It’s getting to look a lot like degrowth: Part 2

If economic growth cannot be sustained indefinitely, what is the alternative?

Steve Genco
8 min readApr 11

Image generated by DALL-E2, “ants panicking on a log, floating toward a waterfall”. What’s with this picture of ants on a log? See the first post in this 3-post series.

This is the second post of a three part series on the existential problem of degrowth in a world that still believes in perpetual economic growth. Part 1 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.

There is only one alternative to the mental model of permanent growth, and that is degrowth, also known as energy descent, post-growth, sufficiency, the great contraction, the great simplification, the great unraveling, or living within planetary boundaries. This is another mental model, so it is subject to the same “stickiness” as its rival. But this model comes with neither the pedigree nor the chorus of defenders and true believers the capitalist model enjoys. Plus, it is based on a radically different set of core principles that are, at a minimum, hard to swallow:

  • The end of fossil fuels is inevitable.
  • Humanity is in overshoot: we are consuming far more resources than the planet is capable of replenishing.
  • This overconsumption is quite unevenly distributed. High income nations are reportedly responsible for 74% of the excess material consumption occurring today.
  • Alternative energy sources can compensate for some of the energy fossil fuels have supplied for the last 100 years, but not all.
  • Consequently, energy availability in a post-carbon future will be significantly less than energy availability today.
  • Degrowth requires scaling down the material and energy throughput of the global economy, focusing on the source of the problem: high-income nations with high levels of per capita consumption.
  • Advocates believe degrowth can be achieved voluntarily, by reducing waste and shrinking sectors of economic…

Steve Genco

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