Is Population Crucial for Degrowth?

Population size is inextricably linked to the ideal of achieving a sustainable and dignified ethos for all living beings


Álvaro J. de Regil

he vision of most degrowth proponents is to gradually yet radically decrease energy consumption and all earth’s resources until we reach a truly sustainable stationary/steady-state ethos. In such a state, the consumption levels by the planet’s inhabitants would enable our “home” to replenish what we need to secure and preserve dignified conditions in our existence, allowing all living things to reproduce and enjoy our lives sustainably. To succeed, humans need to embark on a degrowth transition that builds a radically different paradigm that replaces its exact opposite, capitalism.

A safe and just transition to a sustainable paradigm, which I have called Geocratia (“Government by the Earth”), since my paper on the subject of 2020, can only succeed by drastically decreasing our ecological footprint, by decreasing our consumption of energy and CO2 emissions. This inevitably entails drastically reducing our consumption of the Earth’s resources. To achieve this, we must not only replace the capitalistic system of sheer production/consumption but reduce the human population, tantamount to billions of people that capitalism utilises as billions of consumer units to fulfil its nature.

Most degrowth proponents tend to avoid the population factor, many afraid of being perceived as Malthusian, which is not the case. But in the context of a genuinely democratic ethos, we must incorporate population degrowth at the core of any degrowth imaginary, for we are the preeminent source of the unsustainable consumption of our planet. If people become conscientious of the existential danger we are facing, we hope that many will opt to embark on a transition that includes as a key driver in our trajectory the gradual degrowth of population. If the majority refuse, that will always be their right. In such a case, we will have to face the consequences of significantly reducing the chances of accomplishing a safe and just transition—ecologically safe for all species and socially just for people, particularly in the Global South—to avoid the evident existential threat that we are facing.


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