2015, Sustainability Science - número/volum 321 - DOI 10.1007/s11625-015-0321-9
Tots els autors:
Viviana Asara, Iago Otero, Federico Demaria, Esteve Corbera
In the late 1980s, the sustainable development paradigm emerged to provide a framework through which economic growth, social welfare and environmental protection could be harmonized. However, more than 30 years later, we can assert that such harmonization has proved elusive. Steffen et al. (2015) have shown that four out of nine planetary boundaries have been crossed: climate change, impacts in biosphere integrity, land-system change and altered biochemical flows are a manifestation that human activities are driving the Earth into a new state of imbalance. Meanwhile, wealth concentration and inequality have increased, particularly during the last 50 years (Piketty 2014). In 2008, the collapse of large financial institutions was prevented by the public bailout of private banks and, nowadays, low growth rates are likely to become the norm in the economic development of mature economies (Summers 2013; IMF 2015; Teulings and Baldwin 2015). The three pillars of sustainability (environment, society and economy) are thus simultaneously threatened by an intertwined crisis.
In an attempt to problematize the sustainable development paradigm, and its recent reincarnation in the concept of a “green economy”, degrowth emerged as a paradigm that emphasizes that there is a contradiction between sustainability and economic growth (Kothari et al. 2015; Dale et al. 2015). It argues that the pathway towards a sustainable future is to be found in a democratic and redistributive downscaling of the biophysical size of the global economy (Schneider et al. 2010; D’Alisa et al. 2014). In the context of this desired transformation, it becomes imperative to explore ways in which sustainability science can explicitly and effectively address one of the root causes of social and environmental degradation worldwide, namely, the ideology and practice of economic growth. This special feature aims to do so by stressing the deeply contested and political nature of the debates around the prospects, pathways and challenges of a global transformation towards sustainability.
The ‘growth’ paradigm (Dale 2012; Purdey 2010) is indeed largely accepted in advanced and developing countries alike as an unquestioned imperative and naturalized need. It escapes ‘the political’, i.e. the contested public terrain where different imaginaries of possible socio-ecological orders compete over the symbolic and material institutionalization of these visions. In this sense, the contemporary context of neoliberal capitalism appears as a post-political space, i.e. a political formation that forecloses the political, the legitimacy of dissenting voices and positions (Swyngedouw 2007). As Swyngedouw (2014:91) argues: “the public management of things and people is hegemonically articulated around a naturalization of the need of economic growth and capitalism as the only reasonable and possible form of organization of socio-natural metabolism. This foreclosure of the political in terms of at least recognizing the legitimacy of dissenting voices and positions constitutes a process of de-politicization. […] (The) wider framework of neoliberal growth is in itself not contestable.”
Counter-hegemonic discourses and praxis are needed to re-politicize the debate about what kind of society (and sustainability) we want to live in and to open up alternative avenues (Mouffe 2005). Degrowth aims to repoliticize the debate on the relationships between sustainability, economy and society (Kallis et al. 2014) and to advance a new vision of social–ecological transformations. It contributes to building a counter-hegemonic narrative, in alliance with equivalent alternative frameworks emerging from the global South such as Buen Vivir from Latin America (Gudynas 2011), ecological Swaraj from India (Kothari 2014) and Ubuntu from South Africa (Metz 2011).
In what follows, we present first the intellectual origins of degrowth, to explain how such a paradigm understands the question of sustainability. Special attention is paid to the social and ecological limits to growth and to the social–ecological transformation envisioned by the degrowth paradigm. Next, we discuss the contents of the papers included in this Special Feature. Finally, we conclude by stressing the contribution of degrowth to sustainability science and practice, and argue for a re-politicization of the science and practice of sustainability.