Post-Growth Futures Are Already Here
There are myriad existing examples of approaches beyond economic growth — and not all fit easily into the ‘sustainability’ box.
Post-growth futures are already here, they’re just not evenly distributed.
When we talk about a system beyond economic growth, we don’t have to refer to an abstract future. There are myriad existing examples of projects, mindsets, and approaches beyond economic growth — and not all fit easily into the ‘sustainability’ box. What you might be living, with respect to your food production for example, might be part of my future in ten years.
If we want to evolve a new meta-narrative, isn’t it more empowering and inclusive to ground it in existing practice?
Adam Smith seemed to believe so when he drew together his defining principles for a capitalistic system. He didn’t put out a vision for how the world should be. Rather, he described a series of tenets that underlay existing forms of organization that he believed worthy of further support. The same inductive method could help us identify and nurture an abundance of hopeful, present realities that show paths to futures beyond economic growth.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look around the world at some inspiring forms of post growth in action:
There are timeless philosophies, such as the Ecuadorian Sumak Kawsay that explores alternatives to Western-style ‘development’ through the indigenous belief that wellbeing is only possible within a community, with that community including nature.
There are inspiring indicators, such as Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, whereby the happiness and satisfaction of Bhutanese citizens, measured biennially, drives and informs all government policies. Meanwhile countries like Scotland and New Zealand are moving towards a wellbeing-based framework for measuring success beyond GDP.
There are appealing activities, like buycotts, whereby communities ‘auction’ their patronage to the businesses that promise the greatest commitments to making socially responsible changes to their work environments and practices.
There are ground-breaking legal instruments, such as rights of nature laws, which provide natural systems with rights that, in modern law, are commonly ascribed solely to humans, thereby creating the ability for such rights to be legally defended. As of 2019, nature’s rights laws exist in 12 countries, several U.S. Tribal Nations, and dozens of cities and counties throughout the United States.
There are rewarding livelihoods, such as those of doulas who ensure mothers feel safe and confident before, during, and after childbirth.
There are impressive lifestyles, such as locavoring, in which people seek to eat only local produce. A type of event has subsequently emerged that requires produce come from within a certain radius — 50 miles, for example.
There are remarkable technologies, such as hexayurts, that offer simple, low cost, easy to erect shelters to house humans in need. The designs are open access and the yurts can be built anywhere in the world using local materials.
There are engaging facilitation techniques, such as sociocracy which allows participants in a discussion to position themselves on issues using a physical spectrum (a line or series of concentric circles, for example). By expanding the simple ‘for’ or ‘against’ model, those involved may gain important insights from marginalised perspectives and/or those previously marginalised may feel heard enough to comfortably move on the spectrum to enable consensus.
There are valuable natural phenomena such as the sun’s seasonally shifting trajectories in relation to the earth that enable things like passive solar design. Here, simple architectural practices can ensure the entry of the sun’s heat into a structure is reduced in the warmer months and increased in the colder months.
There are common sense forms of infrastructure, such as seed libraries that enable the public to access seeds for sewing crops, with the expectation that any propagated surplus will be returned to the library.
There are useful online platforms, such as Freecycle, where over 6million users, across 121 countries, are able to offer free items to or request free items from their local community.
There are heartening international movements, such as La Via Campesina in the Global South — 200 million peasants, small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities that promote the right to produce food on one’s own territory, and Transition Towns in the Global North — more than 1000 registered initiatives that work locally to rebuild resilience and reduce CO2 emissions partly via the creation and active embodiment of an Energy Descent Action Plan.
There are imaginative international events, such as Park(ing) Day, when people collaborate to ‘temporarily transform metered parking spaces into ‘PARK(ing)’ spaces: temporary public places’ that may include grass, chairs and other forms of activities.
And there are exciting places, such as the Factor e Farm in rural Missouri where people are using scrap metal and open-source design to build the 50 basic machines that can ensure appropriate, local manufacturing.
We’ll be sharing many more of these realities in our forthcoming book, How on Earth.
While existing realities can provide important evidence of our ability to flourish in post-growth ways, one central ingredient for post-growth futures appears to remain missing: a non-accumulative macroeconomic framework that is incentivised for innovation, creativity and flourishing. That is, a galvanizing economic framework for how we justly and sustainably converge towards a global steady state economy. An ambitious undertaking, for sure, but one in which we at the Post Growth Institute are presently engaging through our Not-for-Profit World project.
And when I think of the challenges ahead, I remind myself of the words from one of my favourite thinker-doers, Stuart Hill. Stuart believes we move through three phases in any challenges we collectively face. The first is deceptive simplicity — we think something is super easy; if we just throw money, technology or time at it, we’ll fix it. The second phase is confusing complexity — we begin to think the challenge has been underestimated. More research is needed. Committees must be formed! Even more research is needed! But then, Stuart says, we evolve to the third, most heartening phase: profound simplicity. Here we experience ‘aha’ moments, now knowing that there were always alternative paths offering great clarity, with ease. When I consider this multitude of ‘post growth’ approaches, I sense we are bathing in profound simplicity, revelling in the beauty of dynamic fruition that speaks to our hearts and souls in ways that make a much deeper sense.
Originally published in June 2012. Updated in February 2021. To find out more about the Post Growth Institute, visit our website.