Less is More. How Degrowth Will Save the World. Jason Hickel. Windmill Books, 2020.
NOTE May 20, 2021: I have altered the first and last lines of this review, see my discussion in the comments below.
Less is More is an important book that seeks to popularize the idea of economic “degrowth,” though it is somewhat flawed in significant details. Degrowth is a deliberate attempt to reduce the physical size of the economy — for example, we should prefer bicycles to cars, and plant foods to animal foods. Degrowth is widely discussed in Europe, where the idea originated. In America, the “heart” of the capitalist beast, it is still a relatively unknown idea.
Jason Hickel is right on his key point in this book. Our economy is already massively unsustainable. If human civilization is to have a future, we cannot continue with the growth economy. This should be the starting point of any discussion about the environment. Continue reading
We want to get to a smaller economy in order to protect the environment. But it’s hard to get all warm and fuzzy about the environment if you’re just trying to make ends meet.
Basic income demonstration in Berlin, 2013. Credit: stanjourdan, https://www.flickr.com/people/39524850@N04, CC BY-SA 2.0.
Systemic, radical changes in the United States are now in the cards. You can feel it in the news and in the streets, even with COVID-19 acting as a damper on protests. But we haven’t had much discussion of what specifically these changes should be. We know—though mainstream economists still haven’t figured it out—that economic growth isn’t the answer: we have hit the limits to growth. We need a basic income: a guaranteed cash payment to all adult citizens sufficient to support a minimal lifestyle.
Now you’re probably saying to yourself, “OK, basic income: possibly a good idea. But what does this have to do with veganism?” Continue reading
Book cover for “Drawdown”
Several years ago, I took a look at the book Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken. It has now been turned into a web site, “Project Drawdown,” which several people have recently mentioned to me. It’s a list of proposed solutions to global warming. It is not so much a plan to deal with global warming, but rather strategies that could be integrated into a plan. There are lots of good ideas, including not only the standard ones such as renewable energy, but also including plant-rich diets, forest restoration, bicycle infrastructure, and others.
Approaching global warming in this way looks like an attempt to retrofit sustainability onto our existing system. Is this going to work? Continue reading
A makeshift memorial near the bus stop where the incident occurred, photographed on May 27. This image was originally posted to Flickr by Lorie Shaull at https://flickr.com/photos/11020019@N04/49943807607.
Limits to growth are now here. Our economy used to work just fine but hasn’t been working so well for the past few decades. With limits to growth, it is now not going to work at all.
One failure is our way of dealing with social inequality. The only way that we have tried to deal with social inequality is through economic growth. We’ve assumed for some time that capitalistic expansion of the economy will solve problems of inequality. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” that is, a bigger economy will be bigger for everyone. Continue reading
Ecotourism in Zimbabwe. Source: JackyR (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mudbath5.jpg)
Flying harms the climate. Air travel is growing rapidly. Its net impact is nearly twice as great as the impact of the CO2 emissions alone, much greater than that from cars. Air travel creates nitrous oxides, water vapor, sulfate aerosols, soot aerosols, and contrails. Noted climate activist Greta Thunberg famously went out of her way to avoid flying to a climate conference on the other side of the Atlantic.
So should we all stop flying, or at least avoid flying as much as possible? In a recent New York Times opinion article, Costas Christ (of Beyond Green Travel) argued that flying as part of wildlife tourism may actually be climate-friendly. Continue reading
We don’t have a workable plan to stop using fossil fuels. And NO, renewable energy is not such a plan.
Many are hoping that renewables will save the day, by providing the energy that the economy needs “renewably.” This is what Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Bill McKibben, and the Sierra Club are relying on. Unfortunately, it’s going to be much more expensive and take longer to achieve than most people think. And when we finally get there, our economy is going to be substantially smaller. Continue reading
Prairie dogs are extinct in perhaps 98% to 99% of their former range
If you are a vegan, should you also try to live simply? Does veganism imply simple living? Vegan activists often downplay or reject outright the suggestion that veganism means “doing without.” We have vegan cheese! We can travel to exotic destinations and eat vegan! We can get the latest Tesla electric car with non-leather seats! However, veganism — in spirit, if not in the letter — does imply living simply, because of the effect of our consumption patterns on wild animals. Continue reading
On the face of it, the practice of simple living implies veganism. If you live simply, you are consuming the least amount of the earth’s resources that you can. But eating meat consumes copious quantities of natural resources, causes untold animal suffering, and in fact is actually harmful to your health. It is the ultimate example of unnecessary consumption. How can you claim to be living simply if you are not vegan?
Kate Lawrence makes this argument in The Practical Peacemaker: the primary aspect of simple living is the reduction of unnecessary consumption of the earth’s resources, which obviously implies veganism. However, this straightforward argument has not won over most modern simple living practitioners, notwithstanding the examples of Scott and Helen Nearing and others. Why is this? Continue reading
Simple living is complex, because our society has made it complex. What should we do about it?
The reason I’m so concerned about simple living, even though it’s tricky to define and almost impossible to practice, is that consumerism is destroying the planet on multiple fronts. We need simple living, on a massive scale — and especially in the advanced industrial countries — to save the ecosystems that support the existence of all animals on the planet. And no, veganism is not enough. If we keep burning coal, driving cars, and overpopulating the earth, veganism will just slow down, but not stop, the destruction. Continue reading
Abandoned house in Detroit. Is this the future of simple living?
Simple living is important given the environmental crisis. The human impact on nature is colossal and threatens all life on the planet, including eventually us, and we need to lessen that impact as much as we can. But in the United States, it is easy to consume and hard to live with less, just because of the way our society and our economy are structured. Why is this? Continue reading
An abandoned house in Detroit.
Simple living should be a simple idea, but it’s not. The basic idea of living on less is an old idea, practiced by such people as the Buddha, Jesus, Epicurus, the Quakers, Thoreau, and Gandhi. Given the environmental crises that we now face, and given huge income inequality, simple living would also seem to be a timely idea.
The problem is that our society makes increased consumption easy, under the banner of “economic growth.” Trying to consume less, rather than more, is officially discouraged; someone trying to consume less is bound to run into problems. Continue reading
Sometimes I hear vegans, in the context of discussions of world hunger, say things like, “on a vegetarian or vegan diet, the world could easily support 10 or 15 billion people.” Actually, I myself have said things like this, so I’m not exactly pointing a finger here. “On a vegetarian diet, the world could undoubtedly support a population several times its present size” (A Vegetarian Sourcebook, p. 137).
Could we, really, support fifteen billion human beings on a vegan diet? Continue reading
By Kate Lawrence
(reblogged from A Practical Peacemaker Ponders)
Living in Denver, with the Broncos going to the Super Bowl this year, I see lots of people dressed in the Broncos’ team colors, pages and pages of news coverage of the teams and their prospects, many parties being planned, and for a wealthy few, the anticipation of attending the game itself. At the risk of being asked what planet I come from, or being considered “un-American” because I am not going to watch the game (a fitness instructor in a class I attend actually said this), I’d like to explore some concerns behind the hoopla. When we look more closely at the Super Bowl, we see a waste of environmental resources, large amounts of consumers’ money spent on throwaway items, and a glorification of violence–all as part of an event priced so high that people of average income cannot even attend. Continue reading
Kate Lawrence, author of The Practical Peacemaker: How Simple Living Makes Peace Possible (Lantern Books) was interviewed as part of the “Authors @ Douglas County Libraries” series. This is the third short excerpt from the interview, on media overconsumption and advertising, recently uploaded to YouTube. For more about the book see Kate’s blog.