Since the industrial era, the Western development model has been based on the increasing exploitation of natural resources – including fossil energy. The problem is that this limited capital is going to run out. For some, degrowth is the answer. This concept was theorized by the economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen in the 1970s and has once again come to the forefront because of the world recession. The principle: as the end of growth is unavoidable, we better pre-empt it if we want to keep living comfortably. Degrowth is a keyword that brings together many personalities from many different walks of life. It is also a “shell word”, meant to criticise the idea of sustainable development which is, in essence, a contradiction in terms since infinite growth is impossible and therefore, not sustainable. Living better with less. This is the individual form of the idea that is also called voluntary simplicity. Those who apply it try to resist being conditioned by advertising and the artificial needs it slips into people’s minds. Just as Greek and Oriental wisdom encouraged moderation and contentment, they are seeking inner peace. They are also seeking social equity and a lower ecological footprint: as Gandhi used to say, “There is enough on earth for everybody’s need, but not enough for anybody’s greed.”
One question remains: how can we apply degrowth to an entire society?
Degrowth implies difficult controversial changes – relocating the economy, favouring less material wealth indicators over the GDP, encouraging a culture of being rather than a culture based on possessions and appearances – that require us to re-evaluate our societies’ model, and affect the way we behave on Earth. The environmental crisis therefore has an anthropological dimension. This could mean that we might have to redefine the very meaning of the individual and collective human adventure.