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9 tips for talking to your family about degrowth during the holidays

By: Nathan Barlow


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The holidays are special;  a chance to stop working, slow down and spend time with family and friends. The numerous family gatherings will likely involve discussions about the state of the world, politics, climate change, and maybe even degrowth. In case you find yourself in this scenario, we have put together this list of tips and suggestions for how to discuss degrowth with family and friends during the holidays:

  1. Stay respectful

This should be obvious, but unfortunately  when we’re passionate about a topic and think we’re ‘right’, there can be a tendency to tread into the dangerous waters of not communicating with care and compassion to others. So, first and foremost, let’s stay respectful!

  1. Listen then speak

Understanding the concerns, frustrations, and passions of those you’re speaking to can help you to highlight the points of degrowth that are relevant for them. It’s a lot to digest at once, so don’t overload them and make sure you find the right entry-point.

  1. Keep it simple, and avoid jargon

Many of us in the degrowth movement work and study in academia or have spent a lot of time around universities, and our (over)usage of theoretical language shows it. Try to limit the usage of jargon unless it’s really needed, because you will have to stop the flow of conversation to ‘define’ some of these words and it can create more confusion than clarity. For example:

-          Material and energetic throughput → the amount of energy and stuff used to make something

-          Just transition →  making sure workers in 'dirty'/'bad' sectors find a good job in the new economy

-          Social-ecological transformation → a radical change in how we live, organize society, our economic system and our relationship with the environment

-          Entropy → maybe save this until later in the night…

-          degrowth → degrowth - if you have a chance to use this key-word, take it!

  1. Highlight real-world issues, not just theory

Think in advance of some real-world issues that exemplify degrowth. For example, food waste. The unsustainability of the current food system is evident to anyone after a few visits to the grocery store dumpster. The injustice of not sharing the excess products with the workers or vulnerable people highlights the need for new ways to organize businesses, the volumes thrown out by a single company reveals levels of overproduction and the limitation of individual recycling & composting, and the invisible nature of this practice to the everyday shopper is shocking once revealed.

  1. Provide basic statistics

I don’t personally memorize masses of statistics about the social and ecological crises, but remembering some can be very helpful to describe the severity of the situation. This avoids phrases like, “trust me – it’s really really bad!”  For example, in 2019 the Guardian reported that, “41% of global insect species have declined over the past decade”.

  1. Relate the abstract to lived experiences

In my hometown there is currently a massive takeover of the roads and parking lots by Amazon delivery trucks that have decided to establish a ‘hub’ here. The drivers are reckless, likely due to  contracts which force them to rush to keep their job. Abandoned shopping centers (and most recently a large lot next to some wetlands) have been converted to parking lots for Amazon trucks, highlighting poor town planning and the limited power of local government in the face of big corporations. The poor town infrastructure (massive potholes, no sidewalks, terrible traffic) are curiously neglected despite the supposed ‘economic benefits’ of companies like Amazon locating here. And of course, more gasoline is used  for more deliveries, more materials for more packages, more stuff to fulfill more orders. Meanwhile, the town’s (official) poverty rate is 8.5%, a few years ago the town’s water was undrinkable, and 200 people have died in the last two years from drug overdoses in a town of just 25,000 inhabitants. Is an Amazon ‘hub’ really what this town needs? How would a degrowth vision address the challenges this town faces? If you can identify a lived experience like this one to contrast with degrowth, do so!

  1. Give bridging ideas

While degrowth directly contests ideas like sustainable development, it can be helpful to begin from more commonly understood ideas and then explain how degrowth is different. For example, “degrowth is similar to sustainable development because of its emphasis on improving livelihoods and protecting the environment, but degrowth questions sustainable development’s naïve hope that long-term environmental sustainability can be achieved alongside infinite economic growth ”

  1. Avoid individual critique and shaming

Avoid the trap of preaching or critiquing someone’s way of life. Degrowth is not about each of us overcoming our individual shortcomings and acting better, it’s about struggling collectively for new structures in society. I may be vegetarian and cycle a lot, but I also flew across the Atlantic to see my family for the holidays. Always remember these tensions and contradictions in yourself (and in society) when talking with others.

  1. Highlight the positives

The holidays should not be a time for doom and gloom, so tell a story of success or hope. While the examples may be limited, incomplete and/or partial,  it can show a way forward and even give your family/friend an idea of how they can get involved and affect change. If these tips were helpful, then please help support this website's ongoing work through a donation. Or ask your aunt for a small donation on your behalf instead of getting another "I <3 Earth" canvas tote bag. Or simply share this blog post so more people can talk about degrowth with their families this holiday.

About the author

Nathan Barlow

He is a PhD candidate at the MLGD Institute at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU). His research areas and interests are degrowth, strategies for social ecological transformation, and understanding how related movements are taking shape on both sides of the Atlantic. He is active in Degrowth Vienna and is currently editing a collected volume on Degrowth & Strategy.

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