I spent a few days last week doing some labwork at our field site station in the south part of Venice lagoon, finally a semi return to normality.
If we can call it that, as I stayed in a little sea-side apartment in the island of Pellestrina in order to stay closer and avoid daily public transport (if semi holidays become the new normality, I am in !) .
And I was inspired by this place to write this post..
Pellestrina is one of the venice lagoon ‘barrier islands’ and hosts about 5000 inhabitants...
It felt like stepping into another, calm, world. People are friendly, and life is slower. The beach is wild, nothing built on it aside from some driftwood structures. Most people bike. A lot of them are fishermen, others commute to Venice for work. Houses are small and close together, outside space is shared. As I bike past in the morning, I see people sitting outside having their breakfast. there is no mobile phone signal, and even the wi-fi is slow. But none seems to overly worry. The point that I am trying to make: it is a ‘poor’ area, yet people are happy (at least, they look it), I think that is enough to make them richer than the ‘rich’.
This same week, I came across an article by Jason Hickel titled ‘ The contradiction of the sustainable development goals: Growth versus ecology on a finite planet’. Yes, the SDGs, the same ones that I discussed in a good light about a year ago, the same ones that it’s good to mention in grant writing, because, seeing how your research fits within the set scheme gives you more chances of success. And well, I came across this paper turning them upside down, and showing the negative aspects of such a scheme.
What does this paper say?
Basically, the SDGs have some apparently very sustainable backgrounds -ensuring sustainability, protecting the planet and people on it. A lot of preambles that make it seem like they cover most problems, from climate change, to biodiversity, health, food, poverty, gender equality. Yet at the same time they want to fit this in an 'ideal world' promoting economic growth. As Target 8.1 reads: Sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances and, in particular, at least 7% gross domestic product growth per annum in the least developed countries,” as measured by “annual growth rate of real GDP per capita.” Target 8.2 adds: “Achieve higher levels of economic productivity,” as measured by “annualgrowth rate of real GDP per employed person.” Target 9.2 indicates that this growth should be primarily industrial: “Promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and, by 2030, significantly raise industry's share of employment and gross domestic product in line with national circumstances, and double its share in least developed
The rest of the paper points out how this goal is not, in fact, compatible with the sustainable use of resources, nor with the 2°C climate goal.
But the point that most stuck with me was the final one: ‘It is not just that GDP is not strongly correlated with human development after a point—it is also that GDP growth past a certain threshold often has a negative impact.’ It may lead, amongst other things, to exploitation of people and workers just for the sake of the economy. Remember when I was saying that maybe our work culture is not sustainable after all? It all fits in.
Boosting the economy will not be answer to our problems.
And yet, in the aftermath (if we can call it this) of the pandemic - we are still discussing money and economy.
After finding the paper and discussing it with some friends and colleagues, I found out that there is a ‘global degrowth day’ coming up on June 6th. And that there is a whole degrowth movement (how am I so late to the party?). In case you were still wondering what it means ‘In addition to referring to the realized reductions in the biophysical flow of matter-energy,
degrowth is the name of a movement of academics and activists seeking to reduce the
size of the global economy, in particular in the affluent, over-consuming economies, while
improving the overall well-being. A driver of the movement is the observation that infinite growth on a finite planet is a biophysical impossibility’
Sounds like a movement I want to be part of ...
Will you take part on June 6th? Or maybe ponder about this?
I also really recommend this ted talk about degrowth
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