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Scientific paper • 2022

Maintaining autonomy: Urban degrowth and the commoning of housing

By: Federico Savini

The theory – and practice – of establishing autonomy from the hegemony of growth is central to the imaginary of degrowth. Yet to envisage pathways towards a degrowth society, scholars need to explain how autonomy coalesces into autonomous institutions. This article addresses this institutional challenge of how to secure autonomy in the provision of collective, affordable and decommodified housi...

Scientific paper • 2022

An empirical test of measures of housing degrowth: Learning from the limited experience of England and Wales, 1981–2011

By: Rebecca Tunstall

This article builds on the concept of ‘degrowth’ to create an experimental, measurable definition of ‘housing degrowth’, which can be applied to the 99% of households in mainstream housing. Like ‘degrowth’, housing degrowth runs against housing policy which has assumed that more housing is good. The article explores whether measurement of housing degrowth is possible with existing data, and whe...

• 2022

Caring Masculinities: Stories of Interspecies Love in the Andes and Atlantic Forest

By: Susan Paulson, Eric Hirsch, Jonathan DeVore

During decades of ethnographic research in South America, we co-authors have observed men enacting care that extends be-yond humans to other animals, plants, earth, and water. We understand care to involve intimate actions that nurture, protect, and regenerate humans and other beings. Acts of interspecies care described below reveal expressions of masculine love involving tenderness and interconnection. After reflecting on methods for learning about care in ethno-graphic research, we share glimpses of Peruvian men planting and singing gratitude to the earth, and Brazilian men nurturing agroforests and expressing affection and concern for trees. Subsequent discussion explores broader political and economic struggles that either support these acts of care, or serve to instrumentalize social relations in pursuit of exploitation, extraction, and profit. A gender analysis illuminates conditions that may foster caring expressions of manliness, even amid forces encouraging violent models of masculinity. The article ends by inviting readers to draw inspiration from the cases described below to pursue caring paths and political struggles for healthier gender roles and human-environment relations.

• 2022

Economic growth will continue to provoke climate change

By: Susan Paulson

This piece is part of the series “Reimagining economics for a carbon-constrained world”. It argues that economic growth measured in terms of GDP already contributes to environmental degradation and societal harm, and makes a case for the degrowth movement.

• 2022

Post-Growth Planning: Cities Beyond the Market Economy

By: Federico Savini, António Ferreira, Kim Carlotta von Schönfeld

This book draws on a wide range of conceptual and empirical materials to identify and examine planning and policy approaches that move beyond the imperative of perpetual economic growth. It sketches out a path towards planning theories and practices that can break the cyclical process of urban expansion, crises, and recovery that negatively affect ecosystems and human lives.

• 2022

The Intersection of Biophysical Economics and Political Economy

By: Christopher Kennedy

The circular flow diagram, whether in its limited form in macroeconomics, or broader form in ecological economics, depicts a duality of flows – physical resources in one direction with financial transactions in the opposite. Biophysical models of the economy can be constructed based on the physical flows and their associated stocks. In previous work, I demonstrated how the accumulation of wealth – measured by the capital stock – can be established using a biophysical model. With capital, energy use, and the distribution of labour determined by biophysical economics, here I investigate the range of potential distributions of wealth – profits versus wages – that follow in the political economy. The analysis is conducted using a four-sector model of Great Britain's economy from 1760 to 1913, including agriculture, coal mining, construction & materials, and production of goods and services. Energy price is a key variable in the model, influencing the distribution of income between different sectors. Taking the price of coal at historically observed values, the distribution of total factor income per worker is plotted as a trade-off between annual wages and profits per worker for example years of 1761, 1817, and 1871. The plots reveal how possible alternative distributions of income might be achieved under different political-economic regimes, subject to the same biophysical constraints. Conclusions are framed in the context of the grand challenges faced by ecological economists of developing environmentally sustainable economies with a just and equitable sharing of resources.

• 2022

The social shortfall and ecological overshoot of nations

By: Andrew Fanning, Jason Hickel, Dan O´Neill, Nicolas Roux

Previous research has shown that no country currently meets the basic needs of its residents at a level of resource use that could be sustainably extended to all people globally. Using the doughnut-shaped ‘safe and just space’ framework, we analyse the historical dynamics of 11 social indicators and 6 biophysical indicators across more than 140 countries from 1992 to 2015. We find that countries tend to transgress biophysical boundaries faster than they achieve social thresholds. The number of countries overshooting biophysical boundaries increased over the period from 32–55% to 50–66%, depending on the indicator. At the same time, the number of countries achieving social thresholds increased for five social indicators (in particular life expectancy and educational enrolment), decreased for two indicators (social support and equality) and showed little change for the remaining four indicators. We also calculate ‘business-as-usual’ projections to 2050, which suggest deep transformations are needed to safeguard human and planetary health. Current trends will only deepen the ecological crisis while failing to eliminate social shortfalls.

• 2022

Challenging dominant sustainability worldviews on the energy transition: Lessons from Indigenous communities in Mexico and a plea for pluriversal technologies

By: Paola Velasco-Herrejón, Thomas Bauwens, Martin Calisto Friant

Little research exists on how alternative understandings of sustainability and societal well-being, such as those developed by marginalized Indigenous populations, can enrich and possibly challenge dominant visions of sustainability anchored in Western discourses on sustainable development and ecological modernization. This paper addresses this research gap in the context of the transition towards low-carbon energy sources by addressing the following question: how do Indigenous worldviews contrast with modernist visions of sustainability in the context of the energy transition? To do so, it first builds a conceptual framework contrasting modernist and Indigenous sustainability worldviews. Second, it applies this framework to the case of wind energy developments within the territory of three Zapotec communities located in southern Mexico, with the discussion relying on 103 interviews with key stakeholders, six focus groups and participant observation. Results show that the Zapotec sustainability worldview contrasts strikingly with wind developers’ modernist propositions, which tend to reproduce the region’s past colonial arrangements in terms of cultural domination, non-recognition of Indigenous identities and disrespect for local customs. This contrast has led to many conflicts and misunderstandings around wind energy projects. The paper concludes that different conceptualizations of sustainability must be recognized to ensure an inclusive and just energy transition, and advances the concept of “pluriversal technologies” to emphasize the need for technologies that embrace ontological and epistemological diversity by being co-designed, co-produced and co-owned by the inhabitants of the socio-cultural territory in which they are embedded.

• 2022

Scientists' warning against the society of waste

By: Federico Demaria, Antonio Turiel, Isabel Marín-Beltrán, Claudia Ofelio, Luis M. Serra, William J. Ripple, Sharif A. Mukul, Maria Clara Costa

The metabolism of contemporary industrialized societies, that is their energy and material flows, leads to the overconsumption and waste of natural resources, two factors often disregarded in the global ecological equation. In this Discussion article, we examine the amount of natural resources that is increasingly being consumed and wasted by humanity, and propose solutions to reverse this pattern. Since the beginning of the 20th century, societies, especially from industrialized countries, have been wasting resources in different ways. On one hand, the metabolism of industrial societies relies on non-renewable resources. On the other hand, yearly, we directly waste or mismanage around 78% of the total water withdrawn, 49% of the food produced, 31% of the energy produced, 85% of ores and 26% of non-metallic minerals extracted, respectively. As a consequence, natural resources are getting depleted and ecosystems polluted, leading to irreversible environmental changes, biological loss and social conflicts. To reduce the anthropogenic footprint in the planet, and live in harmony with other species and ourselves, we suggest to shift the current economic model based on infinite growth and reduce inequality between and within countries, following a degrowth strategy in industrialized countries. Public education to reduce superfluous consumption is also necessary. In addition, we propose a set of technological strategies to improve the management of natural resources towards circular economies that, like ecosystems, rely only upon renewable resources.

• 2022

Ecologically unequal exchange and uneven development patterns along global value chains

By: Louison Cahen-Fourot, Jeffrey Althouse, Bruno Carballa Smichowski, Cédric Durand, Steven Knauss

The ecologically unequal exchange (EUE) literature has provided ample empirical evidence for asymmetric transfer of material and energy resources from low-income to high-income countries. However, research has not been able to clearly specify the causal mechanisms driving these processes. This paper relates participation in global value chains (GVCs) to development patterns and ecologically unequal exchange. We conduct a principal components analysis and a clustering analysis along six dimensions (GVC participation, GVC value capture, investment, socioeconomic development, domestic environmental impact and international environmental balance) for 133 countries between 1995 and 2015. We find three social, ecological, productive development and GVC insertion patterns: “curse of GVC marginalization”, “ecologically perverse upgrading” and “reproduction of the core”. While our results confirm the asymmetry in ecological degradation between high-income and low-income economies shown by EUE, they support the existence of alternative mechanisms to account for it. We argue that environmental asymmetries are driven in large part by differences in how countries articulate within GVCs, and therefore cannot be ascribed to relations of ecologically unequal exchange, alone. Countries with a higher capacity to capture value from GVC participation (“reproduction of the core”) are able to displace environmental impacts to countries facing a trade-off between the positive socio-economic impacts of rapid GVC integration and ecological degradation (“ecologically perverse upgrading”). GVC marginalization, in turn, constitutes a barrier to socio-economic benefits and to imported ecological degradation. However, the lack of diffusion of more ecologically-efficient processes through GVCs has a negative impact on domestic ecological degradation for countries of the “curse of GVC marginalization” group.

• 2022

Visions before models: The ethos of energy modeling in an era of transition

By: Christian Kerschner, Melf-Hinrich Ehlers, Christian Kimmich, Sgouris Sgouridis, Jordi Solé, Martin Černý

Energy-Economy-Environment (E3) models feature prominently in energy policy and climate mitigation planning. Nevertheless, these models have a mixed track record when assessed retrospectively and exhibit biases that can make them counterproductive for prescriptive policy during transition. We argue that in times of energy transitions it is preferable to develop a vision of the desired future energy system rather than relying on techno-economic solutions based on simple objectives (e.g. lower carbon emissions). We support this argument through reasoned inference supported by historical examples. A critical appraisal of E3 modeling exercises highlights the biases, structural or implicit, favoring existing energy system modalities. As a result, if E3 models are uncritically used to formulate long-term energy policy, there is the risk of unintended or deliberate performativity preventing a radical transition. Given the significant learning-by-doing effects in reducing technology costs, the evolution of energy systems is path-dependent and reinforced by technology policy feedbacks. This is showcased by Germany's Energiewende. Therefore, it is preferable to prioritize a clear articulation of the vision for the future desired end-state which can be shared with stakeholders a priori. Then utilize models as exploratory tools for assessing the economics and scale of corresponding interventions. These should include focused technology policy that aims to commoditize relevant technical innovations through learning-by-doing and scale economies. Ideally such models should be open, exploratory, reflexive and incorporate the dynamics of innovation.

• 2022

Welfare systems should be made independent of GDP growth

By: Max Koch

Given environmental pressures and long-term economic stagnation, GDP growth can no longer be considered as method to improve welfare resources. Researchers must investigate the relationship between growth and welfare, finding ways to decouple them, new welfare funding sources less dependant on economic fluctuations, and methods to decrease demand for welfare. Policymakers must realize the environmental limitations of the economy, working alongside researchers, activists and citizens to ensure public support.

• 2022

A one-off wealth tax for Belgium: Revenue potential, distributional impact, and environmental effects

By: Daniel W. O'Neill, Arthur Apostel

Policymakers and economists are becoming increasingly concerned about wealth inequality. Here we estimate Belgium's wealth distribution — and based on this distribution — the revenue potential, distributional impact, and environmental effect of three proposals for a one-off Belgian wealth tax. Our method consists of (1) estimating the Belgian wealth distribution by extending survey data with a top-tail Pareto distribution based on a novel national rich list, and (2) combining the estimated wealth distribution with proposed tax configurations and published elasticities. There are four main results. First, the wealthiest 1% of households possess ~24% of total net wealth, substantially more than previous estimates suggest. Second, the revenue potential of a one-off tax is considerably higher than estimated by wealth tax advocates. Third, the distributional impact would be limited as the richest 1% of households would still possess at least 23% of total net wealth. Fourth, a one-off tax would likely reduce CO2 emissions by only 0.1–0.6%. Overall, our findings suggest a one-off wealth tax could finance over half of Belgium's COVID-19 costs, but would lead to only small reductions in wealth inequality and environmental impact. Ecological economists may therefore wish to pursue other policy proposals to achieve fair distribution and sustainable scale.

• 2022

National responsibility for ecological breakdown: a fair-shares assessment of resource use, 1970–2017

By: Jason Hickel, Daniel W O’Neill, Andrew L Fanning, Huzaifa Zoomkawala

High-income nations are responsible for 74% of global excess material use, driven primarily by the USA (27%) and the EU-28 high-income countries (25%). China is responsible for 15% of global excess material use, and the rest of the Global South (ie, the low-income and middle-income countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia) is responsible for only 8%. Overshoot in higher-income nations is driven disproportionately by the use of abiotic materials, whereas in lower-income nations it is driven disproportionately by the use of biomass.

• 2022

Promises of growth and sustainability in the bioeconomy

By: Sandra Venghaus, Martin Fritz, Dennis Eversberg, Lilian Pungas

This Special Issue engages critically with the promises of 'green' economic growth within the bioeconomy discourse which as a concept is increasingly marshalled as providing an answer to multiple challenges. The aim is to shed light on the nexus of sustainability, technology and growth within the bioeconomy from multidisciplinary, critical and constructive perspectives. The papers published in the Special Issue either address the interplay between the three following three factors or focus on one particular aspect: Sufficiency perspectives Democracy and participation Institutions and governance