Degrowth and Environmental Justice

Degrowth and Environmental Justice

The COVID-19 pandemic thrusts the degrowth and environmental justice movements to the forefront as life in societies come to a standstill and conventional market economies plummet (CBC news, 2020). Spearheaded by public debate in France, Italy, Spain, North and Central America (, 2019) and even within capitalist China (Alock, 2019) since 2002, degrowth is the downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being, challenging sufficiency instead of efficiency in innovations and the centrality of GDP as an overarching policy objective. It leaves more space for human cooperation within ecosystems and goes hand in hand with environmental justice, relying on stewardship to protect vital resources and the ecosystems that support them.  For example, Alcock (2019) describes the New Rural Reconstruction Movement (NRRM) in China as a form of degrowth. Likewise, Frost (2019) gives examples of grass-roots BC First Nation goals. Furthermore, many examples already exist in modern day businesses (Harvard Business Review, 2020).

Degrowth and Environmental Justice in China

degrowth and environmental justice in China covid 19

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 limiting the movement of people, and closing of schools and public businesses, China’s economy has not only witnessed degrowth but environmental  improvements in air quality and 25% decreased greenhouse gas emissions (in only 3 weeks) including 80% less airplane flights (CBC news, 2020). However, carbon emissions could rise sharply if China pushes for rapid economic recovery as it did after the 2008 global recession. In fact, from 2011 to 2014, China used 50% more cement in growing infrastructure than the US used in the whole of the 20th century (CBC new, 2020).

Agricultural degrowth in China

Yet, regardless of COVID-19, examples of degrowth perpetuate in China, originating from the peoples’ needs for safe healthier food, less waste, increased biodiversity, improved social equality and well-being (Alcock, 2019). Unfortunately,  growth in China increased purchasing power, but decreased well-being due to issues of inequality of the urban rich to the rural poor (Alcock, 2019), influencing the abandonment of vast tracks of farmland and sustainable farming methods. Hence, the Shared Harvest Organic Farm exists just outside Beijing based on degrowth themes: focus on well-being, meaning of life, environmental and social justice, relationship building between the urban consumers and the rural farmers, and open critiquing of development (Alcock, 2019). Through public education and grass-root community involvement, degrowth movements such as NRRM criticize development based on maximization of profits or market relations and instead strive for maximization of human relations. Essentially, cash is less important than culture.

Degrowth and environmental justice among First Nations in B.C.

degrowth and environmental justice map of bc
First Nation Groups of British Columbia (Frost, 2019)

Likewise, Frost (2019) describes degrowth and environmental justice movements among some of the most determined activist First Nations groups of B.C. including the Haida, Tsimshian, Gixan, and Wet’suwet’en who are currently standing up to the Canadian government over recognition of their hereditary territory, their United Nations declared rights, as well as their right to refuse the Coastal GasLinks pipeline on their land. They fight a spaghetti map of dozens of proposed oil and gas pipelines through their territories. They also fight export facilities for coal, oil and gas; the proposed passage of oil tankers with their history of accidents though salmon-rich waters; a major hydro-electric project; salmon aquaculture spreading  diseases to wild stocks; and  mining accidents including the largest tailing pond breach in history at the Imperial Metals Mt. Polley site. They fight asymmetric distribution of benefits to the colonial rich and the costs cast upon their marginalized poor. Most of all, they fight to preserve their connection to their ancestral ways, their sense of identity, their sacred sense of place, their sense of sharing wealth and service,  and their belief in taking only for subsistence. He gives many examples of collective food fishing not for profit but for building of respectful relationships in their communities (Frost, 2020).

Degrowth as a niche

However, Vanderventer et al. (2019) looks upon degrowth as a niche within a capitalist system, whereby companies and industries compete for new opportunities and innovations in a shrinking resource market. What do these companies look like? For one, Patagonia offers a worn-wear store, providing free repairs for not only their own products, but also for those of other garment manufacturers (Harvard Business Review, 2020). Crowd sourced and funded Local Motors, creates recyclable vehicles crafted with 50 individual onsite printed parts compared to 25,000 parts required in a conventional car. Flygskam, the Swedish flight shaming movement paves the way for Tågskryt or “train brag” to promote the use of renewable energies in trains over the greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes. And the list goes on with companies that seek alternative economies locally with  a social shift in normative values of voluntary simplicity and “less is more” attitudes.

As our planet changes with climate emergency, so too will our social and normative values whereby survival no longer depends upon economic but ecological growths between people and their interdependence on their environments. Our current global capitalist economies must degrow and justice must prevail for our environment in order to survive these foreboding changes.


Alcock, R. (2019). The New Rural Reconstruction Movement: a Chinese Degrowth-style Movement? Ecological Economics 161, pp 261-269.

Crowe, K. (Feb. 28, 2020). Fallout from coronavirus outbreak triggers 25% decrease in China’s carbon emissions. CBC online news. Retrieved on 2020/03/13 from

Frost, K. (2019) First Nations Sovereignty, Environmental Justice and Degrowth in Northwestern BC. Ecological Economics 162, pp 133-142.

Roulet, T. and Bothello, J. (Feb. 14, 2020) Why “Degrowth” Shouldn’t Scare Businesses. Harvard Business Review online. Retrieved 2020/03/13 from

Vanderventer, J.S., Cattaneo, C. and Zografos, C. (2019) A Degrowth Transition: Pathways for the Degrowth Niche to Replace the Capitalist-Growth Regime. Ecological Economics 156, pp 272-286.