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Socially Sustainable Economic De-growth


  • Joan Martinez Alier

    1. is a Professor at the Department of Economics and Economic History, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, 08193 Bellaterra, Barcelona, Spain. He is a founding member and has been president (2006, 2007) of the International Society for Ecological Economics. He is the author of many academic articles, and a member of the editorial committees of Ecological Economics, Environmental Values, Journal of Agrarian Change and other journals. He has written and edited many books; his recent publications include Rethinking Environmental History: World-Systems History and Global Environmental Change (with Alf Hornborg and John McNeill, AltaMira Press, 2007), and Recent Developments in Ecological Economics (with Inge Ropke, 2 vols, Edward Elgar, 2008).
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  • I would like to thank Servaas Storm and other readers for comments on an earlier version. This article is dedicated to Herman Daly.


Economic growth is not compatible with environmental sustainability. The effort to push up the rate of growth by increasing obligations to repay financial debts is in direct conflict with the availability of exhaustible resources and with the capacity of waste sinks. The economic crisis of 2008–09 has resulted in a welcome change to the totally unsustainable trend of increasing carbon dioxide emissions. The Kyoto Protocal of 1997 was generous to the rich countries, giving them property rights on the carbon sinks and the atmosphere in exchange for the promise of a reduction of 5 per cent of their emissions relative to1990. This modest Kyoto objective will be fulfilled more easily because of the economic crisis. This shows that economic de-growth, leading to a steady state, is a plausible objective for the rich industrial economies. This would be supported by the environmental justice movements of the South, which are active in resource extraction conflicts.