Degrowth vs. a Green New Deal

This paper, featured in the current New Left Review, by PERI Co-Director Robert Pollin examines and compares two dramatically divergent approaches to climate stabilization.  The first, which he advocates, is what he calls the "Green New Deal."  The second has been termed 'degrowth' by its proponents.  Contrary to degrowth proponents, Pollin argues that some categories of economic activity must now grow massively—those associated with the production and distribution of clean energy.  Concurrently, the global fossil fuel industry needs to contract massively—i.e. to 'de-grow' steadily and dramatically until it has almost completely shut down within the next 40 – 50 years. 

>> Read paper

>> Read author Robert Pollin's work on a Green New Deal
>> Watch inverview with Robert Pollin and Peter Victor

Abstract

This paper examines and compares two dramatically divergent approaches to climate stabilization developed by analysts and activists on the left. The first, which the author Robert Pollin advocates, is called the "Green New Deal." The second has been termed 'degrowth' by its proponents. The Green New Deal approach is focused, on a global scale, on advancing investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy at a rate of about 1.5 – 2 percent of global GDP per year, so that clean energy can supplant the existing dominant fossil fuel energy infrastructure. Through this approach, economies can continue to grow but economic growth becomes absolutely decoupled from fossil fuel consumption and the resulting generation of CO2 emissions. The prospects are realistic for driving down CO2 emissions by 40 percent within 20 years and eliminating them altogether within 40 years within the Green New Deal framework. The Green New Deal also produces expanding job opportunities through the building of a global clean energy infrastructure. By contrast, the degrowth approach relies primarily on contractions of economic activity—measured by GDP—as the means to cut fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. But as Pollin points out and the degrowth model by leading proponent Peter Victor confirms, in this approach, considered on its own, CO2 emissions will only fall to the extent that GDP itself declines. Thus, in Victor's degrowth scenario for Canada, CO2 emissions fall by about 80 percent within 30 years, but average per capita income also falls by roughly the same amount. An 80 percent contraction in per capita income would represent an unprecedented economic depression, which in turn would likely engender a wide range of severe social and political responses. Contrary to degrowth proponents, Pollin argues that some categories of economic activity must now grow massively—those associated with the production and distribution of clean energy. Concurrently, the global fossil fuel industry needs to contract massively—i.e. to 'de-grow' steadily and dramatically until it has almost completely shut down within the next 40 – 50 years.

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