energy; addressing equity and justice for all communities, particularly
those that are marginalized and on the frontlines; and respecting the rights, title, and
sovereignty of Indigenous peoples.
Our Time organizers were successful in electing
eight GND Champions to the House of Commons, including Member of Parliament
Peter Julian, who at the time of writing has put forward Motion 1 Green New Deal
for Canada.
The movements for a GND in the United States and Canada are a direct challenge
to neoliberalism. Instead of pursuing the neoliberal vision of the state as a site of
power deployed to facilitate profit-maximization which includes state provision
of heavy subsidies for the fossil fuel industry GND organizers are pursuing the
vision for an activist state that ends fossil fuel subsidies, closes offshore tax havens,
introduces a wealth tax, and then uses some of the funds raised to invest massively in
energy transition.
A number of the concrete policies pursued under the rubric of the
GND are similar to those promoted by degrowth advocates, namely, rapid emissions
88. S Hussan, Canada and a Green New DealThe National Observer (Vancouver, 16 January
2019) <>
accessed 16 April 2019; C Thomas-Müller, Canada Needs its Own Green New Deal. Heres
What it Could Look LikeThe National Observer (Vancouver 29 November 2018) <https://
what-it-could-look> accessed 12 February 2020; J Green, Why Canada Needs a Green New
DealThe Star (Toronto, 26 September 2019) <
2019/09/26/why-canada-needs-a-green-new-deal.html> accessed 15 February 2020; G Dembicki,
Inside the Race to Unify Progressives around a Canadian Green New DealThe Tyee (Vancouver,
5 June 2019) <> accessed 12
February 2020.
89. M Morrice, Dreaming Bigger: A Green New Deal for CanadaCorporate Knights
(Toronto, 16 May 2019) <
made-canada-green-new-deal-15579994/> accessed 12 February 2020.
90. ibid.
91. B Welton, 7,000 Canadians have had their Say about the Green New
(Kamloops, 5 July 2019) <
about-the-green-new-deal/it63728> accessed 20 February 2020; K Tienhaara, The Green
New Deal is Going GlobalThe Conversation (6 May 2019) <
the-green-new-deal-is-going-global-115961> accessed 21 February 2020.
92. D Camfield, What Will it Take to Win a Green New DealThe Bullet (24 June 2019)
<> accessed
8 February 2020.
93. Whats a Green New Deal for Canada(Our Time, 2019) <>
accessed 12 February 2020.
94. ibid.
95. Morrice (n 89); Hussan (n 88); Thomas-Müller (n 88).
270 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 12 No. 2
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
reductions along with shifts in subsidies and taxation.
The GNDs public investment
strategy is designed to create millions of green jobs and to ensure that the benefits of
investment and job creation are equitably shared. In these ways the politics of a GND
represent a marked shift in understanding the role of the state, where its powers are
mobilized to ensure well-being not profit accumulation, thus aligning the GND
with a number of degrowth proposals emphasizing the state as a driver of change.
Proponents of the GND understand that fossil capital and other elite class interests
will oppose them. The Sunrise Movement notes, for example, that they are at war
against colossal enemies the fossil fuel industry, Fox News, and the GOP who
come to the battle armed.
The movement for a GND understands and targets the
primary class interests that stand in the way of a fundamental economic transforma-
tion. The movement also understands that the only way to overcome this barrier is by
attracting support from the multi-racial working class who have historically been cau-
tious about environmental reforms for fear of rising costs or lost jobs. This is why
proponents for the GND prioritize not simply job creation, but secure unionized
jobs that can counter the stagnating wages, diminishing job security, longer working
hours, and increasing debt that have become the norm for working-class people.
As Naomi Klein writes about the GND:
Nothing about its framework forces people to choose between caring about the end of the
world and the end of the month. The whole point is to design policies that allow us all to
care about both, policies that can simultaneously lower emissions and lower the economic
strain on working people by making sure that everyone can get a good job in the new
economy; that they have access to basic social protections like health care, education,
and daycare; and that green jobs are good, unionized, family-supporting jobs with benefits
and vacation time.
The GND helps to overcome the jobs vs. environmentframe that has been so effec-
tively mobilized by the fossil fuel industry and other elite interests to stall environ-
mental progress. In this way, the GND is emblematic of the class-conscious anti-
purity environmentalism advocated for by our interviewees. However, the GND is
not explicitly anti-capitalist or anti-growth. It works within the confines of our con-
strained political economy while seeking to create space for deeper transformation.
By recognizing the ideological and material restraints that they face, and not getting
too far ahead of popular public opinion, proponents of the GND have been able to
attract broad support for their programme.
As noted above, the relationship between the GND and decolonization is less clear:
there are possible tensions between an environmentalism attuned to working-class
interests and one that centres decolonization and asks all settlers to rescind their privi-
leges, including stolen land. But the GND could offer ways of addressing this tension.
In 2018, Indigenous climate activist Clayton Thomas-Müller (Cree) penned an editorial
96. See R Mastini, G Kallis and J Hickel, A Green New Deal Without Growth?(2021) 179
Ecological Economics 106832.
97. M Teirstein, On the Horizon: The Building of the Sunrise MovementThe Politic
(10 February 2020) <>
accessed 12 February 2020.
98. Huber (n 57).
99. Klein (n 12) 2878.
100. Ballingall (n 78).
Degrowth, political acceptability and the Green New Deal 271
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
what a Canadian Green New Deal would look like.
For Thomas-Müller, a GND
could address many of the most pressing challenges facing the country: it could accel-
erate decarbonization, it could mitigate resistance to energy transition by guaranteeing
good renewable energy jobs to workers in the fossil fuel industry (primarily concen-
trated in the Western provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan), and
it could also accelerate processes of decolonization by ensuring that Indigenous
nations are partners in new renewable energy infrastructure.
Some of the largest
flashpoints in Canadian politics in the past decade have been sparked by Indigenous
resistance to new fossil fuel infrastructure, particularly pipelines such as Northern
Gateway, Trans Mountain Expansion, Energy East, and most recently Coastal
These projects, which all crisscross Indigenous lands and waters, have
divided the country and also Indigenous nations. Ongoing processes of colonization
and dispossession have left many Indigenous nations materially impoverished, and
while some Indigenous leaders have seen partnerships with oil and gas companies
as necessary,
as Thomas-Müller notes: many First Nationselected leaders have
said they would not have signed pipeline or oil sands deals if there were federal incen-
tives to support economic pathways into the renewable energy economy.
For Thomas-Müller, a GND done right could significantly advance decolonization
goals in the Anglosphere by stopping divisive and destructive fossil fuel infrastructure
projects on Indigenous lands, while simultaneously increasing Indigenous wealth and
power by making First Nations partners in renewable energy development. This view
has been echoed by Julian Brave NoiseCat, a member of the Tsqescen Nation who
helped draft the GND legislation in the United States. In an interview with the CBC,
NoiseCat said The Indigenous movement both in the United States and in Canada
really has played a significant underlying role that people havent fully appreciated
in producing the Green New Deal.
On the question of the GND and its implica-
tions for First Nations sovereignty in both Canada and the US, NoiseCat went on to
advocate for the recognition of First Nations governments as equal partners in the
implementation of the GND, and as leaders in the transition to clean energy.
101. Thomas-Müller (n 88).
102. ibid.
103. G Christie, Indigenous Authority, Canadian Law, and Pipeline Proposals(2013) 25 Journal
of Environmental Law and Practice 189; A Spice, Fighting Invasive Infrastructures: Indigenous
Relations against Pipelines(2018) 9(1) Environment and Society 4056; L Temper, Blocking
Pipelines, Unsettling Environmental Justice: From Rights of Nature to Responsibility to Territory
(2019) 24(2) Local Environment 94112; M Lukacs, Whos Defending CanadasNational
Interest? First Nations Facing Down a PipelineThe Guardian (London, 16 April 2018) <http://
first-nations-facing-down-a-pipeline> accessed 12 April 2019.
104. S Lawrynuik, Oil and Gas in Western Canada Divides Indigenous CommunitiesThe
National Observer (Vancouver, 6 November 2019) <
too> accessed 10 March 2020.
105. Thomas-Müller (n 88).
106. K Muzyka, Green New Deal Legislation Must be Indigenous-Led, says Julian Brave
NoiseCat(The CBC Unreserved, 29 May 2020) <
accessed 4 June 2020.
107. ibid.
272 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 12 No. 2
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
To ensure that the movement for a GND truly includes decolonization, Indigenous
organizers with the Red Nation have begun calling for a Red Deal.
The purpose of
the Red Deal is to push popular efforts for a GND in truly decolonial directions. In so
doing, these efforts recognize the GND as a transitional programme, a non-reformist
reform with the potential to enable even more radical transformations. On the Red
Deal, Red Nation co-founder and citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Nick
Estes, stated in 2019:
The GND has the potential to connect every social justice struggle free housing, free
health care, free education, green jobs to climate change. Likewise, the Red Deal places
anti-capitalism and decolonization as central to each social justice struggle as well as climate
change. The necessity of such a program is grounded in both the history and future of this
land, and it entails the radical transformation of all social relations between humans and the
Specifically, the Red Deal calls for public divestment not only from fossil fuel com-
panies (in the form of ending subsidies), but also from the military, policing, and
prison-industrial complex to free up resources for free education, housing, healthcare,
and accessible public transportation for everyone.
The Red Deal also calls for job
creation through reinvestment in: renewable energy; traditional and sustainable agri-
culture; land, water, air and animal restoration; the protection of sacred sites; multi-
species caretaking; and the enforcement of treaty rights.
The return of Indigenous
sovereignty and law heralded by the Red Deal is not beneficial to Indigenous peoples
alone. Rather, the restoration of Indigenous law could mean a return to the original
egalitarianism that prevailed across much of North America prior to colonization.
Fighting for a decolonial Green (Red) New Deal could thus be a non-reformist reform
that pushes in this promising direction.
That said, such an outcome is far from a foregone conclusion. Much depends on
how a Green or Red New Deal is pursued. Some caution in this regard has been
108. The Red Nation, The Red Deal September 2019 Draft(22 September 2019) <https://> accessed 16 March 2020.
109. Estes (n 81).
110. This call for defunding the police has additional salience in the wake of massive protests
against racist police violence in the United States and worldwide; S Levin, Movement to
Defund Police Gains UnprecedentedSupport across USThe Guardian (4 June 2020)
gets> accessed 20 June 2020; T Drayton, Global Protests Reveal that White Supremacy is a
Problem EverywhereVox (23 June 2020) <
21299054/black-lives-matter-george-floyd-protests-white-supremacy> accessed 24 June 2020.
111. The Red Nation, Call to Action: The Red Deal, Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth,
June 1920(9 June 2019) <
indigenous-action-to-save-our-earth-june-19-20/> accessed 11 March 2020.
112. Near the end of his life, Karl Marx read about the Haudenosaunee whose territories extend
across the US-Canadian border in the northeast of the continent. As Marx learned, the Haud enosaunee
maintained a deeply egalitarian and democratic social order. This discoveryled Friedrich Engels to
include a footnote in the 1888 English translation of the Communist Manifesto clarifying that in actu al
fact the history of all hitherto existing societieswas NOT class struggle. In other words, communism
is the original economic form in North America, even if capitalism now reigns supreme; GW Gailey,
Community, State, and Questions of Social Evolution in Karl Marxs Ethnological Notebooksin
JSolway(ed),The Politics of Egalitarianism: Theory and Practice (Berghahn, New York 2006).
Degrowth, political acceptability and the Green New Deal 273
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
xpressed by climate activist Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, member of the Athabasca
Chipewyan First Nation, who writes: As someone invited to participate in the drafting
process for the Canadian GND, I can attest to the difficulty around including language
on Indigenous rights.
Noting the relative absence of participation of Indigenous
and racialized people in the development of the Canadian GND, she argues that the
GND in its current incarnation does not offer a structural solution: Currently, the
GND proposals are focused on changing the energy infrastructure while redistributing
wealth but ultimately failing to center the destructive intertwined roles of capitalism,
consumerism, militarism and colonialism as foundations to the current crisis.
Deranger points to the absence of deep Indigenous involvement in developing the
contours of the GND in Canada as being neither incidental nor easily corrected,
but rather as reproducing an historical failure to deeply engage with what decoloniza-
tion requires: So while the language of the GND may appear to reflect our issues and
our people, it is unfortunately superficial, with little real appreciation of the role Indi-
genous solutions or self-determination can play in the path to an alternative future.
In our view, Derangers critique throws the gauntlet down to the GND movement,
in the process also reaffirming the importance of an anti-purity politics that echoes the
analyses put forward by our interviewees. While the GND offers a glimmer of hope of
an emergent movement with the potential for opening up pathways towards a
degrowth agenda, towards a decolonial agenda, towards a class-conscious environ-
mentalism, it offers no guarantees. As Deranger puts it:
I dont think the GND is the answer, but it is a tool that could be utilized if we are included
as the true leaders we are, as opposed to tokens. Our communities, our knowledge, our
values are required as necessary for building pathways for a better future for tomorrow.
The pathway towards a robust degrowth agenda thus requires meaningful changes to
the way organizing is done, in the process no doubt reshaping the agenda itself.
There is growing academic and social movement recognition that wide-scale transfor-
mations are necessary to bring the global economic system in line with planetary lim-
its. There remains a gap, however, in understanding how to politically mobilize the
solutions emerging out of the degrowth movement and to make them a reality on
the ground. We have sought to address this gap by engaging with activists in order
to explore the following questions: (1) What barriers exist to advancing a degrowth
agenda in Canada? (2) What are the best pathways for overcoming these barriers to
Our interviews clarified that concentrations of elite and corporate power give cer-
tain actors, particularly fossil fuel energy companies in major fossil fuel producing
regions, immense political, economic, and cultural power. This class power is reg-
ularly mobilized to thwart progress on climate action and also serves as a barrier to
113. ET Deranger, The Green New Deal in Canada: Challenges for Indigenous Participation
(Yellowhead Institute, 15 July 2019) <
deal-in-canada/> accessed 17 June 2020.
114. ibid.
115. ibid.
116. ibid.
274 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 12 No. 2
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
the political acceptability of degrowth. While fossil capital is less likely to be a
major barrier in non-producing regions, there are fractions of capital at every site
that are materially invested in endless growthandthusarelikelytoplayanobstruc-
tive role.
To better counter the class interests that block the political mainstreaming of
degrowth ideas, our interviewees recommended raising class consciousness, pursu-
ing an anti-purity politics, and foregrounding a decolonial stance each of which is
understood to be integral to a successful degrowth movement. The GND, which
burst onto the political scene in the US and Canada after we completed our inter-
views, potentially engages all of the pathways recommended by our interviewees
into one programme, making it a compelling non-reformist reform for the degrowth
movement one that can help degrowth activists accelerate their inroads into the
political mainstream. By prioritizing job creation, the GND has proved popular
with the multi-racial working class. This popularity potentially helps to inoculate
the GND against entrenched opposition from fossil capital. Likewise, the GND
speaks to people where they are now, particularly to their economic anxieties, rather
than leading with a normative case that is removed from their day-to-day lives. An
anti-purity approach to politics recognizes our enmeshment in the systems we are
seeking to transform. For that reason, it counsels that we move through those sys-
tems rather than trying to escape them by establishing a pure(or uncompromised)
In his work on non-reformist reformsAndré Gorz emphasized the importance of
prioritizing process over a premature obsession with either the blueprint or the end
In particular, he emphasized how the process of struggle could turn a see-
mingly system-maintaining demand into a transformative one as political conscious-
ness, confidence, and capabilities were gained in the heat of political battle. The GND
is not pure. It does not, for example, foreground the repatriation of Indigenous lands
in its current form. And yet, Indigenous activists and anti-colonial settlers have
pushed from within the movement to begin moving the GND in genuinely decolonial
directions. Likewise, the GND does not directly address the problem of endless
growth. Yet it has created a political opening to question the dynamics of neoliberal
capitalism in the mainstream. Having more people around decision-making tables
with degrowth and decolonial perspectives increases the likelihood that in the process
of struggle deeper criticisms of growth and of a colonial extractive mindset will gain
greater influence.
However, such an outcome is far from certain. Tensions remain. While the pan-
demic and the need for recovery spending might have opened political space for a
GND, the pandemic and government responses to it have also increased the pressure
to reinvigorate economic growth in order to respond to the looming challenge of a
sustained economic depression. Similarly, ensuring that the GND foregrounds Indi-
genous leadership and proceeds with a decolonial stance will change the timescale
and shape of the movement itself, no doubt raising additional tensions. The future
is uncertain and unwritten. But based on the recommendations provided by our inter-
viewees we see the movements for a GND as potentially fertile ground for seeding the
deeper challenges to endless capitalist growth that remain politically marginal even as
their ecological necessity becomes clearer by the day.
117. Gorz (n 23).
Degrowth, political acceptability and the Green New Deal 275
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
Interviewee Name Affiliation Location
Mark Bigland-
Climate Justice Saskatoon Saskatoon,
Jody Chan Organizing Coordinator, The Leap Toronto, Ontario
Guy Dauncey Author, climate activist Yellowpoint, British
Devlin Fernandes Director of Community Programs at Ecotrust
Prince Rupert, British
Chelsea Fougère Convener of ecojustice committee at
Solidarity Halifax
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Harjap Grewal Council of Canadians and community organizer Vancouver, British
Ben Isitt City Councillor for the City of Victoria Victoria, British
Rachel Malena-Chan Climate Justice Saskatoon Saskatoon, British
Michelle Molnar Environmental economist and policy analyst
David Suzuki Foundation
Vancouver, British
William (Bill) Rees Founding Director One Earth Initiative and
Professor Emeritus of ecological economics
and community and regional planning at
the University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British
Richard Swift Journalist, author and activist Montreal, Quebec
Bob Thomson Founder, Degrowth Canada Ottawa, Ontario
Mike Wilson Executive Director of the Smart Prosperity
Ottawa, Ontario
118. Only 13 are listed since one interviewee wished to remain anonymous.
276 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 12 No. 2
© 2021 The Author Journal compilation © 2021 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
Full-text available
This article aims to bring labour market activation policy into the orbit of eco-social policy, which we can understand as sustainable welfare without growth. Activation is extensively addressed from economic and social policy perspectives; however, environmental sustainability concerns are absent. Typically, each domain, activation and sustainability, is seen as mutually exclusive. Growing debate about sustainable welfare without growth features much discussion about the effects of productivism and about re-orienting and re-valuing work and how we use our time; however, such discussion tends to leave activation and unemployment untouched. One could ask whether there is any role for activation in eco-social policy: why focus on employment and employability, or even push people into work, if postgrowth requires a downsizing of paid employment and working time in everyone’s lives? The purpose of this article is to explore this question and to consider how activation could be re-valued and re-thought as a policy tool for eco-social policy.
Full-text available
Indigenous peoples are among the most affected by environmental injustices globally, however environmental justice theory has not yet meaningfully addressed decolonisation and the resistance of Indigenous communities against extractivism in the settler-colonial context. This paper suggests that informing environmental justice through decolonial analysis and decolonising practices can help transcend the Western ontological roots of environmental justice theories and inform a more radical and emancipatory environmental justice. The Unist’ot’en clan Resistance and Action Camp blocking pipelines in northwestern British Columbia, Canada, their “Reimagined Free Prior and Informed Consent protocol” and the Delgamuukw case are described to discuss limitations of the state and legal framework for accommodating a decolonial and transformative environmental justice. A decolonial analysis informed by these two moments of Wet’suwet’en history suggests limits and adaptations to the trivalent EJ framework based on recognition, participation and distribution. It is argued that a decolonising and transformative approach to environmental justice must be based on self-governing authority, relational ontologies of nature and epistemic justice and the unsettling of power through the assertion of responsibility and care through direct action. This discussion is placed in the context of the expansion of the concept of ecological rights, for example through the enshrining of the “Rights of Nature” in the constitutions of countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador, to highlight the Inherent tensions in the translation of Indigenous cosmo-visions into legal systems based on universalist values.
Canada's Green New Deal: Forging the Socio-Political Foundations of Climate Resilient Infrastructure?' (2020) 65 Energy Research & Social Science 101442
  • M Macarthur
  • Others
M MacArthur and others, 'Canada's Green New Deal: Forging the Socio-Political Foundations of Climate Resilient Infrastructure?' (2020) 65 Energy Research & Social Science 101442.
Is the Economic Shutdown what Degrowth Advocates have been Calling For?' Resilience
  • S Alexander
S Alexander, 'Is the Economic Shutdown what Degrowth Advocates have been Calling For?' Resilience (24 March 2020) <> accessed 6 June 2020; G Kallis and others, 'The Case for Degrowth in a Time of Pandemic' Open Democracy (14 May 2020) <> accessed 6 June 2020.
I Feel Betrayed by the Government and a System that has Destroyed the Spirit of my People' National Observer
  • E Deranger
E Deranger, 'I Feel Betrayed by the Government and a System that has Destroyed the Spirit of my People' National Observer (24 April 2018) < 2018/04/24/opinion/i-feel-betrayed-government-and-system-has-destroyed-spirit-my-people> accessed 17 April 2019.
Dreaming Bigger: A Green New Deal for Canada' Corporate Knights (Toronto
  • M Morrice
M Morrice, 'Dreaming Bigger: A Green New Deal for Canada' Corporate Knights (Toronto, 16 May 2019) < made-canada-green-new-deal-15579994/> accessed 12 February 2020.
What's a Green New Deal for Canada
  • D Camfield
D Camfield, 'What Will it Take to Win a Green New Deal' The Bullet (24 June 2019) <> accessed 8 February 2020. 93. 'What's a Green New Deal for Canada' (Our Time, 2019) <> accessed 12 February 2020. 94. ibid.
Who's Defending Canada's National Interest? First Nations Facing Down a Pipeline' The Guardian
  • M Lukacs
M Lukacs, 'Who's Defending Canada's National Interest? First Nations Facing Down a Pipeline' The Guardian (London, 16 April 2018) <http://> accessed 12 April 2019.
Oil and Gas in Western Canada Divides Indigenous Communities' The National Observer
  • S Lawrynuik
S Lawrynuik, 'Oil and Gas in Western Canada Divides Indigenous Communities' The National Observer (Vancouver, 6 November 2019) < 11/06/features/when-it-comes-oil-and-gas-western-canada-it-divides-indigenous-communities-too> accessed 10 March 2020.
Green New Deal Legislation Must be Indigenous-Led, says Julian Brave NoiseCat' (The CBC Unreserved
  • K Muzyka
K Muzyka, 'Green New Deal Legislation Must be Indigenous-Led, says Julian Brave NoiseCat' (The CBC Unreserved, 29 May 2020) < green-new-deal-legislation-must-be-indigenous-led-says-julian-brave-noisecat-1