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ENVIRONMENT: European Activists Against Economic Growth

Julio Godoy* - Tierramérica

BERLIN, Apr 18 2010 (IPS) - The global environmental crisis requires replacing the existing capitalist model of production with one that promotes “selective degrowth” of the economy and the restricted and responsible exploitation of natural resources, according to European experts and activists.

Protests at the Copenhagen climate summit against government failure to take action.  Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

Protests at the Copenhagen climate summit against government failure to take action. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

The movement led by French economist Serge Latouche, Swiss political scientist Marie-Dominique Perrot, the Climate Justice Action (CJA) association and the monthly “La Décroissance” (Degrowth), among others, calls for different forms of consumption, the redistribution of wealth, and technology transfer towards developing countries.

Alexis Passadakis, CJA representative in Berlin, told Tierramérica that “the goals of this restructuring of the economy are the conservation of natural resources and the democratisation of their use in favour of the peoples who live in the zones of exploitation, like the Amazon or the Congo Basin.”

He also said it is necessary “to break away from the market logic that characterises the current instruments for fighting climate change, such as trading the rights for emissions of greenhouse-effect gases.”

This carbon market is intended to manage and redistribute greenhouse gas emissions, when its main objective should be to reduce emissions at the source, such as from transportation or energy production, both in the industrialised world and poor countries, he added.

CJA will participate in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, taking place Apr. 19-22 in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The association will lead a workshop on creating inter-continental connections between grassroots movements for climate justice.

Climate Justice Action is a federation of environmental groups and activists that joined forces in 2009 to coordinate actions during the United Nations Climate Summit in Copenhagen last December.

Its members share Perrot’s critique of “sustainable development” and Latouche’s proposal for selective economic degrowth, which in turn are based on thermodynamics theories applied to environmental analysis of the global economy, put forth in the 1970s by Romanian economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen.

In his book, “The Entropy Law and the Economic Process,” published in 1971, the “founder” of the economy of degrowth utilised the concept of entropy and its related laws of thermodynamics to analyze the irreversible environmental degradation caused by the consumption of raw materials.

Following Georgescu-Roegen’s argument and taking into account the worsening of the global ecological crisis, Latouche advocates economic degrowth as an indispensable condition for the survival of humanity.

“The logic of economic growth applied since the 18th century has led us to far surpass the planet’s physical capacity,” Latouche, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Paris-Sud 11, told Tierramérica.

As such, degrowth emerges as the only economically viable formula, not just in benefit of nature but also “to restore a minimum of social justice, without which the world is condemned to destruction,” he said.

In parallel with degrowth, Latouche promotes values like frugality, sobriety and austerity – in other words, he calls for renouncing the uncontrolled consumerism of contemporary capitalist societies.

A notion shared by those who promote degrowth is the right to development of the emerging nations, such as China, India and Brazil. But they also share criticism of many of those governments’ measures for promoting growth.

Passadakis emphasised reducing consumption of imported goods as a way to promote regional products. “In that sense, the CJA has adopted the Vía Campesina (an international peasant movement) programme to ensure food sovereignty of the people through encouraging consumption of what they themselves produce.”

Passadakis suggested that activists promoting these alternatives should focus on two levels: the national level, to foment a vision that is ecological and entails economic degrowth, “for example, through opposition to new carbon-based power plants and in favour of reducing the workday in order to redistribute employment and income.”

At the international level, Passadakis pointed out that for the negotiations leading to the 16th Conference of Parties (COP-16) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, “our vision should be to prevent the worst… We have to convince the governments that the World Bank has no role to play in the fight against climate change.”

Furthermore, “civil society and indigenous peoples should make it clear that they won’t accept it if the conference approves the REDD plan as another market-based instrument that is supposedly useful against global warming,” he said.

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) involves putting a monetary value on tropical forests in order to incorporate them into market mechanisms, just like the trade of emissions credits.

(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.)

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