Degrowth: social change beyond the planet’s limits
The perception that we have already entered a necessarily transitional phase of overshoot, beyond the planet’s limits, has become a central subject, which is growing in quantity and impact, in the literature about the present environmental predicament of humanity. This view believes the collapse of industrial civilization to be possible in the near future and revisits, from this perspective, the fate of different societies in the past. The discussion about the scope and possible social effects of a “degrowth”, decline, or way-down is intense. Degrowth ideas have spread to the point of questioning the promises of sustainable development which, after the Rio summit in 1992, dominated the discourse on the possible response to environmental and social problems. The rationale for such a questioning is clear-cut: if population and the economy are truly beyond the limits, then current visions and theories of social change would be deeply perturbed; if the development era is approaching its end, then many sociological theories on current societies will share the same destiny, sustainable development doctrines between them. But visions of degrowth are also plural, with significant frictions drawing potential inner lines of division. The most important one separates those who associate degrowth to a total catastrophic collapse of civilization (the die-off, the rapid return to the Olduvai Gorge, to the prehistoric origin of the human species) from those who associate it with the continuity of wellbeing (defending the idea of a more or less prosperous way-down).