The Degrowth movement is gaining momentum. You’ve probably read articles about it and thought “Yeah, that makes sense, but it’ll never happen”. And today, you’d be right. Any government that tried to introduce it would soon become like the parrot, an ex-government.
However, we all know that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. Perhaps you’ve read one of the reports showing that environmental damage can't be decoupled from GDP. COP26 showed there is no time to wait for a large number of countries to agree on meaningful action.
So, imagine that you and your social media buddies launch a campaign, and Degrowth becomes a household word, understood by many, and one brave government (my money’s on the Kiwis) decides to take the plunge. They secretly make preparations then introduce it – overnight.
You’re eating your muesli and your normal radio programme is interrupted with: “We now cross to the capital where the prime minister is about to make an important announcement”.
But first, a word of warning.
Some people might find the speech confronting. Scaring people is not my aim; rather, it is to present a scenario that could actually happen quickly enough to avoid catastrophic environmental and social collapse.
Facing reality is difficult. Ignoring the problems, or believing in myths like tech-will-save-us, is so much easier. And then there are those who are happy to just blame capitalism; but simply wishing it away won’t work. Or those who say we are doomed so why bother. Perhaps we are but we owe it to our kids not to give up.
The speech begins:
The time for pretending is over.
The governor-general has signed a proclamation declaring a state of emergency.
The stock market will not open this morning, and will remain closed for one week while investors come to terms with what you are about to hear.
I have nationalized the major banks. A limit of $200 withdrawal per account holder per day will be in place for a period that we expect to be less than one month. I have also nationalised all energy operations in this country.
The ingenuity of the modern world has brought amazing improvements to our lives. But we have gone too far. We are now destroying the natural environment at such a rapid rate that our very existence is under extreme threat. Our way of life has depended on fossil fuel and a market system that has created great wealth for a few but a difficult life for many who struggle to get by in this and other countries.
This is a democratic country and will remain so. A general election will be held in 6 months’ time. Many of you will say that is too long, as you will want to kick us out immediately. However, 6 months is very short to learn how and why our whole way of life must change.
At the heart of our current problem is economic growth. Yes, that grand goal that we have all been working towards is actually causing our downfall. Infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible.
Many of you will be wondering why today’s announcement is so sudden and dramatic. Unfortunately, any serious mention of Degrowth would send the stock markets into panic. But planned Degrowth is not recession or austerity. You can learn about this on a new website that has, in the last few moments, gone live. It explains what is wrong with our current economic and social systems and how we can move to a better life for all.
I know many had pinned their hopes on renewable energy, electric vehicles, so-called green growth, or the Green New Deal. Those things alone will not save us. Again, please refer to our new website for details.
Many will ask; why us? Why should our country lead the way when we are so small compared to countries like China and the USA? The answer is simple – there is no time to wait. Our children’s lives, and perhaps our own, depend on it. This might seem like a dangerous experiment – it is; but business as usual is far more dangerous. We expect that many countries will follow. If they don’t then the human race might not survive beyond a few decades.
Before long we anticipate trade wars with countries that continue to damage the environment.
From today the world is a new place. We have dared to mention the unmentionable – the growth party is over.
I have been in discussions with our national broadcaster who has agreed to cancel most scheduled programs and replace them with information and debates. They will give roughly equal airtime to three topics. First is the climate, environmental and social science. How bad is it now, how did we get here, and how bad might it get? Second are the views of those in favour of economic growth, in the form of business-as-usual, so-called green growth, or the Green New Deal. Third are those in favour of the government’s Degrowth proposals.
Change is difficult. I expect outrage, anger, fear, and demonstrations. This has been discussed with our heads of police and army and they are ready to keep the peace.
Using our powers under the state of emergency we will implement many changes to lower this country’s environmental footprint from its current “4.6 Earths” down to 1 within 10 years. Those unfamiliar with the footprint concept should see our new website. I am announcing some changes now and many in the coming weeks and months.
Some announcements will significantly affect people’s wealth. Unfortunately this is unavoidable, but if we don’t act decisively now then everyone will suffer much more in the near future, as climate change, natural disasters, and other environmental effects worsen.
We will not compensate shareholders for losses, and penalties for non-fulfilment of effected contracts shall not apply to contracts signed before today.
Construction of fossil fuel infrastructure which has not yet come on line will cease.
Our major cities are too big. From today there will be a moratorium on new road and freeway construction, and on all new commercial and residential buildings within cities. Exemptions may apply to some buildings where the client can show that they have paid a deposit prior to today. Those who already own land in cities, and had planned to build homes for themselves on that land, may be allowed to build once the new building regulations are released.
Degrowth is about providing needs, not endless, planet destroying wants. During the transition to a fairer, sustainable economy, many people will lose their jobs. We don’t underestimate the pain and trauma this will create. Unemployment benefits will increase and retraining will be available to all those who want it. There will be a moratorium on evictions for people who have lost their job.
Our houses are too big. 12 months from today, a new residential tax will apply. For 4 people it will start with homes of 150 m², plus 10 m² per person over 4. This tax will replace stamp duty. The government will be buying some of these too-big houses and modifying them into multiple dwelling units, thus creating many jobs in the building industry.
Air travel uses enormous amounts of fossil fuel. Three months from today a 20% aviation fuel tax will apply and will increase in coming years. We understand that this will cause retrenchments in the tourism industry. Again, unemployment benefits and retraining will be available.
Society is currently ruled by the stock market. Governments have been too afraid to act on the environment for fear of stock losses and capital flight. Yet act we will, even though we all have shares; either directly or through our superannuation.
Financially there will be many losers but we will build a new, fairer society; that no longer destroys nature – our life support system. Our standard of living will fall but for many willing to adapt, quality of life will rise.
Local food production will be prioritised. Our suburbs will be retrofitted to become productive food gardens. This will be done by any landowner who wishes and laws will be drawn up allowing tenants to do the same. Soil test shall be done on all vacant government owned land and where the land is free of toxins it will be made available for community gardens. Changes affecting industrial agriculture will be announced soon.
At the elections in 6 months’ time, you have a clear choice. Vote for business as usual and an uninhabitable planet, or a better life for all.
You push your muesli aside and type on social media. “We did it! Reading all those Degrowth books and spreading the message paid off.
Three weeks later a second country announced Overnight Degrowth, then three weeks after that a third. This was all secretly planned in advance to provide maximum impact. The world had changed. Greta, who had been calling for system change, finally used the D word. Extinction Rebellion added Degrowth to their demands. The many experts already calling for Degrowth were joined by thousands more who stopped self-censoring. Mainstream media ran stories about the biggest cover-up in history. Why was the truth never told, they asked (it was but most people didn’t listen), and why has there been such a lack of leadership.
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