The Degrowth India Initiative was started in August this year after a series of informal discussion between Arpita and me, two students of Ecological Economics, who along with countless other researchers and activists across the globe accept that in a finite earth with finite resources, infinite monetary and population growth is an impossibility. This Initiative aims to provide a small platform to bring together people who are looking for alternatives to growth for a socially and ecologically just India.
In our quest for alternatives to growth we hosted a discussion session on “Alternatives to Growth” with the authors of Churning the Earth-The Making of Global India, Aseem Shrivastava and Ashish Kothari in Delhi last Monday. The reason why I am writing this article is because during the course of this article, both the authors, along with Dr. Rajeshwari Raina, who had co-organized the first symposium on Degrowth in India last year, had some very interesting stories of successful alternatives to growth that are being practiced in different parts of our country, and which I think the youth of today needs to be made aware of.
Be it the farmers of Kerala who have voluntarily shunned fertilizer intensive cropping, despite being aware of the lower productivity of organic agriculture, and banned the production of high valued GM pepper due to its harmful effects on the soil health and environment, to Vani Murthy’s initiative in Bangalore which has converted several thousand households in the city to composter and rooftop gardeners, encouraging them to stop throwing out their wet waste, India, both in her cities and villages, has numerous examples of such bottoms-up approach which converges with the ideas of alternatives to growth. Local initiatives such as mobilization of people for the protection of the lakes of Bangalore, collective action by the villagers of Medha Lekha in Maharasthra to be the first village to be granted community forest rights, mobilization of Dalit women in Andhra Pradesh for sustainable farming and other such decentralized approaches for attaining better quality of life and land are examples of how the people of India have a long history of looking after themselves and their environment without any top-down approach being enforced upon them.
Yet, despite a plethora of decentralized movements which although do not conform to the formal definition of growth still continue to improve the social and ecological standards of an area, a large section of affluent India is increasingly dissociating itself from environmental well-being and social connections. What the society in general, and the youth in particular need to focus is to learn from these examples to find new ways which allows not just the poor and the vulnerable, but also other species (and the environment in general) to flourish by resisting against destructive development of one section of the society at the cost of others.
One of the key takeaways of the discussion was the need for a proactive youth movement which understands the social and ecological consequences of our greed for a technologically rich, yet culturally and socially degraded life. Dr. Shrivastava also pointed out that our current approach for solving the climate change problem and other environmental issues is to either depend on the international discussions and meets, or to expect decentralized action by tiny communities, whose lives and livelihoods are threatened. However, we keep forgetting that is a whole set of other levels of governance, such as the municipality, district level and state level governing bodies, who must be involved in these decision making and implementation of alternatives.
We also had a long discussion on the significance of the COP21summit which will be held next week, and both Kothari and Shrivastava were of the opinion that the only thing this summit will be successfully implying is that we cannot depend on our national leaders alone to solve the dire ecological and social problems challenging the world today. You and I need to come together and work for a society of sufficiency, finding ways to reduce our individual ecological footprints and the footprints of the society as a whole.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Report 2015, which was released earlier this year, was the final document, reporting the progress of the MDGs for the last fifteen years. Although, there were a quite a few positive outcomes, one of the biggest challenges that the world, as a whole, faces today is that of conflicts which poses the biggest threat for human development. The report acknowledged that “despite many successes, the poorest and most vulnerable people are being left behind”. The obvious question which then arises is that if we are consistent in our economic growth (as measured by our GDP), and yet the poor and the vulnerable are being left out, then who are the benefactors of this growth, and why is it not percolating (as proposed by the trickle-down effect theory) to the sections of the society that need it the most?
The answer is to this question lies in the fundamental flaw with our definition of economic growth. We measure economic growth in terms of flow of money, but what is the purpose of this flow is never put in the spotlight. To provide a simple example, the money earned from an increase in the sales of a consumer product, such as toys, adds to the economic growth just as much as the foreign aid received after a natural disaster strikes. The answer to the obvious question in the previous paragraph thus becomes self-evident once you familiarize yourself with the concept of economic growth as it is being currently viewed. A lot of scholars, researchers and activists in the West understood this early on, and in their quest for alternatives to growth, started a movement seeking radical change in an attempt to re-politicize the debate on the socio-ecological transformation, which was named the Degrowth Movement. India too, over the last few years, has seen an increasing number of scholars questioning the growth paradigm, and looking for alternatives to growth for a country with social and environmental justice.