In August, Spire was represented at the International Degrowth Conference in Malmö for the first time. This marks Spire’s first direct engagement with this rising environmental movement. But what is degrowth and this conference about?
Degrowth is a movement of academics, activists and artists that question our focus on economic growth. The central argument is that infinite economic growth is incompatible with finite resources on a finite planet. Besides that, there is little that all degrowthers have in common. While many learn about the movement from an environmental perspective, it also includes a variety of social justice issues and feminist ideas.
So what happens if you gather a few hundred people from all kinds of different backgrounds in Malmö to discuss degrowth for five days? A lot of different sessions (up to 17 at a time), from panel debates to anticapitalist yoga to civil disobedience workshops to presentations about fully automated luxury communism and other utopias. And on top of that, a concert, a demonstration and a party.
The authoritarian and anti-authoritarian perspectives
The turning point of the conference was one of the common plenary sessions in the evening that got quite heated. It was meant to provide an insight from different critical perspectives on degrowth, and polarized the crowd quite a bit. The one side allied with Andreas Malm, who was arguing why stronger top-down control was necessary to deal with climate change. He did so in a passionate and engaging way, and ended up promoting “Eco-Leninism” with vanguards. In the rush of the moment, he ended up getting a decent applause from the crowd. On the other side, Ruth Kinna argued for an anarchist perspective on degrowth, how the only just way to deal with environmental issues is to fight hierarchies through bottom-up approaches. She also got applause from (presumably) the other half of the room. It set the tone for the rest of the conference, as most following sessions had to engage with the question of the role of the state in degrowth. I just wanted to give this example as a snapshot of the conference, as well as a serious tension in the environmental movement between authoritarian and anti-authoritarian perspectives that we should not ignore when moving forward.
Spire's session at the conference
On a lighter note, I also want to report about our contribution to the conference. We were quite happy when we saw the opening session discussing how environmental circles often romanticize Sweden, as we had a similar argument from Norway. We used our workshop to present Norway as a case study and investigate how degrowth can look like here. Our session was a forerunner to the national campaign of Spire, which is being launched next week.
Our session included short presentations about the pension fund and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), followed by discussions on these topics and a general talk about degrowth in Norway. We succeeded in breaking up the presentation format a bit by putting the audience up in groups, getting everyone engaging in the topic. As most of the degrowth literature started in southern Europe, it was good to see how degrowth ideas can be used or modified to fit a Norwegian context. Not every country has a trillion dollar fund invested all over the world and spends billions on rainforest projects. We got some inspiring feedback and contacts, so we recommend the Degrowth conference both as participants and presenters for anyone interested in a critical view on the paradigm of economic growth.
Spire's fall campaign
If you want to learn more about the upcoming campaign, stay tuned! The launch will be on 20th September with an action at Stortinget with many partner organisations. Followed by a debate at 19:00 at Litteraturhuset in Oslo, where state secretary of the foreign ministry, Jens Frølich Holte, and professor of development studies at OsloMet, Hanne Svarstad, will discuss Norway’s sustainable image.