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Does Degrowth have a chance?


"Degrowth & Strategy, How to Bring About Social-Ecoloical Transformation": the book every climate activist should read.

As a climate activist, I feel the urge to be in constant action, which leaves little room for reflection and re-evaluation.

That doesn’t mean that I am immune to the need to give sense to what I do by fitting it into the bigger picture. At times (when everything seems to be going well) I feel confident that activism works, that positive change is happening. Others, I cannot help but to ask myself; ¿what big of a difference can this make?, ¿are these types of actions the ones that will work?, ¿can someone please tell me what to do so that the system finally changes for the better?

The book DEGROWTH & STRATEGY, How to Bring About Social-Ecological Transformation certainly doesn’t answer all of these questions, but it works as a powerful toolkit to start reflecting on them constructively, which can be much more powerful.

The text is an ambitious project, aiming to cover everything from strategies in food, urban housing, digital technologies, energy, transport, care, and more, to discussing why we should be thinking rigorously about strategy in the first place. The idea that an all-encompassing social-ecological transformation is attainable if only we figure out what the right strategy for it is may seem naively utopian, but the book manages to reach the right balance between a theoretical framework and concrete, real-life practice, showing how transformation can be tangible.

 But it is not only the content that lives up to the meaning of transformation; the book itself, as it is made, is an embodiment of what the degrowth movement stands for. In a world driven by competition and individualism, ¿how can we do things differently? Sometimes it can be as simple as creating a book by collaboration, where each chapter is written by a different author, and where eight editors have contributed to a common vision. Simple, but powerful. The variety of authors, far from resulting in a patchwork of disassociated ideas, grants the book the freshness of different perspectives on a single topic, creating synergies that construct a comprehensive understanding of the complexity of a frequent dilemma: we have the common vision of a socially and ecologically fair society everywhere, but there are as many realities as local contexts to be taken into account, each with specific conditions and needs.

To be able to learn about the local strategies that groups are carrying out to gain and protect social rights all around the world, framing them into the single context of degrowth and social-ecological justice, was not only incredibly useful, since it provides with practical ideas of what steps can be taken to counteract the injustice of the system in different scenarios, but it had the side effect of making me develop huge respect and admiration for people who are, mostly with few resources, creating better alternatives.

In Austria, the collective SoliLa has occupied and reclaimed fields in Vienna to gain access to land for growing vegetables, fighting land speculation and the sealing of soil. La Via Campesina is a global organisation of peasants, rural workers, fishing communities, landless and indigenous peoples opposing the neoliberal tendencies worsening the situation of hungry people all over the globe. The DWE campaign in Berlin managed to get a referendum approved, which determined that over 250,000 homes held by large private companies may be expropriated and made available as common property. Chiloé Libre de Saqueo Energético is a campaign fighting to stop the construction of a new electricity transmission line from the Chiloé archipelago to the mainland. These are just some of the case-studies presented in the book, analysed for the strength of the strategies and the learning points they provide.

By juxtaposing all of these initiatives in a single book, it makes them feel interconnected, ascending the value of local struggles through the understanding that they are not isolated, but rather play a role in a global tide where people are standing up for justice, as they have been, and will continue to do. So I have finally understood that local wins matter, not because they will in themselves change the world, but because they compose a bigger picture. And if we ever lose sight of this, we can always reread a few chapters.

An unexpected surprise was how, through gaining a deeper insight of how different actors can come to work, I changed the perspective of my own role within a social movement. Politics, legislation, journalism, activism, civil disobedience, campaigning, academic research, are all different tools that can be used for a same purpose, and learning how the other tools work can help optimize the way you are using your own. If I imagined social-ecological transformation to be a domino effect in which activism was the first piece that set all the others in motion, now I realise that it is more like a chess-board, where every piece has a different function, and with it comes a different potential for change.

If there is anything I learnt is that the diversity within this world gives room for, and requires, a plethora of different strategies, and that the creativity and uniqueness of each of them can only be grasped if learning about each of them. It would be impossible to extract a single teaching for a universal strategy to follow, but if there is something that many of the strategies presented have in common, is that local groups formed by ordinary people can contribute invaluably within their context. After reading the book, you will realise that it is not an act of faith to say that the world will be changed from the bottom up.

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