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Investing in Degrowth

Published on April 27, 2022

By Jennifer Wilkins

An increasing number of people in the affluent nations are realising that our levels of consumerism reflect learned habits rather than our real needs, that inputs to industrial production are less than 10% recirculated causing over-extraction and pollution, that the fossil fuels that power our lifestyles need to stay in the ground in order to mitigate climate change because decoupling technologies are infeasible, and that the renewable energy revolution may not happen as rapidly or as adequately as we’d like. The affluent Western lifestyle is a privilege for millions and an aspiration for billions, yet it imperils the planet and humanity. We must build a vision of a new aspirational way of living that consumes far fewer unnecessary goods and uses far less energy. 

If enough of the world’s affluent people were to make sufficient changes, we could avoid the immense social, environmental and economic effects of climate change and nature loss that would lead to a global economic crash affecting multiple subsequent generations. 

This is an opportunity to redesign the global political economy to be climate positive, nature regenerative, inclusive and fair; to reimagine an economy that operates within the limits of a social foundation and planetary boundaries for all people in all nations. The transition to this new economic ideal is known as degrowth because it requires a radically smaller resource throughput than that which the current ever-expanding growth economy demands. 

All parts of society, all sectors and all professions will need to adopt degrowth transition thinking – policymakers, accountants, engineers, agriculturalists, financiers – not by waiting for the new economic vision to become clear and then adopting some guidelines, but by venturing forward with ideas, innovations and interventions right now that develop the pieces of this new economy and by fitting them together. 

The white paper Investing in Degrowth by Jennifer Wilkins and Bill Murphy, both of whom are based in New Zealand, focuses on the changes that the investment community could make, asking them to consider the feasibility of funding the transition to a new economy that no longer supports economic activities that fall outside safe ecological and fair social boundaries. It urges them to deeply consider the purpose of their investment strategy and whether they are willing to place their capital into projects that provide a more inclusive set of returns in order to bring about an economic revolution that could not only save humanity from a crisis but propel it toward a new ideal.

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