{April 30, 2010}   degrowth, day 1

The de-growth conference got off to a good start last night. There were more people than I expected – I think the numbers were around 200 or 250 for the film screenings. :) Not bad for something that doesn’t seem to have been advertised very much.

oh, most of you are probably wondering what I’m talking about already. :) It’s a sustainability conference, about finding alternatives to infinite economic growth – after all, we live on a finite planet, so we can’t just keep growing forever. It’d be nice to find a balance instead of rushing towards some sort of catastrophic collapse.

The first film, What’s the Economy for, Anyway? was actually a bit boring – it’s very US-centric, although in some of the numbers I noticed canada is still far behind europe. It gave a decent overview of the problems with how the economy works these days – and some american history that I need to learn more about – but was pretty light on details.

After that there was a short talk, and then a second film: The Jevons Paradox. It’s only 17 minutes, but it was fairly good. There was another talk afterwards; the two talks and the film are all mixed up in my memory now so I won’t try to sort out which points were made when. Basically, we’re not any happier than we used to be. we’ve got all this technology, but we’re losing the things that actually make life enjoyable – nature, time with our loved ones, exercise, etc. If we’re not getting any happier, then what’s the point? We’re addicted to growth – more stuff, bigger GDP, more efficiency, more work – and it’s making us, as a society, rather miserable. It’s crazy.

The Jevons Paradox states that more efficiency actually leads to more usage – if we find more efficient energy sources, we will use *more* energy, not less. So efficiency is actually just sending us down the wrong path even faster. We need to offset this in some way to be sustainable – either by intentionally being inefficient (an idea that really rubs me the wrong way, but I’ll look into it more before passing judgement) or by working less (a great idea – more time for hacking on KDE! ;).

One of the interesting things mentioned was that the recent recession actually led to better health in america. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Apparently many people took reductions in pay and working hours in order to avoid layoffs, and this gave them more time to spend with their families, reducing stress, giving them more time to eat and exercise properly too. People drove cars less, so there were less accidents. Factories having to shut down reduced air pollution, so there was less asthma.

A big focus of the evening seemed to be that Europe is behaving a lot more sanely than North America. Over there, 5-8 weeks of vacation is normal. In canada we only get two weeks, and in the states there’s no guarantee you’ll get any! They seem to often work less hours in europe, too. I’m quite tempted to move there myself (I’d also get to see KDE people more often ;). Still, it’d be nicer to see vancouver improve than to just run away.

Oh, and some little country whose name I forget sounded even more sane than Europe. Their king declared that more important than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was Gross Domestic Happiness. He was taken seriously, and the country had a bunch of studies done on happiness, and actually based decisions on what would make the country happier – one result being that they declined to join the WTO.
Something that was jokingly mentioned during the talks was that we should have a contest between Seattle and Vancouver, to see who could be the happiest city. :) I like that idea.

After the films and talks there was beer and discussion groups (yes, in that order). They were pretty interesting, and it was great to meet people and see so many people discussing things like happiness and work and stuff… one tricky thing is the cultural barriers to working less – in vancouver there’s a lot of social pressure to work at *least* 40 hours a week. How do we change something like that?

Well, hopefully by the end of the conference I’ll have some answers – I’m sure I’ll have a lot more questions too. :)
If you’re in vancouver and didn’t know about it, you can still join in – just go to the degrowth website and register (it’s a tiny form, takes 30 seconds) and/or show up at W2 Storyeum this evening. :)
Oh, and there’s a pirate ship in the basement. a fucking pirate ship. and a train. :D

There’s no internet in there, though, so I’ll be mostly offline for the weekend – augh, I should have been out the door half an hour ago :P

George Brooke says:

IIRC It was Bhutan where the king prioritised GDH over GDP.
However there have been onging problems with people of Nepali orgigin who claim a right to Bhutanese citizenship but who have been living in refugee camps in Nepal after various immigration and citizenship laws were passed by the government to counter the percieved risk that if the Nepalis outnumbered the ethic Bhutanese there was a risk of the country becoming part of Nepal (I believe something along these lines happend in Sikim which is now a part of India).

Vivek says:

Yes, it was Bhutan.

The big reason economic growth is so popular is that it increases the size of the pie. So if you’re poor and there’s no economic growth, you getting more money becomes (more of) a zero-sum game.

It’s the same reason you can’t successfully outlaw war (a la League of Nations), because it takes away all options for groups unhappy with the status quo (think of colonies, for example).

Of course, I’m all in favour of living more sanely – vacation times in the US are awful! (As an aside, I think women are more successful in the Canadian Public Service because of a better work-life balance.)

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