Growth means a process of increasing in physical size. When we think of economic growth, it is difficult to fathom what exactly grows, since ‘the economy’ is an invented concept that describes billions of human interactions as if they were one giant entity.

But gross domestic product is a rate — the total money value of economic activity per year — and thus growth really means acceleration. Degrowth, according to this understanding, is slowing down.

In 2015, I slowed down a lot. I moved from Seattle to London to Barcelona predominantly by bicycle and entirely upon the surface of the earth. This physical journey was the culmination of an intellectual journey from my undergraduate education in market-focused environmental economics to a newfound passion for what my supervisor Giorgos Kallis calls political ecological economics.

Setting aside some of my big ambitions — studying, writing, trying to amass twitter followers — to simply move slowly evolved my understanding of how to degrow. Maybe degrowth doesn’t mean constantly, insistently pressing to spread and advance our small movement. And maybe that’s okay.

The bicycle is a tool for degrowth

Critical philosopher Ivan Illich writes that bicycles enable people to “become masters of their own movements without blocking those of their fellows.” Of all modes of transport, the bicycle consumes the least energy carrying humans a given distance.

Choosing to travel by bicycle disobeys the growth economy’s unwritten mandate to continually speed up the pace of life. Political scientist-anthropologist James C. Scott might call it an act of everyday resistance — especially if we ride bikes every day.

Cycling to our jobs, schools, errands, and gatherings demands that we reorganize our lives to accommodate longer travel times and the occasional soaking rain, while cycling to destinations on the other side of the world requires letting go of other aspirations for months at a time. Yet traveling slowly, with human power, allows one to palpably experience every centimeter of the journey. Bicycling brings us into the present, each unexpected bump in the road thwarting our trained urge to multitask.

The coevolution of thinking and doing

On the academic end, my faith in standard textbook economics began to erode shortly after receiving my Bachelor’s degree. I read a few books on behavioral economics, then ecological economics, then Marxist economics, taking suggestions from new friends and mentors. The foundations upon which the edifice of my education — and my invisible-to-me liberal ideology — stood were challenged, weakened, and outright disproven when exposed to some intellectual diversity.

A fellowship position working for Alameda County brought me to California. My job was to estimate the ‘upstream’ carbon emissions associated with all the goods and services that this local government purchases — the greenhouse gases produced by extracting raw resources, refining materials, manufacturing, processing, wholesaling, storage, and transportation between these supply chain steps.

While this was straightforward project, using a simple input-output model that linearly relates economic activity to carbon emissions, it made a big impact on me. I came to realize that addressing climate change isn’t just about cleaner sources of energy, sustainable transportation, and efficient agriculture. It’s about consuming and producing less, and much differently, too.

The transformation of my thoughts and actions began to coevolve. While learning about the social and environmental impacts of supply chains, I virtually stopped buying new things upon discovering the enormous effects of producing everyday goods and services. I felt not deprived but free from the paralyzingly vast array of consumption options presented by modern capitalism.

Similarly, after replacing my car with a bicycle, I noticed that having a narrower range of weekend activities to choose from made me much happier. These experiences directly contradicted the ‘more is better’ consumer choice theory that I had been taught.

As the bicycle morphed from mere exercise equipment into a gratifying tool for transportation, other relationships in my life were changing as well. Living in a backyard shed among a lively ‘family’ of newfound friends introduced me to consensus-based decision making and the joys of cooperative cohabitation, such as our weeknight, mostly vegan, delicious shared dinners. The stimulating table conversations that accompanied these community meals introduced me to radical ideas and the excitement of discussing them. Slowly but surely, my thinking shifted along with my habits.

How to study degrowth economics

I came to realize that today’s standard ways of thinking about economics aren’t fit to adequately address the issues that interest me most: climate change, inequality, and how to create an economy that doesn’t need to grow forever. Humanity must solve these problems through cooperation; neoclassical economics relies almost entirely on tools that harness competitive self-interest.

I was sure I wanted to return to school, but faced the same difficult decision as any young, dissenting economics student. Should I take part in reforming the discipline from within or study economics outside of the mainstream? PhD economists have a degree of authority in our society, but the process of attaining that profitable title struck me as more indoctrination than education.

My 10-month fellowship term in California ended and I moved back home to Seattle to begin another fellowship, this time writing for the independent environmental publication Grist. In the two weeks in between those gigs, I jet-setted to the Oxford Summer School on Ecological Economics and then attended the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth in Leipzig, Germany. I made new friends interested in the same topics as me, listened to lectures from the leading thinkers in those fields, and participated in lively discussions on subjects ranging from finance in a degrowth economy to something I’d never heard of called “decolonizing the social imaginary.”

I loved that fellow conference-goers (rightly) questioned my decision to fly halfway around the world to attend, a conversation that’s the elephant in the room at most environmental gatherings. The next time I wanted to travel somewhere far away, I was determined to dedicate more time to a human-paced journey. Anyway, I had been meaning to go on a long-distance bike ride ever since purchasing my bicycle, a touring bike whose previous owner had outfitted it with front and rear racks, a Brooks leather saddle, fenders, and fancy caliper brakes before selling it to me.

Degrowth, clearly, was what I wanted to study. Upon returning to Seattle, I started working on applications for graduate studies in ecological economics, unconcerned that this meant I would be working toward a degree called environmental studies or natural resources rather than economics. My plan was to cycle to school, wherever I ended up.

Preparing to cycle

I constantly tried to sneak mentions of degrowth — something Grist’s mostly American readership had surely never heard of — into my writing, which amused and probably exasperated the rest of the editorial team. We were trying to produce relevant, entertaining content to capture the fleeting attention of internet surfers, not educational material or propaganda for a minor social movement in Europe. Nonetheless, I managed to write about the Leipzig conference and had a lot of fun making a video explaining degrowth with orange juice.

More importantly, though, at Grist I discovered that even office work doesn’t have to be humorless drudgery. I got to learn and laugh with friends every day while developing as a storyteller.

The first months of 2015 passed in a whirlwind. I continued to ride my bicycle around Seattle through the (atypically mild) winter, further falling in love with human-powered transport while building excitement for my upcoming journey. And before long, that adventure gained a definite destination: I was awarded another fellowship, this one a Fulbright research grant, to study economic inequality through Spain’s crisis as an example of the outcomes of “unintentional degrowth” in today’s growth-addicted world. I would be at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, which seemed like the epicenter of degrowth scholarship.

After completing my term at Grist, I spent my time preparing for the bike ride, navigating a bureaucratic system of visas that hinders rather than enables slow travel, and discovering the thrill of direct action against the fossil fuel industry. My plans changed to include spending the fall term as a visiting research student at SOAS, University of London, where my supervisor for the Fulbright, Giorgos Kallis, had received a year-long visiting professorship at SOAS just as I received my fellowship. The opportunity to live and study in London for a few months before beginning in Barcelona was too good to pass up.

Just three weeks before I was to take off pedaling eastward from Seattle, my friend Neil Baunsgard’s contract to work on social and environmental sustainability for Alaska Airlines ended and wasn’t extended. Newly unemployed, his spontaneous spirit could not say no to a bike ride across North America. He quickly collected the necessary gear, including a second-hand bicycle. On the 18th of May, we were finally ready to depart.

Time to cycle, time to think

Over the course of cycling and living together across more than 5000 kilometers of mostly rural landscapes, eventually Neil and I had shared our complete life stories and discussed climate change, trail running, renewable energy, corporate personhood, wilderness, capitalism, unburnable carbon, camp-stove cooking, organic agriculture, the ethics of dumpster diving (which was feeding us well), pro-environmental behavior, and every other topic of common passion. Maybe a month into the expedition, we were no longer chatting our way down the road every day, but when we did engage in discussions, they were quite deep. We imagined future paths toward desirable and undesirable societies, what true democracy might look like, how total human throughput of materials and energy might decrease to sustainable levels, or whether our civilization might be doomed for collapse after all.

I don’t want to pretend we came up with any ideas that nobody had thought up before. I only want to point out that we were exercising utopian thinking, first imagining the world we want, comparing our visions, and then working backward toward how such futures might be achieved.

Once we reached New York state, Neil had to return to the U.S. west coast, while I continued on. Without his wilderness skills and talkative company, I doubt I would have completed the transcontinental ride. But by the time we split, I felt confident to bike tour solo.

BLiss2

I spent a month exploring the northeast, took a ship to the U.K. from New York City, cycled into London, studied at SOAS through the fall term, cycled with 150 others from London to Paris for the climate demonstrations surrounding the COP, traveled by train to the south of France, and then rode my bike one last leg from Narbonne to Barcelona along the Mediterranean coast, with a lovely stop at Can Decreix just before the French-Spanish border.

Sharing the journey

I am surely still processing the pilgrimage, which ended just a few weeks ago when I arrived to Barcelona, and I do not yet have any super-profound insights to share. A few reflections merit mention, though.

Predictably, interacting with nature, co-created by humans, other species, and geology, has been awe-inspiring. Yet the wonderful people I encountered along the way were by far the best part of this odyssey (I don’t mean to imply that these humans are not nature, too). Recognizing the power and joy of sharing and collaboration has played an important role in my intellectual evolution. And while attempting to travel epic distances by bicycle, the generosity I experienced along the way reinforces my confidence in the possibility of an economics centered on care. People I’d never met before have opened up their homes; prepared delicious, high-calorie meals; offered me their couches and spare beds to sleep on; helped me fix my bicycle; insisted we finish every beer in their refrigerator; given me maps and local route recommendations; joined me on bicycle to ride out of town; filled up my bags with fruit from their farmstand; discussed the state of the world and how we might change it; listened to my story and shared their own tales of adventure and learning.

Across the United States, I encountered people of various political stripes who didn’t want to talk about abortion or guns (though they certainly had plenty of the latter), but instead about how money dominates politics and thus obstructs any efforts at systemic change. A surprising number of people along the way have been receptive to the idea of degrowth, though few had ever heard the word. The sort of folks who take the time to speak to a bicycle traveler — obviously a biased sample — seem to agree that “more” is no longer the path to the good life in the wealthy world, and are encouraged to meet a young person who thinks the question of how to transition to a post-growth society is worth studying. Many people like that I am focusing on economic inequality, since it’s an even more visible symptom of a sick economic system than the environmental crises.

I found that I could learn a lot more by listening than by talking, though. The new friends I made, young and old, certainly had a lot to teach, though they may not admit as much if asked.

Growing degrowth

I have had some trouble transitioning from cycle-traveling to studying. On the road, my daily tasks consist of making maybe 100 kilometers of progress, navigating with maps and asking for directions, finding some food to eat and a place to sleep for the night. As a cycling nomad, I feel like the animal that I am. Both in London and now in Barcelona, returning to spending hours in front of a computer screen and dealing with administrative tasks has been difficult.

Yet I enjoy reading and writing, learning and teaching, discussing and reflecting. These are the ways I want to contribute to the degrowth movement and its body of knowledge — at least until the post-fossil fuel degrowth future, when my fondness for long-distance cycling may become economically useful. Economics rethinker Kate Raworth asserts that how to create an economy that enables us to thrive whether or not it grows is one of the most important economic questions of our time. And yet only a few (fortunately brilliant) academics are working on this issue

At SOAS, I was surprised that even lefty economics students concerned about the environment are not thinking about how to tackle the myriad obstacles to beginning the transition to sustainable degrowth — how to prevent mass unemployment, what to do about government debt, and so on — simply because they are not familiar with the idea. Questioning the desirability of growth is not even considered a relevant discussion in university economics departments. Students from around the world, increasingly fed up with only receiving the neoclassical version of a much more diverse intellectual story, have created an International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics, but the ecological shortcomings of mainstream economics tend to take a back seat to failed orthodox theories of finance, money, corporations, and behavior in their calls for changed curriculum.

There is probably no secret to recruiting more aspiring academics to study degrowth. As was the case for me, many students need only to be introduced to the idea in a gradual, inviting way. We should continue persistently writing and speaking about degrowth, in accessible language on a variety of platforms. We can create curriculum that makes it easy for instructors to insert degrowth modules into their courses.

And we must practice radical patience. Growth makes itself look silly as crises increase in frequency. Sometimes it’s nice to slow down and simply ride my bike around the world pointing out the obvious.

Author

Sam Bliss is a Fulbright fellow at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona studying the relationship between economic inequality and negative growth rates, and also working on a project to challenge the claims of ecomodernism.

Comments ( 14 )

  • John Day says:

    Good-on-ya, Sam.
    There’s nothing for the investigation but putting your whole-human-being into it. I’m a bike commuter, occasional bike tourist (2600 miles with wife and 4 teenage kids in Europe/New Zealand 2005-2006. Sold house, spent money) and vegetable gardener. I feel that “growth” is wired into our agrarian evolutionary heritage, and can be satisfied by growing vegetables. I’m a Family Physician in community health. Gotta’ have a day-job to contribute to society, also. Here is an article about succession-rotation gardening successfully in climate-zone 8A (Austin, Texas).
    http://www.johndayblog.com/2016/07/liberty-garden-central-texas-climate.html

  • Christopher says:

    Dear Norman, Frank and Sam,

    I can understand you’re pessimistic about the future Norman, a lot in the world gives us reason to be. I think pessimism is often also a self-fulfilling prophecy, however. fatalism for example gives us the perfect excuse to not do anything to change a given situtation.

    i think there’s an elephant standing in the middle of your arguments. sam has already mentioned it as one of his fields of study: inequality. 62 people own as much money as half the world’s population. there’s enough food to feed everyone twice (and yet, a billion are not fully nourished). if humanity distributes goods and work more evenly, there’s currently little evidence that we need growth to provide everyone with the necessary means for a life in dignity.

    especially if you add this thought: as one humanity, we’re putting large parts of our economic activity into building battle machines (and using them to kill, maim and traumatize each other), transporting goods all over the globe and devising ways to sell more things, be they useful or not. maybe it’s not just about the “administrative ‘bullshit jobs'”, it’s about asking what kinds of lives we want to lead and which (parts of the) economy we need to do this? and which we don’t.

    i’m fully aware that this is a long way away from how things are going at present, but i find ideas of how-things-could-be useful to know in which directions to work. judging on what “the egyptians” are convinced of or can’t see is not that useful to me, but possibly insulting to quite a few people. Maybe not quite as insulting as labelling the migration of refugees from Africa to Europe as the same type of “invasion” as european colonialism.

    For the reasons mentioned above, I’m not sure that population “Overshoot is the numero-uno problem and as a species, it is going to doom us.”, as Frank puts it. I’m pretty sure though that there’s a great alternative to “Disease, Famine or War” (Norman) as limiting factors of population growth: the combination of education and the possibility of self-fullfilment for every person. As far as I can see, most people lose interest in having lots of kids if they can flourish as individuals within a community.

    Sam, thank you for your wonderful article. I really look forward to meeting you one day, maybe at the Degrowth Summer School in August in the Rhineland? It’s an easy distance to hitch… or you could take the bike again (two friends of mine came from Barcelona to the conference in Leipzig by bike!). Because actually it’s quite a fast medium of travel. I don’t think slowing down is the only merit of the bicycle that we should promote. On my way to work in Leipzig, a car doesn’t stand a chance against a bike.

    Best wishes!
    Christopher

    P.S.: Especially if you count the hours that the person has to work to buy and maintain the car compared to the bike. That’s Illich too, right?

  • Sam Bliss says:

    Hi Niklas,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I too liked the “degrowth v. a-growth” paper. From a biophysical perspective, we of course cannot be agnostic; the material and energy throughputs of rich-country economies must degrow, so to speak. Of course, the a-growth argument would agree: we should simply redesign the economic system such that it is not reliant on GDP growth to deliver prosperity, employment, a functioning government, etc. and thus we could simply not care whether the monetary value of annual economic production increases or decreases, and instead focus on a suite of indicators that we really care about (see Dan O´Neill’s degrowth accounts, an inspiring first stab at such a project). So why degrowth? Because forgetting about growth requires a forceful re-imagining of the good life. As Daniel Bell puts it in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, “Economic growth is the secular religion of advancing industrial nations.” Agnoticism does not typically bring down religions. New religions do. Degrowth, in my understanding, serves as an umbrella term that hopes to distinguish a diverse plurality of new ideas about human flourishing and progress from the material stories of success that dominate today’s western culture.

    As for moralizing about reduced consumption, I agree that it can be both annoying and insensitive to justice. I do not want to preach about more or less ethical ways of doing things so much as start discussions about how much fun simplicity can be if you are among the tiny fraction of the global population that can choose between consuming more or less, going faster or slower, making more money or doing what you love, working for evilcorp or holding out for a different job. I am part of that privileged class, and so can only speak from that experience and fight for a world where, for one example, my peers have more freedom to pursue the changes they want to create instead of being forced to take any job they can find because of student debt.

    To answer your last question. I am still figuring out how (or if) I want to (or can) contribute to the degrowth body of knowledge. I am super fortunate to have a grant that allows me to spend a year here and then hopefully start a PhD somewhere next year. My project is to look at economic inequality through Spain’s crisis as a case of “unintentional degrowth,” and see how Piketty’s framework holds up when r, g, or both are negative. Right now I am working on a critical review of the claims of Ecomodernism.

    I would like to hear what ecological economics at ERG is like post-Norgaard. You probably know my friend Oki!

  • Niklas Lollo says:

    Sam,

    Thanks for this post. I appreciate someone writing about Degrowth, and it was especially good to get it into Grist.

    In my view of the debate, Degrowth is more of a political term that truly has a view of “a-growth.” Our institutions and “we” are subject to pervasive economistic thinking of which growth is major component, yet the goal is not to “de-grow” per se, but to free our social and political institutions to make decisions that incorporate different perspectives and ways of thinking/ knowing (or within a different social imaginary). You might check out your advisor’s (published paper) debate with Van den Bergh in 2011.

    From this perspective, I disagree with the moralizing of a less consumptive lifestyle. As many commenters have pointed out, it is not so easy to “downshift”, nor is it everyone’s choice to do so and having a choice/ voice makes a BIG difference. There are plenty of cultural values/ differences at play, and Degrowth as you put it is definitely a part of the Liberal mindset–the improvement of society through reason–you claimed to move beyond by leaving behind economics. Not a criticism, just a clarification.

    Finally, I would be curious to understand how you are studying Degrowth– What tools, lenses or techniques do you use?

    Stay in touch. I am studying ecological economics at UC Berkeley, in the program where Giorgios was once a visiting scholar.

    Niklas Lollo

  • Norman Pagett says:

    response to Sam Bliss and Frank Warnock—(as far as is possible without getting too deep in all this)
    First off, I try to put comments in a ‘collective’ context…not singular.
    Thus..the collective impetus is to breed until further breeding and reproduction is prevented by forces that make it impossible. Africa, for example, is set to reach 2 bn within a generation. Egypt, specifically, will double its population by 2035. Clearly this cannot happen, therefore something will prevent it. It will not be ‘universal common sense’, but a greater force about which there will be no conscious decisions or possible resistance.

    The choice is open:
    Disease, Famine or War. Or a combination of those forces. Unless I’ve missed something, there are no others.
    Egypt is a global pivot point, already surrounded by warring factions. The Egyptians are convinced of the certainty of their rightful place in the universe, and will not surrender it without a fight. They cannot see the danger of an overpopulated nation in the middle of a desert. Same applies to Saudi. They cannot possibly sustain 30 million in a desert that can support 1 or 2 m at most without oil energy input. The current Syrian conflict originally kicked off because of a 4 year drought. They haven’t taken kindly to ‘downsizing’. When the Saudis can no longer sell oil to buy food, they won’t downsize either—they too will begin to kill each other.
    Transfer that same drought-thought to the American southwest. (the same latitude incidentally)—-Without the constraints of a cohesive national identity and support system, you have the makings of another conflict. (put that on the back burner for another few years).

    Africa has already begun its invasion of Europe in search of resources, (basically food and material sustenance)—our deserved justice perhaps, for the European invasion of Africa for the same reasons in the 19th century. No point in telling millions of desperate Africans it’s time to downsize. It was after all, the medical advances of our ‘industrial society’ that allowed their population to explode, while we were stealing –(sorry)– utilising their energy resources.

    The administrative ‘bullshit’ jobs, I agree, are largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, ‘cutting them out’ would mean forward debts would collapse (think pensions and mortgages for instance). Tending the land, and weaving cloth and making shoes and candles for one another, is effectively a medieval society. The majority wouldn’t like that. We will have to lump it, I fear.
    Every job, including yours and mine (the most important job of all btw), exists through the surplus energy production of others back down the food chain. Hydrocarbons provided extra energy, and thus extra people. Those extra people (we) are not going to go away until those energy sources are no longer available. I (thoughtlessly) had my kids 50 years ago—(seemed a good idea at the time).I would be terrified to have them now, but still the “collective” instinct is to reproduce oneself.

    As for ‘working for the common good’—In the recent floods in areas of northern UK, almost the first people to turn up at devastated homes were looters. At least they reinforced my somewhat pessimistic outlook for the future.

  • Arno says:

    Really nice text! Thanks for sharing.

  • Jo Swann says:

    Hey Sam, brilliant piece of writing. So glad you arrived in Barcelona and have commenced your studies in good spirits. Meeting you on the Time to Cycle Ride was great and thanks for your support when I had my untimely puncture on the way to the big Critical Mass.
    I’ve lived a very financially minimalistic but happy lifestyle for most of my life, and to some extent I disagree with the previous comments made about reproducing. Me and my 2 children together probably generate less than your average single Westerner because we live resourcefully.
    I’m very interested in these ideas around degrowth but wondering how they can be applied politically on a larger societal scale, rather than on a personal level. I’ve always been a believer in Marxist economics and thought that if people had control over the means of production, society would be run on a different basis than for financial profit. This seems to be holding sway with many community alternative energy schemes around the world. But, I guess this is still a model based on economic growth?
    Utopias are great day dreams for imaginative, hopeful people, but the practicalities of engaging local low-income communities in denying themselves what they are daily bombarded with as essentials is difficult work. Hopefully soon, I will be working on a small project to engage disadvantaged people into thinking more about sustainable lifestyles around growing and food.. Intellectual ideas must filter down to a community level to make an impact. So. keep writing, keep the personal tone but don’t be afraid to get ideologically academic. Please link to other writers on this theme (these are relatively new ideas which the general populace doesn’t know much about). But most of all, alongside your studies and writing, keep cycling, keep on being a direct activist, and I’m sure you’ll be a true force to be reckoned with! Look forward to reading more.

  • Frank Warnock says:

    @Norman
    All those things you mention, yes, they came about through growth. I would think by “de-growth”, the author is advocating for a return to life based on what can be achieved and maintained, but kept within sustainable limits (think Star Trek, where the human condition grows in leaps and bounds, but not in a for-profit society. People work only for the betterment of the species, for the common good). We should certainly limit population. Overshoot is the numero-uno problem and as a species, it is going to doom us.

    It’s not really fair to just assume the author will have children; childless couples are at an all time high these days. I’m certainly not having children, and have many like-minded friends. If the author went ahead and had children, he would give himself a carbon footprint that is impossible to overcome (there is no bigger contribution to climate change than having even 1 child, because of the demand it places on resources and lifetime emissions it puts out).

    The planet with, say, 4B (as foretold by the late great Isaac Asimov) cold very well enjoy most, if not all of today’s amenities in a sustainable manner, in a stable state economy, without destroying its life support systems. Doing this should in no way mean a return to neanderthal living.
    As for bicycles requiring infinite growth to exist, that simply isn’t true. I forget how many it is, but it’s some outrageous number of bicycles can be manufactured with the same resources devoted to 1 car. They are also turning out incredible bicycle frames now made out of bamboo – making them even far more sustainable since bamboo grows very fast.

    What it all comes down to is this; there are 3 sure fire things that identify a failed species. They are a) abuse of of itself, b) abuse to others around it, and c) abuse to the environment in which it lives. Humans have all 3 aced. This is why mother nature will, soon enough, have her say, and send it the way of the dinosaurs.

    “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell”. ~Edward Abbey.

  • Sam Bliss says:

    Hello Norman,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, both here and on the Resilience posting of this article.

    The issues you raise are exactly the reason I think it is so important that we study the possibility of a degrowth future, and begin initiating the transition sooner rather than later. Yes, it may well be majorly shitty to downsize, especially if it happens by disaster and not collective foresight. Degrowth is a hypothesis. It is the idea that we may come together and do this thing peacefully. You are right, it won’t go well if it is forced upon people.

    But the future need not be so bleak. Growth is only a prerequisite for funding the government and caring for the elderly and employing the masses because we have set up an economic system that is dependent on growth. It will not be easy to figure a way to change that, but we must believe it is possible. You are certainly correct that life in such a degrowth society would not be much like the life we are used to today.

    I am fully aware that living in capitalism’s waste stream is only an option thanks to wasteful growth — cycling on the perfectly paved and perfectly empty American country roads; stopping at Pizza Huts every day for 1000+ calorie lunches of perfectly edible discarded industrial food that’s apparently easier to throw away than sell or even feed to hungry humans; camp-stove cooking scrumped GM ‘field corn’ that was destined to become cattle feed, ethanol fuel, or processed food ingredients like modified corn starch or high-fructose corn syrup; maybe even using the internet along the way to find people to stay with. But I disagree that bike traveling would be impossible without growth. We could just go even slower. Maybe bike travelers could be delivering the mail while they’re at it, who knows? If we shed many of the administrative ‘bullshit jobs’ that come with industrial society, while also adding a lot more human labor to growing food and making other goods, while also consuming less and sharing more, while also spending a lot more time on caring activities and things that massive energy appropriations make easy and quick today, how can we be certain whether this means more or less work to do overall?

    sam

  • Dave M on the island says:

    Sam, thanks for your work. Keep studying, writing, researching, presenting authority, bringing awareness. By all means, keep moving.

  • jean johnson says:

    Great post, Sam. Are you familiar with the Capital Institute? If not, you should check them out — many parallels with your work and thinking. http://capitalinstitute.org

  • Shannon Davis says:

    Sam—your journey, writing, intelligence, evolution, and your humanness, inspire us all! Thank you! Shannon

  • Norman Pagett says:

    fascinating article, good to be able to do all that.
    But don’t forget that your wonderful ‘degrowth’ adventure was enabled by a ‘growth’ society. Your bike is a construct of a forward moving industrialised economy. It could not be made without hydrocarbon fuel inputs in a sophisticated factory, any more than a car could. (just a matter of scale). Your safe journey was on constructed roads…again, the product of hydrocarbon fuel input. As was the food readily available at prescribed intervals. (even in dumpsters).

    You are young, strong and healthy, and long may you remain so. When you are not, you will expect remedies from a highly industrialised medical infrastructure, not herbal remedies.
    Not trying to put a damper on your good intentions, just setting out a bit of reality about what ‘degrowth’ would actually mean to most people.

    The article was written very much in the first person singular, unfortunately most people eventually leave their first person singular behind, and decide to reproduce themselves. That is the ultimate ‘growth’ that overwhelms ‘degrowth’. Struggling to establish your kids’ future doesn’t equate with a downsizing society. Trust me on that.

    Consider what growth is–then decide if you can do without it:
    You get to say–35/40. Married, a mortgage, couple of kids…you’re Mr Average.
    You dutifully pay into a pension that you expect to benefit by in maybe 20 years. You have a rough idea what to expect from the pension, you don’t want your kids to support you in old age. (Somebody has to, unless you conveniently just use up your prescribed threescore and ten)
    Preach degrowth all you want…but without growth—just where will that pension come from? Or the retained value of the house you live in?
    I keep reading about ‘degrowth’, not once have I seen anything that deals with that. Degrowth effectively means a pre-industrial society. Check the average lifespan pre-20th century, let alone the 18th and 17th.
    You might agree with degrowth, but that would exclude payrises for you of course.
    But why do you need a payrise in a downsizing society?
    You need one because the cost of food and just about everything else you use is specifically linked to hydrocarbon fuel. And no amount of downsizing is going to change that. You cannot run any kind of industrialised society on the output of solar panels, windfarms and batteries.
    7 billion people can’t be ‘downsized’. They want to be fed, along with another 2 billion who will be here by 2050, The price of everything rises according to demand. Their demands will be either in cash—or force of arms. Telling a hungry nation they can’t have your food because you’ve downsized is literal suicide. They will take it–one way or another.
    That we have a sick economic system is not in doubt, neither is the certainty that it will change in the near future, But when change is forced upon us (and it will be forced) people will not take kindly to it. Had you been cycling through a severely downsized environment, I think your reception might have been very different.

  • Coline says:

    Hello Sam,

    I just wanted to tell you “congratulation” for this amazing and comprehensive text ! It’s exactly what many people have in their mind but (i think) not necessarily find all these links between each element that you mention !
    Anyway, you express perfectly what I’m also trying to do while I’m listening, reading, sharing and obviously…. cycling!

    I just want to say thank you again.
    My friend David (Merlaut) was sending me your text as a “new year eve gift”… I couldn’t stop reading it! GREAT!!

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