What is Degrowth?

C.R. "Doodle" White Overlook, Hampton, Tennessee

I'm going to start this article with a song from Billy Joel. Those outside the United States might find the song somewhat difficult to understand. When the song came out, even I didn't fully comprehend the implications the song brings to the forefront. The song is basically lamenting the de-industrialization that occurred in the US in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most of this was caused by degrowth stemming from the peak of conventional oil reached here in the US in 1970-71 (the US has since reached a new peak, but this was only achieved with the new technology of fracking). Another factor was environmental laws and the economics surrounding inflation and the necessity of wages to increase to meet the rising cost of living. Manufacturers started realizing that they could save money by moving operations elsewhere and avoiding environmental regulations and expensive labor costs. The US began a transition from a manufacturing behemoth to a more service-oriented economy. 

Billy Joel's song pointed to several social issues above and beyond the disappearing factory jobs, such as high school education here in the US being designed more for how to do certain jobs rather than how to think critically and how to solve problems. Another issue mentioned is the lack of coal (resource decline), having mined it all out locally. Still, it is a rather bold statement regarding the times back then, not to mention what a great song it is (number 43 on Billboard's Top 100 year end chart for 1983). 

With so much talk recently about supply chain issues, inflation, the job market, the cost of groceries, cars, and houses skyrocketing, it seems that many people are finally beginning to realize that there is a serious issue going on. Many still think that these are all issues which are problems, meaning that they will "work themselves out" once COVID-19 is over or once inflation goes down or interest rates go down or any other number of a myriad of so-called "solutions" are applied.

In reality, COVID-19 (and disease in general) is a symptom predicament of ecological overshoot. Inflation, supply chain issues, the cost of groceries, cars, and houses skyrocketing, and interest rates are all symptom predicaments of energy and resource decline, which is itself a symptom predicament of ecological overshoot. 

Mass extinction is getting a mention in the MSM now and is yet another symptom predicament of ecological overshoot. 

In my very first article, I explained the difference between a problem, which by definition has an answer or solution, and a predicament, which has an outcome but no solution. So, the initial issues in the third paragraph are not problems, but predicaments. They don't have solutions, so these issues will not be going away nor will they "work themselves out." The best that anyone and/or everyone can manage is to reduce ecological overshoot and the only way this can be done is to reduce technology use, promote degrowth, and promote the abandonment of civilization, which is unsustainable.

Now that I have provided what constitutes a "solution" in many people's minds, please also keep in mind that this will not eliminate ecological overshoot in any kind of meaningful timeframe (yesterday would be preferred, today might be tolerable, and tomorrow won't happen either, so...). Efforts have been underway to accomplish this task in one form or another for the better part of at least the last 5 decades and the situation has only gotten worse. Also keep in mind why we lack agency in trying to accomplish such a task. Despite this, I still think that reducing technology use, promoting degrowth, and promoting abandoning civilization are the best things anyone can do.

The reality and gravity of the situation we find ourselves in remains grim simply due to the implications of the actual outcome. Mass die-off is assured, the collapse of industrial civilization is assured, and many studies demonstrate that extinction is inevitable.

So, given all of this, and combined with the fact that growth is no longer possible, it should be evident to all that we have no choice but to promote degrowth and condemn growth. Continuing to attempt growth will have the outcome of a steeper collapse which is already in progress. The same is true for continuing technology use and for attempting to maintain civilization.

What we are involved in is called a multi-polar trap, and Daniel Schmachtenberger explains the scenario to Nate in this episode of The Great Simplification. I like these talks because they bring about so many different parameters of the predicaments we face together. In this video, Daniel actually calls them problems and unfortunately thinks about them as such, which is where he places himself into the multi-polar trap he described earlier. 

The question is why more people aren't promoting degrowth. This brings about the negative assumption of loss. Humans, being loss averse, tend to ignore anything that even hints at loss. The real trouble here is that MORE loss will happen without degrowth than accepting the fact that we can not and will not grow the economy without the energy to do so, and those attempts would or will come at the cost of more of everything we don't want. Degrowth isn't really as bad as it sounds, and as a result, the reality is that this may actually improve human happiness and satisfaction.

While I have posted that link before, today I want to sum up what degrowth is. It is a way for us to begin reducing ecological overshoot, provided we also reduce technology use at the same time and come to the realization that civilization is a dead end cul-de-sac and precisely how we arrived here in the first place. While global populations during the first civilizations may have been counted as sustainable, the local areas these civilizations existed in show that they began to exceed the carrying capacity of those areas which is why those civilizations collapsed. This same process repeated itself over and over, destroying the landscape of one area after another and turning places which once were forests into deserts. Growth is what civilization is all about, and because (global) growth is now impossible due to exponential decay of energetical resources that I explained above, degrowth is the only possibility now. 

Basically, degrowth means relocalizing and doing away with globalization and complexity. Society itself will be transformed and whether we voluntarily do it or not, it will happen. Choosing to voluntarily accomplish it means at least some organization versus mass chaos which will ensue otherwise. I have little doubt that chaos is most likely guaranteed regardless, but things could at least be more peaceful if attempted voluntarily. I am also under no illusion that this isn't something most people would even consider - but given the alternative, I am consistently reminded that at least attempting such a strategy is a far more rational one; never mind that we are a rationalizing species rather than a rational one.

So, for those who want to "take action," this is one way to go about it - begin by bringing self-sufficiency into the mix locally. Gardening in areas currently supporting lawns is a good start. Learning where good sources of water are located is important. The best thing that can be done is to enlist the help of your neighbors and community members by talking with them about degrowth and explaining the difference between a problem and a predicament. At first, one can expect a lot of pushback and a list of a multitude of technofixes that don't solve anything. Some people will never stop bargaining, denying, or being angry or depressed, but those who can be helped will eventually come to acceptance. Above all, even those who refuse to change their minds, make sure to tell them to 

Live Now!


  1. Well said, Erik! Agree with everything you argue, especially your last paragraph.

  2. China, the BRICS and the Global South, are hellbent on more growth. They believe there's a bright future ahead. Their former colonialist rulers better get out of their way!

    1. Much of global society is still hellbent on more economic growth. This is civilizational inertia in progress. Sadly, what will be discovered is that growth in one area will come at the expense of degrowth in other areas. We have run into the brick wall of Limits to Growth through energy and resource decline. In addition to the articles and videos mentioned in my article above, see also this video from Nate Hagens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDBJdQnjE2o

      In essence, degrowth is now the only option available. Without more surplus energy growth, economic growth is not possible (because it depends entirely on energy growth). As it stands now, exponential decay (globally) is what we have to look forward to. Certain regional or local areas may experience growth, but this will come at the expense of all other areas. The current war in Ukraine will spread to other areas as fighting for resources continues to worsen.

  3. Personally, I'm in favour of degrowth and decentralization. To paraphrase a Julianna Hatfield song, Simplicity is Beautiful.

  4. Good Summary. Wars, drought, famine and diseases are going to destroy excess population.


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