Degrowth limits expectations on government

GEN-Europe representative Robert Hall reflects on the 6th international Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity.

12/09/2018 GEN Europe

While most people were on holiday, some 800 researchers and activists gathered 21-25 August in the southern Swedish city of Malmö for the sixth bi-annual global conference of the Degrowth movement.  The French-initiated movement of alternative-searching, critical-thinking academics has evolved into a loose network of university researchers, think-tank investigators, NGOs, and street activists. Representatives from GEN Europe Camilla Nielsen-Englyst and Robert Hall were present to advocate for community-led sustainable solutions and specifically ecovillages as part of a transition to a more just and sustainable world.

Prior to the conference opening in Malmö, two pre-events were hosted in GEN's urban neighbourhood member and icon Christiania, just across the Öresund Straight in Danish Copenhagen. Both GEN representatives were invited to first speak at the pre-events NOWtopia and GAP. While NOWtopia offered an opportunity for local activists and artists to express themselves on climate and degrowth, the GAP event made possible deep discussions on the the degrowth movement with its core supporters.

We asked our delegates about what they experienced in Copenhagen and Mälmö over an intense week. Here we hear from Robert Hall, GEN Europe representative, member of Suderbyn Ecovillage, and former President of GEN Europe.

Why was GEN Europe present at Degrowth?

GEN Europe activists attended Leipzig 2014 which took place close in time and location to our annual conference. We consciously decided to send representatives to Budapest 2016 because we had heard that Degrowth is an interesting forum where we need to be seen and meet like-minded movements. As Degrowth was coming to my country I felt I could not miss this opportunity. Early on there was a desire for the members of ECOLISE - GEN, Permaculture and Transition - should utilise the conference to make a joint appearance with ECOLISE. That's exactly what we did. I think a large number of attendees knew who we were by the end of the international conference. We held several events as a unified team even if we came from different movements and countries. Most of us even stayed at the same house together which was really good "community glue".

What were the major themes emerging in the degrowth movement and do you see synergies with what's happening in the ecovillage movement?


Most people that attended seem to be researcher-activists, researchers that realise they too must walk the talk and are trying to figure out how. The ecovillage movement has much to offer as examples of functioning sustainable living. I was surprised by the number of presenters focused on government-led action and proposals for parliaments to pass radical legislation to force curbing corporate excesses and facilitating shifts in our lifestyle. Even if I am involved with policy advocacy myself, I see how much more we in GEN are more focused on creating new models on our own, not waiting for government decisions. Of course it is good that there are researchers working on policy research of how we could transition if a majority of our elected representatives were ready to take the needed tough decisions for a transition to resilience. So perhaps we represent two complimentary approaches to societal transition, top-down and bottom-up, both which need to be pursued.

What was an inspiring idea or project that you'll take with you?

I was inspired to meet and hear so many researchers and students that questioned the current endless growth thinking that entirely dominated when I was a student. I was particularly interested to hear about post-growth welfare research where social equity and security can be maintained in a post-growth economy. I was first shocked and later accepted the critique of gross national happiness. In a finite material world society cannot always offer every citizen increasing subjective well-being, In the name of sufficiency society should guarantee meeting every person on Earth's  basic needs, no more, thus an objective and absolute well-being. The happiness part is something each individual can pursue on their own if they so desire.