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Farewell to Growth – Serge Latouche

This book is about the problem of sustainability. The author explains, referencing many authors and studies, how the current economic model is not self-sustainable and how it already damaged the ecological environment, how it flattened cultural diversities, how it consumed resources without replacing them, condemning not only the humans but the nature as a whole to a very near destruction.

Latouche reports that the root of the problem is cultural: for industrialized countries the most important target to pursue is the growth. A growth measured by GDP and not by an improved quality of life. Actually, in our (until now) ever-growing society, the quality of live is very poor if we consider the little free time, the impoverished social relationships, the decreased civil role played by citizens, the diffused dissatisfaction of the work-and-consume way of life. In industrialized countries the Growth imperative is a shared value for every political party, it is not even call into question. The solution provided by Latouche is the De-Growth. A controlled process in which the consumptions will decrease, as well as the industrial production and the GDP, while at the same time the quality of life will improve.

Latouche refuses to use the words (and the concept) of “sustainable development” for 2 reasons. The first is semantic: the words “sustainable development” have been misused also by industrialists and hence they became vague and  ambiguous. The second reason is conceptual: Latouche doesn’t advocates for maintaining the same level of growth substituting polluting technologies to more environment friendly ones, or resource-greed processes with resource-sparing ones. Even if that would help, Latouche warns that it would not be enough and it would lead in any case to the destruction of the planet. The only starting point in his opinion is to exclude the imperative of Growth from our policies and passing to a De-Growth phase where both consumption and production diminish, since the quality of life in not related to high level of production and consumption. His political program shows how a De-Growth process may be realized in a way that improves the life of citizens leaving them a better environment, more free time, more conviviality, a better civil sense and community participation, an increased cultural wealth, a healthier life, a fair society. This program can’t be resumed here, I can anyway report that it is developed around the “8 Rs”: Re-evaluate, Reconceptualize, Restructure, Redistribute, Relocalize, Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.

While on the one hand I agree with Latouche both in his analysis of the problem and on the effectiveness of his solution, it is not demostrated that a “sustainable development” with ecological technologies would not have success. It could represents at least a first step towards a more environment friendly society. The big problem with the solution of the De-Growth is that to be realized, the majority of the human beings on the planet have to adopt it at the same time. This is because at the current time the industrial and technical development and the economical power determine also the political power of a nation. A nation that decides to undergo a de-growth may improve the quality of life of its citizens but it will lose political power and can be threatened or invaded or plundered by other nations that follow a growth policy and have more power or military means. Moreover, given a certain number of nations following a de-growth, the remaining nations could be seduced by the idea of being free riders: they may want to pursue growth at the expenses of other more virtuous nations, since now for them the earth has enough carrying capacity.


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