Ecological Economics and De-Growth Debate

Ecological Economics and De-Growth Debate


  1. Economic Growth
  2. Ecological Economics
  3. De-Growth
  4. Short history of degrowth
  5. Basic tenets of Degrowth
  6. Degrowth strategies and actors
  7. Debates surrounding degrowth strategies
  8. Failure of Sustainable Development paradigm
  9. Critique of Ecological Economics and zero growth
  10. Has economic growth been of help to India?
  11. Social movements as degrowth movements in India

Economic Growth

The annual rate of growth of the nominal or real GDP is referred to as economic growth. Gross domestic product (GDP) measures the monetary value of finished goods and services produced in a nation over a specific time period (such as a quarter or a year) and purchased by the final consumer. GDP measures the total amount of output produced within a nation's boundaries. The GDP figures are adjusted for inflation (or deflation) by using the prices that were in effect in some chosen base year in order to obtain "real" GDPii . The price deflator is a statistical tool that is used to convert GDP from nominal to constant prices. GDP includes goods and services produced for sale in the market as well as some non-market production, such as defense or education services, which are provided by the government.

Ecological Economics

Ecological Economics aims to provide a more comprehensive analysis of energy and material flows (or "natural wealth") by giving due consideration to immeasurable factors like the condition of an eco-system or a water resource. It examines resource flow patterns through the lens of social metabolism and has a propensity to view economy as a division of ecology. As a result, it differs from environmental economics, a branch of economics that has developed with the goal of calculating the value of forests and other environmental assets in order to facilitate financial compensation for their loss as a result of mining or damming. Authors Felix Padel, Jeemol Unni, and Ajay Dandekar highlight how "more radical environmentalists refer to concepts like green accounting and eco-innovations as efforts to justify new 'greenfield' industries on spurious grounds of reforestation or reduced pollution" in their book Ecology Economy: Quest for a Socially Informed Connection. Additionally, they provide an illustration from the brilliant book Greenwash: The Reality behind Corporate Environmentalism by Jed Greer and Kenny Bruno, which reveals how firms with a history of destroying ecosystems have used public relations (PR) to portray policies that are ecologically friendly.

Joan Martinez-Alier (2005) writes in her book The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation that according to ecological economics, the economy is a part of a larger finite global ecosystem that it both draws resources from and emits waste into. Multiple tangible sustainability indicators are being developed by ecological economists. They look at how alterations to property rights and the application of fresh tools for environmental policy can contribute to sustainability. A set of "ecologically correct prices" is not something that ecological economists hold to be true. Ecological economists argue for a multi-criteria approach to develop a matrix of social interests and values during conflict situations, in contrast to economists who only use one criterion to evaluate the value of something.


Degrowth offers an analysis of the dominance of development currently in place. The dominant paradigms of Keynesian and neo-classical economics are both challenged by degrowthii. In order to improve human well-being, improve ecological conditions, and increase equity on the planet, it calls into question GDP's status as the primary policy goal and calls for a transformation of production and consumption. Degrowth offers an alternative framework for scaling down to a lower and sustainable level of production and consumption, giving the economic system less precedence to make more room for ecosystems and human cooperation. Rather than emphasizing efficiency, degrowth places a higher value on sufficiency. Technology is not the main focus of degrowth; rather, it is the socio-ecologically preferable arrangements, such as sharing, simplicity, care, commons, etc. Degrowth, according to Barbara Muraca (2013)v, is more than just an argument against using GDP as a barometer of wellbeing. It fundamentally challenges "the intended mode of social reproduction and frames a multifaceted vision for a post-growth society.".

Short history of degrowth:

The term "degrowth" was increasingly used to describe a socio-political movement that challenged the widely accepted dogma of economic growth, which was promoted by mainstream economists, politicians, and corporate executives, during the 21st century, especially in the recession-stricken Europe after 2008. According to Western academics, the term "degrowth" actually comes from the French word "décroissance," which was used in the mid- to late 1970s by authors like André Gorz and Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen in their article "The limits to growth," which was a follow-up to the Meadows report to the Club of Rome. In a world with limited resources, that report vi issued a warning about the limits of exponential population and economic growth.

According to Rajeswari S. Raina and Julien-François Gerber's concept note for the symposium "Growth, Green Growth or Degrowth" held in New Delhi in September 2014vii, some strands of degrowth may be found in J. C. Kumarappa's model of the "Economy of Permanence," which was created in the 1940s and 1950svii.

The French phrase was used to denote economic recession at a conference in Montreal in 1982 titled Les enjeux de la décroissance (the challenges of degrowth). A series of international publications, as well as degrowth conferences held in Paris, Barcelona, Montreal, and Venice between 2008 and 2012, helped the degrowth social movement, which began in Lyon (France) in 2001, to spread to other regions of Europe. During the inaugural Degrowth Conference in 2008 in Paris, the English term "degrowth" was approved.

According to Martinez-Alier et al. (2013), décroissance was adopted as an activist catchphrase in France in 2001, Italy in 2004 (under the name decrescita), Catalonia and Spain in 2006 (under the names decreixement and decrecimiento).

Basic principles of degrowth

According to Barbara Muraca (2013)vii, the French term décroissance is fundamentally anti-systemic because, in addition to challenging some of the capitalist economy's fundamental principles (such as accumulation, maximization, and technological innovation), it also challenges fictitious fundamentals like instrumental rationality, consumerism, productivity, utilitarianism, efficiency, etc.

The idea of degrowth is a convergence of six main streams of thought, none of which compete with or contradict the others. Martinez-Alier et al. (2013) make the argument that one should not think of the various streams of ideas on degrowth (expressed below) as airtight compartments.


Ecosystems are valuable in and of themselves and cannot only be viewed as sources of raw materials for industrial purposes. To enable the decoupling of ecological effects from economic growth, degrowth advocates suggest reducing human pressure on ecosystems. Communal rights over environmental goods are viewed as a method for regenerating ecosystems.

Critiques of development and support for anti-utilitarianism 

Degrowth views the phrase "sustainable development" as an oxymoron and draws its arguments from anthropology and a variety of development critics, such as Arturo Escobar and Ashish Nandy. The degrowth movement opposes utility maximization, which is promoted by market fundamentalism in mainstream economic theories. The goal of the social movement for degrowth is to transform the self-interested and utility-maximizing value systems.

Meaning of life and well-being

Every modern society practices a daily consumerist lifestyle, which is criticized by degrowth. The Easterlin Paradox (Easterlin 1974) is a claim made by degrowth proponents that an increase in income has no relationship to a person's level of happiness. The correlation between material success and emotional disorders and degrowth is another lesson drawn from Kasser's research in 2002. Moving away from individual consumption and toward a simpler lifestyle is regarded as profoundly liberating.


Degrowth challenges the ability of technological advancement to get past biophysical constraints and support economic growth. It bases its arguments on ecological economics and industrial ecology. Contrary to conventional wisdom, technological advancement frequently leads to greater use or exploitation of natural resources (also known as the Jevons paradox). The foundation of ecological economics is this idea. Degrowth sees the possibility of "non-technical" solutions for reducing material and energy flow that lie outside the modernization approach. Perpetual material growth on a finite planet is biophysically unsustainable according to the laws (not theories) of thermodynamics. When natural resources are consumed and waste is produced, economic system processes are referred to as "material throughput" by ecologistsix. Economic growth actually results in a rise in entropy, which actually indicates a loss of useful resources, rather than just enhancing human wealth and well-being.


Degrowth calls for a deeper democracy to allow for the discussion of economic development, growth, and technological innovation. This stream is divided into two opposing camps: the reformist strand defends the current democratic system by recognizing the dangers of losing what has already been accomplished; whereas, the post-capitalist or alternative vision calls for entirely new institutions based on direct and participatory democracy.


Degrowth seeks to eradicate inequality, so it rejects the theory of trickle-down economicsxi, which maintains that benefits provided to those with higher incomes will benefit society as a whole. The justice stream mainly consists of two philosophical schools. In order to prevent analyses of social classes based on well-being or inequality indicators from provoking envy or social conflicts, the consequentialist approach to justice calls for establishing a maximum living standard to be attained (or opening borders between wealthy and impoverished nations). Social and environmental crises will result if the wealthy classes' lifestyles become the standard, as the "have-nots" must do to end inequality. However, if having a certain amount of "maximum wealth" or "maximum income" to earn or own within a society becomes the norm, it will lessen envy's ability to drive consumerism. The deontological viewpoint calls for a shift away from a culture of excessive consumption.

To put an end to historical injustices committed by one community or country against another is another vision within the justice stream. Degrowth calls for the distribution of economic, social, and environmental goods among generations, including fundamental access to ecosystems. Degrowth advocates argue that the Global South should completely give up the current economic system, thereby abandoning the global economy. This will allow people in the Global South to become self-sufficient and hence end overconsumption and exploitation of the Third World resources by the North.

Degrowth strategies and actors

According to Martinez-Alier et al. (2012), different action strategies are used on a local and global scale for societal transformations, including opposition, building alternatives (new institutions), and reformism (actions within existing institutions).

Oppositional activism

There are various modes of opposition and protests undertaken by activists such as: demonstrations, boycotts, civil disobedience, direct action and protest songs.

Building alternatives

Western practitioners advocate for local, decentralized, small-scale, and participatory alternatives such as cycling, reuse, vegetarianism, co-housing, etc. instead of actively participating in protests and activism. Degrowth, according to some actors, should focus on altering people's values, preferences, and behaviors.


Some actors feel that rather than outright rejecting, existing democratic institutions should be supported. Barbara Muraca (2013) draws the conclusion that "a non-reformist reform implies a modification of the relations of power and implies structural reforms, whereas a reformist reform subordinates its objective to the criteria of rationality and practicability of a given system.


For the degrowth movement, research is crucial. Academicians can further hone the insights gained from activism. As opposed to this, the civil society can adopt academic ideas. Several degrowth conferences, held in Paris (2008), Barcelona (2010), Montreal, and Venice (2012), broke from the traditional model of academic conference organization and used practical direct democracy techniques to discuss and develop policy proposals and research priorities in a variety of fields.

Scale of operation

Most degrowth activities are taken up at the local level. Networking at the national and regional levels is an important part of degrowth.

Debates surrounding degrowth strategies

The website Research & Growth, informs that due to complex societies, multiple strategies are adopted by degrowth movement.

First and foremost, there are discussions between activist movements, which value opposition, such as campaigns against infrastructure (i.e. e. acquisition of land for large industrial complexes, large dams, nuclear plants, etc. ), as well as those endorsing substitutes (i. e. Separate lanes for bicycles, taking public transportation, protecting pedestrian rights, utilizing solar energy, and so forth. ).

The relative importance of individual and collective action is a subject of ongoing debate. If local action is necessary for national or international issues, there is disagreement.

There is a heated argument right now about those who favor degrowth and concentrate on dismantling established institutions (e. g. Financial institutions) and those who believe that some democratic institutions ought to go through appropriate changes rather than being protected (like social security).

There is disagreement over whether a social movement should prioritize theoretical analysis over practical action. In spite of these discussions and disagreements, a degrowth perspective is amenable to variety and complementary approaches.

Failure of Sustainable Development paradigm

A sustainable development is one that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs," according to the Brundtland Commission. According to Sharachchandra Lele (2013), the operational definition of sustainable development, which suggests that growth can alleviate poverty, refocused on growth while the original definition of sustainable development put the emphasis on meeting needs. As time has gone on, the definition of development has been reduced to growth, sustainability has come to mean maintaining well-being, and equity has come to mean taking part in development decision-making. The Environmental Kuznets Curve, which postulates that while an increase in income may initially cause the environment to worsen, over time it will improve, is one argument in favor of the economy's continued growth.

Critique of Ecological Economics and zero growth

According to Marxist thinker Fred Magdoff, environmentalists should recognize the need for an alternative economic system because capitalism has a significant negative impact on the environmentxv. He made this statement in an interview with Scott Bochert of Monthly Review Press in August 2011. Although there are many solutions being discussed to stop environmental degradation, Magdoff contends in the interview that one must first take on capitalism. Because of capitalism, which demands ever-increasing profits at any cost to the environment, this is the case. One cannot understand why there is global warming, chemical pollution, soil degradation, etc., without criticizing capitalism. Marxists frequently contend that ecological economics fails to offer a genuine critique of the current economic structure and that no viable alternative explanation for how to structure and manage an economy in a different way is offered. To put it briefly, it is crucial to recognize how closely tied the economy is to environmental issues. According to Fred Magdoff, there will be massive unemployment and underemployment as a result of zero economic growth in a capitalist economy, as was evident during the most recent recession in the United States. However, in a different economic and social system, it may be possible to balance zero economic growth with greater satisfaction of people's fundamental physical and non-physical needs. In such a system, production is carried out solely to satisfy the needs of the populace, as opposed to maximizing revenue or profits.

Economic growth, which is based on depletion, obsolescence, inequality, and waste, can further deepen poverty rather than alleviate it, according to Dirk Philipsen (2015)xviii. Proponents of degrowth contend that uncontrolled global contraction in the future (due to rapid depletion of natural resources) will cause much more discomfort and human suffering than what degrowth would do.

Other voices in the anti-growth movement argue in favor of Third World countries achieving an acceptable standard of living without the need for economic expansion. How much the North should shrink and how much the South should grow, however, is still up for debate.

Degrowth is criticized by proponents of the free market because it can result in unemployment and poverty in society. They contend that the relative costs of non-renewable natural resources will increase if they exhaust themselves more quickly. Less exploitation and waste of the limited natural resources will result from this. New technologies will be created when the profits generated by economic growth are used for research and development (RandD). The use of scarce resources will be reduced by new technological advancements. There will be a creative destruction/replacement of the old and inefficient firms that use redundant technologies with newly emerging firms that employ innovative technologies (or ideas) to reduce wastage and increase efficiency.

Has economic growth been of help to India?

Growth scenario in India

As per the 12th Five Year Plan documents, India experienced 8 percent annual growth in real GDP during the Eleventh Plan (spanning 2007-08 to 2011-12) as compared to 7.6 percent annual growth in the Tenth Plan (2002–03 to 2006–07)xx. With 2011-12 as the base year, real GDP grew by 5.1 percent during 2012-13, 6.9 percent during 2013-14 and 7.4 percent during 2014-15. Most economists, journalists and politicians in the country today believe that economic reforms carried out during last two and half decades helped in pushing up economic growthxxi.

The country produced 264.8 million tonnes of food grain in 2013–14, up from 50.8 million tonnes in 1950–51, according to various issues of the Economic Survey.

Food insecurity

Hunger and malnutrition persist in this region of the world despite economic growth and advances in food production. According to the "State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015" report, India has the most undernourished people in South Asia (those who are in a state of being unable to obtain enough food for at least a year, defined as a level of food intake insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements). e. 94.6 million from 2014 to 2016. According to the same report, India is home to approximately 69.2% of the undernourished people in South India. India has one of the highest rates of undernutrition in the world. According to the "State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015" report, there will be 194.6 million undernourished people in the nation by the end of the forecast period in 2016 compared to 189.9 million in 2010–12.

In India, the average daily calorie intake for each person in urban and rural areas is 2100 and 2400 calories, respectively. The bottom 80% of the rural population, measured by monthly per capita expenditure, consumed less than 2400 Kcal per person per day, according to the National Sample Survey report Nutritional Intake in India 2011–12. Similar to this, less than 2100 Kcal were consumed daily by the bottom 40% of urban residents in terms of monthly per capita spending.


Growing inequality is a serious concern despite some advancements in food security. According to the National Sample Survey report titled "Nutritional Intake in India 2011–12," a person in the top 5 percent of the rural population (based on monthly per capita expenditure) consumed twice as many calories daily as a person in the bottom 5 percent in 2011–12. Urban areas also displayed a similar degree of inequalityxxv.

According to the World Bank report "Addressing Inequality in South Asia," a typical Indian household in the top 10% could sustain consumption with its net worth for more than 23 years. However, the average Indian household in the bottom 10% only had enough net worth to cover consumption for less than three months. In India, there seems to be an unusually high concentration of billionaires' wealth. Forbes magazine (2014) estimates that in 2012, the total wealth of billionaires represented 12% of GDP. The ratio of billionaires' wealth to GDP among nations with comparable levels of development makes India an outlier in this regard.

Land degradation

The "State of Indian Agriculture 2011–12" reportxxvii stated that approximately 120 million hectares of land in India are degraded and that approximately 5334 million tonnes of soil are lost annually due to soil erosion. Water erosion makes up 68% of the 120 million hectares of degraded land, followed by chemical erosion (21%), wind erosion (9%), and physical degradation (the remaining 14%). According to the "State of Environment 2009" reportxxviii, excessive soil erosion has led to high rates of sedimentation in reservoirs and decreased fertility, which have in turn caused serious environmental issues with catastrophic economic effects.

According to estimates from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (2010) used in the report titled "State of Indian Agriculture 2012-13," out of the total geographical area of 328.73 million hectares, about 120.40 million hectare are affected by various types of land degradation. This causes an annual soil loss of about 5.3 billion tonnes through erosion. This includes mining and industrial waste (0.26 million hectare), water and wind erosion (94.87 million hectare), water logging (0.91 million hectare), soil alkalinity/sodicity (3.71 million hectare), soil acidity (17.93 million hectare), and soil salinity (2.73 million hectare). Additionally, erosion caused by wind and water is common throughout the nation. Every year, nearly 5.3 billion tonnes of soil are lost to erosion. Of the soil that has been so eroded, 29% is lost to the sea permanently, 10% is deposited in reservoirs, decreasing their capacity for storage, and the remaining 61% is moved from one location to another.

Environmental damages

According to the "State of Environment 2009" report, soil pollution in India from heavy metals caused by improperly disposing of industrial effluents, excessive use of pesticides, and improper management of household and municipal wastes are all causes for concern. The Twelfth Five Year Plan (Volume 1) document noted that the excessive use of nitrogenous fertilizers and over-drawing of water as a result of subsidies provided by the federal government and the states actually threatened the sustainability of the soil and water ecosystems.

According to a literature review in the book "Coping with Climate Change," edited by Dr. Suman Sahai, an increase of 0 point 4 degrees C in surface air temperatures has been seen nationally over the past century. Along the west coast, in Central India, the interior peninsula, and northeastern India, a warming trend has been noted. The west coast, northern Andhra Pradesh, and northwestern India have seen a trend of rising monsoon seasonal rainfall (10% to 12% of the average over the past 100 years), while eastern Madhya Pradesh, north-eastern India, some parts of Gujarat, and Kerala have seen a trend of falling monsoon seasonal rainfall (-6% to -8%) over the past 100 years. The Indian government has estimated that by the turn of the century, India's average surface temperatures will have increased by 3 to 6 degrees Celsius. India is one of the 12 nations deemed by the World Bank to be most susceptible to floods, droughts, and agricultural changes brought on by climate change. Apart from the delta regions of the Krishna, Mahanadi, Godavari, and Cauvery rivers, it has been predicted that the vast majority of the Sunderbans would be submerged by sea level rise. The communities along the Indian coast are particularly densely populated.

Groundwater depletion

In the country, declining water levels are a significant barrier to agricultural production because irrigation depends on groundwater for nearly 70% of its needs. According to the "State of Indian Agriculture 2012-13" report, the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Punjab, and Haryana are the most affected by the decline in water levels in India's northern, northwestern, and eastern regions. In some areas of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, the water level has also decreased. In some areas of Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh, western Andhra Pradesh, and the northwestern part of Tamil Nadu, there has been a significant decrease in water level of more than 2 meters. Out of 5842 administrative units (Blocks, Taluks, Mandals, and Districts) that have been assessed, 802 are over-exploited, 169 are critical, and 523 are semi-critical.

Social movements as degrowth movements in India

Many social movements in India, whether intentionally or unintentionally, oppose large dams, relocation, deforestation, hydroelectric projects, the demolition of slums, the production of soft drinks and mineral water by depleting groundwater, the acquisition of land for the production of nuclear power, the establishment of Special Economic Zones or industrial hubs, etc. resemble Europe's degrowth movement. Aside from traditional forms of protest like Jal Satyagraha, hunger strikes, gherao, etc., there are also more unusual ways activists challenge the status quo. to violent demonstrations, including suicides carried out in full view of the public.

There are primarily three currents of environmental activism, according to Joan Martinez-Alier (2005) in her book "The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation.". The first one, known as the cult of wilderness, is concerned with preserving untamed nature. The second current, which is limited to the value of economic efficiency, is focused on resource management. The third current, which is essentially the environmentalism of the poor, is brought on by social inequality and economic growth. The environment is seen as a source of livelihood by those living in poverty on the periphery of the economy. When capitalism's expansive forces turn previously held "commons" into privately owned "enclosures" of corporations or when ecosystems are irreparably harmed by overuse or constant extraction, conflicting situations result.

In the book entitled 'Coping with Climate Change', various practices to cope or mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change (particularly on agriculture in India) have been discussed, such as:
  • 1. Replacing nitrogenous fertilizers with organic compost, manure, legume cultivation
  • 2. Promotion of agroforestry
  • 3. Rainwater harvesting and re-using & cycling of water
  • 4. Shifting from non-renewable to renewable sources of energy
  • 5. Mulching/ vermicomposting
  • 6. Promotion of seed banks in the villages
  • 7. Crop rotation, intercropping, system of rice intensification, organic farming
  • 8. Maintaining biodiversity by preserving indigenous varieties of seeds
  • 9. Use of bio-pesticides/ Integrated Pest Management
  • 10. Encouraging kitchen gardens, backyard poultry, pasture management
  • 11. Mangrove rehabilitation
  • 12. Move towards drip irrigation, deficit irrigation, furrow conservation and irrigation
Some of these practices are also being used under the degrowth movement of Europe.


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