A reply to Anthony Signorelli’s post “What would it take to degrow the economy?”

Steve Genco
5 min readDec 11, 2023
Two contrasting images, side by side. On the left is a homeless man sitting by an open fire, eating from a can. On the right is a person harvesting food from a plentiful community garden, with a peaceful eco-village in the background.
Regarding where degrowth might lead us, there is much disagreement. Images generated in DALL-E2 by the author.

This is a response to Anthony Signorelli’s excellent postWhat would it take to degrow the economy?” As I tried to get my thoughts together over where I agreed and disagreed with Anthony, I found my response growing, so I decided to post this as a separate article on my own feed and reference it in a comment to Anthony’s post.

Anthony’s essay provides a very good answer to a very important question: “can we really expect humanity, especially those of us residing in the relatively rich Global North, to voluntarily adopt a policy of degrowth in order to avoid climate catastrophe?” And the answer, as Anthony articulates well, is “no, we cannot.” Anthony sees this as a problem for advocates of degrowth. I see it as a problem for our civilization writ large.

What are the consequences of continuing along a path of refusing to acknowledge that degrowth awaits us, whether we choose it or not? The likely climate consequences of our continued pursuit of economic growth are well known: we will continue emitting GHGs, we will continue heating the planet, we will continue experiencing catastrophic climate disasters (possibly including irreversible tipping points), and the global economy will collapse anyway.

I believe Anthony’s answer is setting up a false choice. The choice is not between “continue growing” and “deprive everyone of the good life we have built on the back of fossil fuels”. The choice is between “voluntary degrowth” (which degrowth scholars tell us would lead to significantly less warming, but require a radically different way of living) and “involuntary degrowth” (which will start happening soon, as long as we continue to act as if growth will go on indefinitely).

Why is degrowth inevitable? For two reasons, both identified by degrowth scholars. First, we will not be able to maintain our current levels of growth and consumption without the energy density, easy transportability, and massive infrastructure enjoyed by fossil fuels today. And second, the lifestyles we enjoy in the Global North are not sustainable. We are in overshoot. Planet Earth has a finite carrying capacity and we have exceeded it. This is a factual statement, either true or false. Yet we find ourselves in the paradoxical position of…

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Steve Genco

Steve is author of Intuitive Marketing (2019) & Neuromarketing for Dummies (2013). He holds a PhD in Political Science from Stanford University.