We should save people and the planet rather than bail out the corporations, and emerge from this crisis with measures of sufficiency instead of austerity.
Life and wellbeing should be at the centre of the economy, instead of growth and wasteful production, according to signatories of an open letter titled 'New Roots for the Economy'.
The letter, signed by 1,100 scientists, academics and activists from over 70 organisations worldwide, states that the crisis triggered by Covid-19 has exposed many weaknesses of “the growth-obsessed capitalist economy”, such as healthcare systems crippled by years of austerity.
Authors of the letter argue that as long as the economic system is dependent on growth, a recession will be devastating. Instead, degrowth – where the economy is downscaled in a planned and equitable way – will lead to a future where people can live better with less, the letter says.
The current economic system is rooted in exploitation of people and nature, but is considered normal, it states. “Although the world economy produces more than ever before, it fails to take care of humans and the planet, instead the wealth is hoarded and the planet is ravaged.
The letter says: “Millions of children die every year from preventable causes, 820 million people are undernourished, biodiversity and ecosystems are being degraded and greenhouse gases continue to soar, leading to violent anthropogenic climate change."
Instead, the authors proposes that society should begin a transition towards a radically different model, that is centred on life and wellbeing, and values care work and other professions that have been essential during the crisis.
Universal basic services and income schemes should secure the right to food, housing and education for everyone, while the power of global corporations and the financial sector should be reduced through democratic ownership and oversight, the letter suggests. Developed countries need to end exploitation of those that are developing and make reparations for past abuses, it adds.
The world has an opportunity to build on the lessons learnt during the crisis, such as the new forms of cooperation and solidarity that are flourishing, to the widespread appreciation of basic societal services like health and care work, food provisioning and waste removal, it states.
The authors wrote: “Unlike after the 2008 financial crisis, we should save people and the planet rather than bail out the corporations, and emerge from this crisis with measures of sufficiency instead of austerity."
The Covid-19 crisis has led to many politicians, academics, economists and environmental and social campaign groups calling for a “green new deal”, where economic stimulus plans are targeted at industries such as renewable energy, electric vehicles and energy efficiency.
However, authors of the letter argue that lessening ecological degradation through green growth and decoupling – where the economy expands without an accompanying increase in environmental harm – has not worked.
This backs up the findings of a report published last year by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). This concluded that the idea that policy alone was enough to deal with the scale of the world’s environmental challenges was founded on “little to no scientific basis”.
The authors believe that though this approach had done some good by shifting society from “racing down the fast lane to cruising along the slow lane”, but pointed out that was nowhere near enough.
Academics and activists who support degrowth are holding an online event to discuss concrete steps towards a profound change in social and economic systems. Degrowth Vienna 2020 will take place from 29 May to 1 June.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for The Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.