The world is dying from producing and buying too much stuff. This is how you could summarize degrowth. The unlimited growth of material flows, energy use, and subsequent environmental harm are particularly worrying. Just take the plastic soup in the oceans and the enormous waste of raw materials. The implicit message is that we must change our behaviour. But do people also do that if they can afford to forget about the prices in the supermarket?

So, declutter, consume less, and do more with less. The number of devices in Dutch households has grown enormously over the last twenty years. I took a look myself. The kitchen alone has a refrigerator, coffee maker, toaster, kettle, air fryer, microwave, juicer and an induction hob. Do I need all of them? No, it’s luxury, comfort, convenience. What do we do with those devices when they fall into disuse? Then we often buy a new one instead of going to a repair shop. This creates a mountain of electronic and plastic waste. Even if recycled, materials re-enter the production chain for the production of minor quality products.

Degrowth focuses on a voluntary transition to a participatory and ecologically sustainable society. This approach raises many questions, discussions, and misunderstandings. Degrowth is not the same as green growth and decoupling, where clean technology reduces environmental pressure. Wind and solar farms and electric cars may help reduce CO2 emissions. However, this cannot stop the demand for more materials, for instance rare earth materials, which leads to exploration of the deep sea.

Degrowth requires a socio-economic transition and a different organization of the economy. I received an international publication about degrowth-oriented organizations from a friend. It shows that such organizations create value to achieve equality, participation and ecological sustainability. These values conflict with conventional efficiency and economic growth.

Degrowth is essentially about a value transition. It’s not an easy message to sell. I recall the story of the monkey trap. A monkey is trapped with his hand in a coconut containing his favourite snack. If he continues to hold on to it, he won’t be able to get his hand out of that coconut. The monkey has to choose. What is more important: his freedom or a minor chance to get his tasty snack? That is also the message of the degrowth movement. Do we want a sustainable future or stick to our current way of life?

Peter van de Laak