It’s Getting to Look a Lot like Degrowth: Part 1

Why isn’t capitalism saving us?

Steve Genco
8 min readApr 8, 2023

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Image generated by DALL-E2, “ants on a log, floating toward a waterfall”

This is the first post of a three part series on the existential problem of degrowth in a world that still believes in perpetual economic growth. This post looks at why the capitalist model of perpetual growth is unable to accept the concept of degrowth. Part 2 discusses why degrowth is inevitable, but unlikely to be adopted voluntarily due to the many forces arrayed against it, not least of which is humanity’s innate resistance to change. Part 3 considers how involuntary degrowth might unfold over the rest of this century, and what kind of civilization it is likely to leave us with once fossil fuels are gone.

An analogy: ants on a log

Imagine a colony of ants living in a tree branch. Imagine the branch breaks off and falls into the river flowing beneath it. It takes the ants awhile to realize their branch is now a log floating down the river, but when they do, they start making plans to save themselves.

“Head for the left bank!” shouts one. “No, head for the right bank!” shouts another. But then a Scientist Ant points out that they aren’t really in control of the log’s path, it’s the river’s current that’s determining where the log goes. And scientific measurements are confirming something else: the current is picking up speed! The Scientist Ant, of course, is ignored.

Then, up ahead, the ants see why the current is speeding up: The Scientist Ant does a study and announces, “we are heading toward a waterfall!” Because the ants still believe they control the course of the log, we hear many little ant voices shouting “go left!, “go right!”. But by this point, the ants actually have no control over the direction or speed of the log. Not in this fast current, not this close to the waterfall. The Scientist Ant reports that it’s now too late to build little oars to paddle the log out of danger. The log is caught in the current, so over the waterfall it goes.

We’re the ants. The log is our civilization. Our damaged environment is the current. Global warming is the waterfall. Like the ants, we have less control than we think we do. Like the ants, we’re going over the waterfall. Like the ants, some of us will survive the fall, but many will not.

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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.