Envisioning Degrowth Food Systems
By working together, we can build a mutually supportive future that regenerates earth systems, including the human condition.
Food for Degrowth: Perspectives and Practices, edited by Anitra Nelson and Ferne Edwards is an important contribution not just to debates, but to the practices required for the necessary social and economic transitions towards global environmental sustainability.
Nelson suggests that the term ‘degrowth’ is deliberately provocative and is intended to challenge the prevailing dominant economic paradigm that encourages us to pursue economic growth in all circumstances and at any cost. There have been many contributions to this debate, all seeking to challenge the growth paradigm. One of the most engaging and also one of the earliest is The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth by Kenneth E. Boulding (1966). He sought to contrast the current economy that perceives the earth as an unlimited resource with the reality that it is a closed thermodynamic system in which everything — other than inputs of energy from the sun — is finite:
For the sake of picturesqueness, I am tempted to call the open economy the “cowboy economy”, the cowboy being symbolic of the illimitable plains and also associated with reckless, exploitative, romantic, and violent behavior, which is characteristic of open societies. The closed economy of the future might similarly be called the “spaceman” economy, in which the earth has become a single spaceship, without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for pollution, and in which, therefore, man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system which is capable of continuous reproduction of material form even though it cannot escape having inputs of energy.
Whilst such colorful descriptions are essential in inspiring debate, they offer little to no guidance with respect to practical action. What should we, as individuals and as communities, do? How do we satisfy our basic, natural, economic needs on a daily basis? If not economic growth, then what is the economic paradigm within which we ought to operate so that we are striving towards global environmental sustainability?