Guardian: Could covid degrowth have helped save the planet?

Slowdown of human activity was too short to reverse years of destruction, but we saw a glimpse of post-fossil fuel world.

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The Transition to a Post-Capitalist World

Bob Thomson, April 10, 2017

An exciting new paradigm of transition to a post-capitalist world is unfolding in the forms of platform cooperativism, open source peer to peer manufacturing, agricultural and production technologies and convivial degrowth. It proposes a reduction of our societal and industrial metabolism to a level that is sustainable on our limited planet, based on the commons, i.e. resources and governance more in the hands of community and social movements than of individuals or corporations or authoritarian and/or sectarian political elites. I present here an overview of why we need this transition,  some elements of what it might look like and an introduction to the largely European peer to peer and convivial degrowth movements.

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Are humans in a swarm stage of development?

We’re in an outbreak currently. But we don’t mean the COVID pandemic. It turns out that outbreak has a second definition: it means when populations grow dramatically large, beyond their carrying capacities. As David Quammen details in his book Spillover, disease outbreaks can be considered “as a subset” in this broader category.

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Reuters NEXT: Capitalism plans a post Covid future

Sorry to bother those of you who may have received several notices of this post to the web site. I have tried to just send a link to the Reuters web page, but for some reason the link will not appear. Originally the link that I received as a subscriber to their site included code that opened a form which contained my personal information already filled out. I didn’t want to spread that all over the internet and have tried to post just a link to their own site. However WordPress will not post the link. I tried to enter simple text without the http header but WordPress censored that as well. I also tried sending completely separate words instead of the internet address but WordPress has censored that as well. Here is another attempt.

Outline of an online conference planned for January 11-14

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Discrimination and Bias in Economics, and Emerging Responses

I thought followers of this site would find this post interesting.

Opening the Miami Institute’s economics forum, Jayati Ghosh presents severe and persistent forms of discrimination and power imbalances in economic analyses, and underscores older and newer networks of scholars pushing back against these tendencies. She notes:

In development economics there is an even worse tendency, of treating those in the South as the objects of study and policy action (with its economists often becoming glorified research assistants in international research projects), while “real” knowledge is supposedly created in the North and disseminated outwards…. The recent craze in development economics personified by the “randomistas” exemplifies this. There has been much outcry and disgust about some Randomised Control Trials being conducted (inevitably) on poor people in the developing world, for example those that have involved cutting off water supply to see if that incentivises bill payments, or checking whether poor parents will send only their better performing children to school once they are informed about their results… The rot goes beyond those conducting such studies, to the research funders, the international organisations, the editors of journals and the university teachers who put such studies into their course material, when they would never consent to similar studies of their own behaviour.

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Greenhouse gases set new record, despite Covid-19 lockdown

During the most intense period of forced confinement in early 2020, daily global CO2 emissions may have been reduced by up to 17% compared to the mean level of daily CO2 emissions in 2019. As the duration and severity of the confinement measures remain unclear, it is very difficult to predict the total annual reduction in CO2 emissions for 2020; however, preliminary estimates anticipate a reduction of between 4.2% and 7.5% compared to 2019 levels.

At the global scale, an emission reduction of this magnitude will not cause atmospheric CO2 levels to decrease; they will merely increase at a slightly reduced rate, resulting in an anticipated annual atmospheric CO2 concentration that is 0.08 ppm–0.23 ppm lower than the anticipated CO2 concentration if no pandemic had occurred. This falls well within the 1 ppm natural inter-annual variability and means that in the short-term, the impact of COVID-19 confinement measures cannot be distinguished from natural year-to-year variability. …

A depressing report despite this additional (questionable?) conclusion:

“The needed changes are economically affordable and technically possible and would affect our everyday life only marginally. It is to be welcomed that a growing number of countries and companies have committed themselves to carbon neutrality. There is no time to lose.”

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Amber Waves: The Extraordinary Biography of Wheat, from Wild Grass to World Megacrop

I have regularly said that the gold and silver of the Incas and Aztecs financed the industrial revolution in Europe, but that the potato also was important. The introduction of the potato to Europe, a crop which produces more kilocalories per hectare than wheat (16m vs 10m), drove millions of peasants off the land into European cities (as food energy supplies from the potato required fewer farmers) to become the pool of cheap labour which also fuelled capitalism and the industrial revolution. Thus the Inca development of the potato over centuries, as well as their accumulation and working of gold, also changed our societies, culture and economies. This book looks like a good source of information for the role of food in capitalism.

by Catherine Zabinski

216 pages | 11 halftones | 5 x 8 | © 2020

Thanks to

At breakfast tables and bakeries, we take for granted a grain that has made human civilization possible, a cereal whose humble origins belie its world-shaping power: wheat. Amber Waves tells the story of a group of grass species that first grew in scattered stands in the foothills of the Middle East until our ancestors discovered their value as a source of food. Over thousands of years, we moved their seeds to all but the polar regions of Earth, slowly cultivating what we now know as wheat, and in the process creating a world of cuisines that uses wheat seeds as a staple food. Wheat spread across the globe, but as ecologist Catherine Zabinski shows us, a biography of wheat is not only the story of how plants ensure their own success: from the earliest breads to the most mouthwatering pastas, it is also a story of human ingenuity in producing enough food for ourselves and our communities.

Since the first harvest of the ancient grain, we have perfected our farming systems to grow massive quantities of food, producing one of our species’ global megacrops—but at a great cost to ecological systems. And despite our vast capacity to grow food, we face problems with undernourishment both close to home and around the world. Weaving together history, evolution, and ecology, Zabinski’s tale explores much more than the wild roots and rise of a now ubiquitous grain: it illuminates our complex relationship with our crops, both how we have transformed the plant species we use as food, and how our society—our culture—has changed in response to the need to secure food sources. From the origins of agriculture to gluten sensitivities, from our first selection of the largest seeds from wheat’s wild progenitors to the sequencing of the wheat genome and genetic engineering, Amber Waves sheds new light on how we grow the food that sustains so much human life.

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Book: An urgent and passionate plea for a new and ecologically sustainable vision of the good life

Recommended by a friend

The reality of runaway climate change is inextricably linked with the mass consumerist, capitalist society in which we live. And the cult of endless growth, and endless consumption of cheap disposable commodities, isn’t only destroying the world, it is damaging us and our way of being. How do we stop the impending catastrophe, and how can we create a movement capable of confronting it head-on?

In Alternative Prosperity, philosopher Kate Soper offers an urgent plea for a new vision of the good life, one that is capable of delinking prosperity from endless growth. Instead, Soper calls for renewed emphasis on the joys of being that are currently being denied, and shows the way to creating a future that allows not only for more free time, and less conventional and more creative ways of using it, but also for fairer and more fulfilling ways of working and existing. This is an urgent and necessary intervention into debates on climate change.


“There’s a piece of the ecological crisis that most consider too hot to handle: consumption. With her signature rigour, Kate Soper picks it up and inspects it and finds that we can do without much of it – indeed, less of it would make us richer human beings. Calmly dismantling the illusion that consumption is pleasure, she shows how drives and needs will be set free when we throw away the commodity form. Some on left bow to the cult of technology and dream of accelerating out into sci-fi space. Others attend to the limits and joys of life and read Kate Soper.”

– Andreas Malm, author of Progress of This Storm

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The internet of threats and promise: Can big data help define an alternative transition?

Bob Thomson
Draft 12 January 2020


Social media and the internet provide us with both “information” and “fake news”. Our growing capacity to analyse old and new economic and political models brings both despair and hope that we can define new low carbon models of cooperation and solidarity. Here I look at the potential for progressive use of “big data” to provide social and cooperative movements with the analytical tools to begin this huge challenge. I begin with Mike Cooley’s learning curve within the exploding internet and Bill Rees’ note of how our “cultural narratives” stand in the path of change. The obstacles include “big data” challenges like Google and Facebook’s algorithms and sale of personal data to shape and reinforce our consumer desires and manipulate elections to maintain the status quo. But Piketty’s 1% vs 99% and Vettese’s analysis of the economy of half earth show how “popular” access to and analysis of historical economic, energy, climate and other data can be used to develop alternative models and behaviors for a transition. I briefly review some alternatives: the P2P Transition to the Commons, Green New Deal(s), Degrowth and the indigenous “buen vivir”, and the promise and difficulties of implementing them. Thousands of individual and confederated local, community and regional examples already exist as lived examples of alternatives and progressive social media and cooperative networks which challenge the capitalist mainstream. As pluralistic cultural, political and lived alternatives and systems, they show that people can live well together and with nature. 249 words

See also the pdf version at

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Announcement: The Great Degrowth Debate (16 Nov YouTube) 19:00 CET 13:00 EST

From the UK Degrowth Summer School

Dear all, hope this email finds you well, and sorry for cross-posting.

We thought you might be interested in joining us for a live debate on Monday 16th of November at 19.00 CET (Paris/Rome/Berlin) with the authors and editors of three major Degrowth works published in 2020: Degrowth in Movement(s), Exploring Degrowth and The Case for Degrowth.

We will discuss the contents (policies, strategies, dilemmas), differences and similarities of the three books with Giacomo D’Alisa, Vincent Liegey, Susan Paulson, Matthias Schmelzer and Nina Treu.

Whether you’re interested in the latest ideas and strategies of the Degrowth movement(s), or new to the project, this event is for you!
To watch the debate and get involved in the chat and questions to the authors, head over to this YouTube livestream.
Also, please help us spread the word by sharing our posts on social networks:
Follow us on Twitter
Check out our YouTube Channel for more webinars on Degrowth.
Check out and share our Facebook event.

See you there,
The Degrowth Talks Team

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