Act: Inspiration

Beyond Capitalist Realism: The Politics, Energetics, and Aesthetics of Degrowth

February 26, 2021

I’ve just published my fourth book of collected essays, Beyond Capitalist Realism: The Politics, Energetics, and Aesthetics of Degrowth. I’ve posted the introduction below, which includes overviews of each chapter. The paperback is available here and the ebook is available on a ‘pay what you want’ basis here (you can edit the price as you like). I’ve posted almost all of my ebooks on a ‘pay what you want’ basis here (including for free). 


‘Capitalist realism’ is a term popularised by the late political theorist Mark Fisher in a provocative and unsettling book by that name (Fisher, 2009). The term implies that, ever since the fall of Soviet Communism in 1989, capitalism has been the only game in town; the only realistic system of production and distribution to structure globalised human society. Everything else is sheer utopianism in the pejorative sense – naïve dreaming of what can never be.

A phrase that has almost become a cliché, capitalist realism points to a failure of imagination, suggesting that it is now easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. As one looks around the world today, the case for capitalist realism is, admittedly, disturbingly persuasive – as Fisher himself was the first to admit, even as he resisted it. It can tempt one to despair, for it often seems that there is in fact no realistic alternative to what we know today.

I confess, however, that I have never subscribed to capitalist realism, even though it is clear that capitalist realism is real. To say that it is real is to acknowledge the zeitgeist of the twenty-first century, one shared not only by neoliberal conservatives but also by most on the green-left who, despite a ‘progressive’ self-image, remain insidiously entrenched in capitalism’s growth paradigm. In Fisher’s words, there is ‘a widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it’ (Fisher, 2009: 2). He describes this consciousness as a ‘pervasive atmosphere’ that conditions ‘not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action’ (Fisher, 2009: 16).

But here is the disturbing paradox of capitalist realism: just as the dominant cultural imagination has contracted into a singularity of vision – there is no alternative to capitalism! – the very system to which there is apparently no alternative shows itself to be in the process of self-destructing, like a cancer cell growing itself to death, killing its host.

In other words, capitalist realism is unrealistic, non-viable, a dead end – literally. The system is full of internal contradictions that the system cannot resolve, most notably the myth that through market mechanisms we can purchase and consume our way to sustainability. At the very hour when modern humanity has arrived at a self-aggrandising pinnacle of triumph – a global market economy promising riches for all – the skies have been darkened by the terrible spectres of ecological degradation and social decline and polarisation. The climate emergency is only one of these storm clouds, but this alone has the potential to lay waste to our species, as well as most others.

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At the same time, vast oceans of debilitating poverty surround small oceans of unfathomable plenty, exposing the violent betrayal of the capitalist growth agenda, euphemistically (or just deceptively) known in public discourse as ‘sustainable development’. This is a race leading towards an abyss, both enabled and entrenched by a sterility of imagination called capitalist realism. Fortunately – if that is the right word – capitalist realism ‘can only be threatened if it is shown to be in some way inconsistent or untenable; if, that is to say, capitalism’s ostensible “realism” turns out to be nothing of the sort’ (Fisher, 2009: 16).

Of course, as history relates, capitalism is a dexterous beast, always shifting and changing with the times to exploit new opportunities for profit and in response to new challenges to its legitimacy. Nevertheless, the overlapping range of ecological, social, financial, and health crises indicate that, one way or another, coming years and decades will see growing pressure on the global capitalist system and the emergence of new political and economic forms and imaginaries. As crises intensify, a rupture of some form lies ahead, with overlapping ecological, technological, and social realties destined to disrupt (are already disrupting) the status quo. The pandemic is just one more nail in the coffin of late-stage capitalism. The human challenge is to ensure that the post-capitalist era emerges as far as possible through design rather than disaster, acknowledging all the while that self-determination is a luxury not available to everyone, particularly those facing the violence of and on capitalism’s new frontiers.

This book – indeed, all my work – situates itself beyond capitalist realism. I reject capitalist realism as unrealistic, as an artefact of false consciousness; as false consciousness itself, blind to its ecocidal nature. Technology cannot save necro-capitalism from its cannibalistic nature nor will the so-called ‘trickle down’ effect resolve the deep injustices of its colonial and patriarchal past and present. And no Green New Deal will contribute much to a ‘just transition’ if it remains hooked onto an extractivist economics of growth which a finite planet evidently cannot bear.

Thinking and acting ‘beyond capitalism’ is not easy in a one-dimensional world that is increasingly homogenised, commodified, and standardised. Yet, breaking through the cracks of capitalism to think otherwise and be otherwise is more essential now than ever. In the words of Herman Hesse: ‘Nothing is harder, yet nothing is more necessary, than to speak of certain things whose existence is neither demonstrable nor probable. The very fact that serious and conscientious people treat them as existing things brings them a step closer to existence and to the possibility of being born’ (Hesse, 1980).

In that spirit I defend and explore an alternative ‘degrowth’ imaginary throughout this book. I do this as an act of defiant opposition to capitalist realism. In some small way, I hope that this might contribute to a growing sense of capitalist unrealism – to a conviction that viable and desirable alternatives to capitalism exist, alternatives that are in the process of being lived into existence by the collective rumbling of social movements that are bubbling everywhere under the surface of the existing order. What is clear is that humanity has not arrived at the ‘end of history’, as Francis Fukuyama famously declared – for history is always and everywhere just beginning.

* * *

This is my fourth book of collected essays, each of which explores the same fundamental degrowth paradigm from a range of interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary angles. Put simply, degrowth means planned and equitable contraction of the energy and resource demands of the most ‘developed’ and overgrown economies. Given the magnitude of contraction needed to operate fairly within the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet, the degrowth movement recognises that this new paradigm of political economy is incompatible with ongoing GDP growth and thus incompatible with the growth imperatives inherent to the capitalist system. That is, the rich world cannot just embrace ‘green growth’ and hope to decouple economic growth sufficiently to achieve an ecological economy (Hickel and Kallis, 2019). Technology cannot save capitalism from itself. Efficiency without sufficiency is lost. Accordingly, if humanity makes it through the twenty-first century and is able to create a tolerably just and sustainable civilisation, our species will have been through a process of degrowth to a ‘simpler way’ economy.

Just because degrowth advocates reject the ‘green growth’ model of progress, this does not mean that degrowth can be defined simply as ‘reduced GDP’. Everyone knows that GDP is a very poor measure of societal progress. That metric counts many environmental and social ‘bads’ as economic ‘goods’, and says nothing at all about many important societal goals and values, like equitable distribution, sustainability, or meaningful work. The degrowth movement certainly does not define its vision of a just and sustainable world according to the crude GDP accounting system, and it is unfortunate that simple-minded or confused commentators sometimes muddy the definition of degrowth by defining it incorrectly as reduced GDP. That may be a consequence of degrowth, but degrowth should never be defined in relation to a metric that is so badly flawed and misleading.

After all, unplanned economic contraction is already understood as recession, depression, or collapse, and nobody advocates for this because of all the well-known pernicious social effects that flow from it. Those effects include spiralling unemployment, economic insecurity and instability, and increased poverty. But if the energy and resource foundations of an economy are grossly in breach of humanity’s safe operating space on this planet, and the decoupling strategy is failing to resolve the problems of ecological overshoot, then the only coherent response is to plan for the contraction or degrowth of those environmental demands and impacts. Thus degrowth is first and foremost a biophysical concept, with deep social, economic, and political implications.

From a social perspective, the degrowth paradigm holds that this phase of contraction, to be legitimate, must ensure that all people around the world – indeed, all species – have access to the things needed to flourish in harmony with Earth’s biospheric limits. So there is an essential distributive element to the degrowth paradigm (both within nations and between them), not just an ecological one. Indeed, the distributive element is why degrowth is often described as involving a ‘decolonisation of the imagination’. If this means anything it means the Global North allowing the nations of the Global South to develop or ‘post-develop’ according to their own conceptions of flourishing, not forced or coerced onto the industrial path by the dictates of capital. In short, degrowth means rejecting the rule and logics of capital and manifesting a heterogeneous economics of sufficiency. Further definitional content of degrowth is given throughout this book.

My first two volumes of collected essays, Prosperous Descent and Sufficiency Economy, were published in 2015, and the third volume, Wild Democracy, was published in 2017. I’m happy to be preparing this fourth volume in late 2020, which fills in some of the gaps and restates and updates some of the key perspectives. If this book whets your appetite for the theory and practice of degrowth, then please see the earlier volumes of collected essays too. Alternatively (or also), see my book Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary, co-authored with Brendan Gleeson. Readers will also find most of my work freely available online, with much of it posted at

Rather than extend this introduction longer than necessary, let me now provide short overviews of the chapters that follow. As well as providing an insight into the themes of this anthology, the following summaries should allow readers to jump around the book according to interest, although the chapters have been ordered deliberately such that readers would be advised to read from front to back. There is some minimal (and deliberate) repetition of key perspectives in some chapters to ensure they can be read as ‘stand-alone’ chapters, although I hope this occasional restatement of ideas is useful, given that we live in an age of capitalist realism. As I have said, thinking beyond capitalist realism can be difficult, but I hope reading this book helps in that necessary endeavour as much as writing it did. I also acknowledge that this book is published in the midst of a global pandemic that has shaken capitalism to its core. In one sense this instability opens the imagination in new ways, so this moment is especially fertile for alternative, post-capitalist visions of progress and prosperity.

Everything is thinkable, so what is to be done? – This opening chapter is the only one written during the Covid-19 pandemic, so it serves as a suitable introduction to this collection by contextualising the book in the midst of this great disruption. Tragic though the pandemic is – and its impacts no doubt will endure for years – we need to remember that Covid-19 is a crisis within a broader ecological and humanitarian crisis. The social, economic, and political trauma caused by the pandemic, however, raises the prospect of an exit from capitalism.

This chapter reflects on this historic rupture, considers what a new degrowth mode of political economy might look like, while also acknowledging that the dominant powers seem primarily concerned about ‘bouncing back’ to business as usual. For so long we have been told that economies just cannot produce less, only more; that the type of economic contraction we have seen in response to the pandemic was not possible. And yet here it is, in real life. As French philosopher Bruno Latour recently commented: ‘Next time, when ecologists are ridiculed because “the economy cannot be slowed down”, they should remember that it can grind to a halt in a matter of weeks worldwide when it is urgent enough.’

Energy descent futures –  This chapter examines the growth paradigm through the lens of energy. What might become of our carbon civilisation as finite fossil fuels deplete or as we voluntarily give them up in response to climate change? What would a post-carbon civilisation look like? The dominant energy narrative today tends to acknowledge the need to transition away from fossil fuels but assumes that alternative energy sources, such as renewables or nuclear power, will be able to replace the energy foundations of carbon civilisation without fundamentally reshaping the form of life we have become accustomed to in the most developed regions of the world. More specifically, it is assumed that post-carbon energy sources are consistent with a complex, globalised economy that is structurally designed or required to grow without limits. In short, it is widely assumed that energy will be even more abundant in the future than it is today.

In contrast to that cornucopian vision, the alternative energy narrative outlined in this chapter maintains that we should be preparing for futures not of energy abundance, but rather of reduced energy availability – futures in which viable ways of life are characterised by energy sufficiency. With respect to the most energy intensive societies, this means planning for what permaculture theorist and practitioner David Holmgren calls ‘energy descent’. While acknowledging a range of uncertainties about how humanity’s energy futures will unfold, the plausibility and even the likelihood of energy descent implies that planning and preparing for such futures is the most prudent course of action. This chapter presents an introduction to this marginalised energy narrative.

Post-capitalism by design not disaster – This chapter examines how we can proactively design the end of capitalism rather than simply wait for its collapse. Capitalism is unable to resolve its emerging crises, for capitalism cannot function without economic growth, yet for ecological reasons economic growth cannot continue. However, there is a coherent alternative political economy – the degrowth paradigm of planned economic contraction. Furthermore, various grassroots alternatives, suitably scaled up, could help to form this post-capitalist economy ‘from below’. I am the first to admit that the dominant culture is not yet ready to embrace degrowth, given that consumer affluence and techno-optimism still lie at the heart of mainstream conceptions of the ‘good life’. Nonetheless, it is important to keep alive radical ideas of what an eco-centric, post-capitalist economy could look like, for in a crisis, what today seems impossible or implausible can suddenly become possible and even probable. As an old book intones, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’

Urban social movements and the degrowth transition: Toward a grassroots theory of change – It is one thing to be convinced of the desirability of an alternative mode of economy; creating it, of course, is a different question. This chapter examines degrowth from the perspective of transition theory and practice. Much has been written on the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of degrowth; this analysis focuses more on the strategic question of ‘how’. The specific interest lies in understanding which levers of power in society (e.g., the state, technology, capital, social movements, etc.) may be needed or available to drive a degrowth transition, and how those levers may reshape society, and in what ways, to initiate a degrowth process of planned economic contraction.

While addressing questions of transition and transformation, the further point of departure in this chapter is to look at degrowth through the lens of urban studies – and conversely, to look at urbanity through the lens of degrowth. It is argued that urban social movements will have to be primary organising forces of a degrowth transition, if it is to occur. After defending this grassroots theory of change, the analysis concludes by examining various urban social movements and explaining how they represent what, tentatively, could be considered the birth of a ‘degrowth urbanity’.

The rebellion hypothesis: Crisis, inaction, and the question of civil disobedience – Social and political progress has always involved social movements opposing the existing system and other social movements building the new world(s) within the existing system. In this chapter I focus on Extinction Rebellion, the prominent activist mobilisation that erupted in the UK in 2018 and which was quickly globalised. Although the pandemic has functioned to keep most (but not all) mass mobilisations off the streets, we can expect Extinction Rebellion to burst back onto the scene as soon as the pandemic permits safe mobilisation. (Or is the greater danger not mobilising at once?)

The defining feature of Extinction Rebellion is how it explicitly and unapologetically adopts practices of non-violent civil disobedience as a means of societal change. In adopting this method of peaceful resistance, Extinction Rebellion situates itself in esteemed traditions of social action, including the civil rights movement, the suffragette’s movement, and Ghandi’s Indian independence movement. This chapter examines civil disobedience in terms of legal and political philosophy and considers how and why Extinction Rebellion activists feel driven to practice grassroots politics in this way.

In this chapter I also present what I call the ‘rebellion hypothesis’, which maintains that environmental activism is likely to expand in coming years and decades as the effects of climate change and environmental degradation are personally experienced by more and more people. As the costs of inaction rise, my hypothesis is that more people will experience psychological tipping points and become engaged in social movements, including movements like Extinction Rebellion. Given that one of the demands of Extinction Rebellion is swift decarbonisation of our economies, the question of how that might be achieved is considered in the next chapter.

The political economy of deep decarbonisation: Tradeable energy quotas for energy descent futures – This chapter reviews and analyses a decarbonisation policy called the Tradable Energy Quotas system (TEQs) developed by David Fleming. The TEQs system involves rationing fossil fuel energy use for a nation on the basis of either a contracting carbon emission budget or scarce fuel availability – or both simultaneously – distributing budgets equitably amongst energy-users. Entitlements can be traded to incentivise demand reduction and to maximise efficient use of the limited entitlements.

This chapter situates this analysis in the context of Joseph Tainter’s theory about the development and collapse of complex societies. Tainter argues that societies become more socio-politically and technologically ‘complex’ as they solve the problems they face – and that such complexification drives increased energy use. For a society to sustain itself, therefore, it must secure the energy needed to solve the range of societal problems that emerge. But what if, as a result of deep decarbonisation, there is less energy available in the future, not more? TEQs offers a practical means of managing energy descent futures. The policy can facilitate controlled reduction of socio-political complexity via processes of ‘voluntary simplification’ (the result being ‘degrowth’ or controlled contraction in the scale of the physical economy).

MMT, post-growth economics, and avoiding collapse –  One major reason preventing degrowth or post-growth economic policies from being embraced is the dominant macroeconomic paradigm that informs policy choices. Since at least the 1970s, the dominant paradigm has been neoclassical economics, which replaced Keynesianism. This chapter outlines a fast-emerging alternative macroeconomics called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Given that MMT attempts to describe how monetary systems work, rather than being a policy platform, it is neither inherently pro-growth nor post-growth, as they are policy positions for individual nations depending on their ideology and the size of their economies. However, in this chapter it is argued that MMT is the most accurate description available of the interplay of macroeconomic forces, and it should therefore be used in the formulation of policies, rather than the conventional, but flawed, neoclassical model.

The global crisis initiated by the Covid-19 pandemic has brought the currency-issuing capacity of governments into sharp focus, accelerating interest in MMT. When MMT is understood, post-growth policy options expand dramatically and become more viable, while the dominant neoclassical model is seen to be a kind of ideological straitjacket. Accordingly, MMT should be of interest to everyone concerned with sustainability – including degrowth and steady-state economists, who have, as a group, mostly neglected MMT. While this chapter may raise as many questions as it answers, the hope is that this brief overview provokes a broader discussion about MMT and the policies it can engender.

Neighbourhoods that Work and the Walden Wage: How access to land and a participation income could change the world –  Although the degrowth and steady-state schools have no singular vision of the ‘good society’ or singular theory of transition, many argue that the transition to a just and sustainable world will have to be driven into existence primarily from the grassroots up, with individuals, households, and communities coming together to ‘prefigure’ a new post-growth society within the shell of the old. According to this broad theory of change, such prefigurative action, which is based on participatory democracy, is projected to filter upwards over time to change social, economic, and political structures in recognition of the systemic nature of the problems. From this perspective, social movements need to create the cultural conditions for structural change, and that structural change can then be a further driver for social change, representing a dynamic mode of society’s transformation that relies on multiple movements, innovations, and policies for change (see Chapter Four).

The privileging of grassroots or community-led action is mainly due to the widely shared belief that the ability or willingness of politicians or businesses to lead a degrowth transition in a neoliberal age is scarce to non-existent. The logic here is that there are just too many ‘growth imperatives’ built into the economy for us to expect political leaders, corporations, or existing institutions to initiate or facilitate a degrowth transition to a steady-state economy. Nevertheless, despite the coherency of these doubts about ‘top down’ political change and ‘green businesses’ leading the way, similar doubts can be levelled against any hope for a degrowth transition rising up from a socio-cultural groundswell.

This chapter emphasises that this apparent paralysis in degrowth transition theory is owing, in part, to the growth imperatives of the dominant politico-economic order of global capitalism specifically relating to land, where ordinary people who are expected to lead the transition ‘from below’ are typically locked into a very long market commitment in order to buy or rent housing and keep a roof over their head. This structural obstacle to degrowth suggests that deep economic changes relating to land access and governance are needed to help facilitate a degrowth transition to a steady-state economy and empower true democratic agency for those who would subscribe to such a transition.

The Simpler Way: Envisioning a sustainable society in an age of limits – Although it is widely understood that the global economy is currently unsustainable, few people seem to understand how far beyond sustainable limits it is. Fewer still seem to grasp what it would take for the global population to live equitably within the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet. In this chapter it will be argued that these interconnected social and ecological problems cannot be solved unless we move toward an economics of sufficiency, which means, among other things, that rates of production, consumption, and resource use in rich countries must be dramatically reduced, probably by 80–90 per cent or more. These reductions cannot be achieved merely by ‘greening production’ through piecemeal efficiency improvements or technological innovation, and they cannot be achieved in a society that is governed by market forces or driven by the insatiable quest for material affluence or the limitless increase in GDP. In other words, a sustainable economy must be a post-growth and post-capitalist economy. But what does that actually mean?

In this chapter it is argued that the only way sustainability can be achieved is through a radical degrowth transition to a ‘Simpler Way’ society, which would be defined by low but sufficient material living standards, renewable energy, highly localised or ‘bioregional’ production, egalitarian approaches to wealth distribution, participatory democratic practices of self-governance, and major degrowth to a zero-growth economy. The argument is not that this transition is likely, just that it signifies the only way for human civilisation to operate viably on our finite planet. Fortunately, there are many social and ecological reasons to believe that this transition is in the interests of humanity, both rich and poor, but this requires reimagining the good life beyond consumer culture and embracing ways of living that are outwardly simple, but inwardly rich. This chapter seeks to provide more detail on this vision of a just and sustainable society and briefly highlight the implications this perspective has on questions of transition strategy.

The search for freedom, sustainability, and economic security: Henry David Thoreau as tiny house pioneer – In 1845, the pioneering environmentalist Henry David Thoreau left his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, and went to live alone in the woods on the shores of Walden Pond. There he built himself a small cabin and thus initiated his two-year experiment in simple living, which he recorded in his masterpiece Walden. This chapter returns to Thoreau’s celebrated story and examines the ethical and economic reasons that drove him to live as he did, with a particular focus on his philosophy and practice of housing.

Drawing primarily from his own words in Walden, it will be shown that Thoreau built himself a tiny house as a practical response to grappling with questions of freedom, sustainability, and economic security. Furthermore, it will be argued that a strong case can be made that the contemporary tiny house movement – which purportedly had its genesis in the Pacific northwest of the USA in the late 1990s – is a modern reflection of Thoreauvian struggles, questions, motivations, and ideals, even as the world has changed dramatically. Based on quantitative and qualitative research, as well as reviewing other literature on tiny houses, it will be seen that the struggle for freedom, sustainability, and economic security lies at the heart of the tiny house movement today.

Bumps along the road of the tiny house movement: Practitioner notes with critical reflections – This chapter begins by sharing practical insights and learnings from tiny house builders, highlighting some promising approaches to construction, as well as some challenges faced by the emerging tiny house movement. The analysis also offers a conceptually driven appraisal of this potentially important new housing form that raises serious questions about planning and urban policy. The aim is to present a grounded review of the tiny house movement, and its wider policy resonances, rooted in an empirical review of current practice.

After the empirical practice notes are presented, the article concludes by going beyond building, construction, and regulatory issues and offers some critical reflections on the promise and limitations of the tiny house movement. These intricacies and potential difficulties include frictions with wider housing and urban policies in Australia, especially those that have favoured transition to higher residential densities and which are themselves fraught with challenges, especially around social equity. In offering a sympathetic critique of tiny houses and asking some hard questions, this review and analysis seeks to present a richer and fuller understanding of the tiny house movement in a way that helps the movement progress and avoid unnecessary pitfalls.

What would a sufficiency economy look like? – After briefly summarising the ‘limits to growth’ position (which can be skipped if the reader is sufficiently familiar with it), this chapter highlights the radical implications of that critique by describing a ‘sufficiency economy’. This alternative ‘post-growth’ economic model aims for a world in which everyone’s basic material needs are modestly but sufficiently met, in an ecologically sustainable, highly localised, and socially equitable manner. It could be considered the end state of a successful degrowth transition. Once basic needs are met, a sufficiency economy would focus on promoting non-materialistic sources of wellbeing rather than endlessly pursuing material affluence. In other words, a sufficiency economy is one that is structured to promote and support what is often called ‘simple living’, ‘voluntary simplicity’, or ‘the simpler way’. In a world of almost eight billion people, it is argued that a sufficiency economy is the only way humanity can flourish sustainably within the carrying capacity of Earth.

Suburban practices of energy descent – This chapter is predicated on the assumption that the cost of energy will rise in coming years and decades as the age of fossil energy abundance comes to an end. Given the close connection between energy and economic activity, it is also assumed that declining energy availability and affordability will lead to economic contraction and reduced material affluence. In overconsuming and overdeveloped nations, such resource and energy ‘degrowth’ is desirable and necessary from a sustainability perspective, provided it is planned for and managed in ways consistent with basic principles of distributive equity.

Working within that degrowth paradigm, this chapter examines how scarcer and more expensive energy may impact the suburban way of life and how households might prepare for this very plausible, but challenging, energy descent future. Energy demand management in suburbia is examined, so too is the question of how the limited energy needed to provide for essential household services can best be secured in an era of expensive energy and climate instability. After reviewing various energy practices, the need for an ethos of sufficiency, moderation, and radical frugality is highlighted, which is essential for building resilience in the face of forthcoming energy challenges and a harsher climate.

Degrowth as an ‘aesthetics of existence’ – In recent decades the ‘limits to growth’ position has received a great deal of attention, mostly from economic and ecological perspectives. More recently, the degrowth movement has begun contributing an important range of new political and sociological analyses, offering deeper insight into the alternative paradigm, evaluating transition strategies, policies, and obstacles, while also continuing to update and refine the ecological critique of growth economics in response to those who continue to fetishise growth. The purpose of this final chapter, however, is neither to review these existing literatures nor offer another ecological critique of growth, but to extend and deepen the understanding of degrowth by examining the concept and the movement from a perspective that has yet to receive any sustained attention – namely, aesthetics.

I highlight and examine the aesthetic dimensions of degrowth, in the hope that this reveals new and worthwhile insights about the meaning and potential of this emerging sustainability movement. Might the degrowth imperative demand not just a radical political and economic engagement with the structures and goals of our growth-orientated civilisation, but also an engagement and transformation of our aesthetic sensibilities, capacities, and practices? And what is the relationship between the aesthetic dimensions of degrowth and the various ecological, economic, political, and cultural dimensions? These questions motivate and shape this closing analysis, but they also shape the subtext of the whole book.


Fisher, M. 2009. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester: Zero Books.

Hesse, H. 1980. Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game. New York: Bantam Books.

Hickel, J. and Kallis, G. 2019. ‘Is Green Growth Possible?’. New Political Economy. DOI: 10.1080/13563467.2019.1598964.

The paperback is available here and the ebook is available on a ‘pay what you want’ basis here.

I’d like to thank Antoinette Wilson for proofreading this book and Sharon France for typesetting it and designing the cover. I owe special thanks to Maria Peña for generously allowing me to use a detail of her painting ‘Roots for Seduction 2’ on the cover (

Samuel Alexander

Over the last ten years Dr Samuel Alexander has been a lecturer and researcher at the University of Melbourne, Australia, teaching a course called ‘Consumerism and the Growth Economy: Critical Interdisciplinary Perspectives’ as part of the Master of Environment. He has also been a Research Fellow with the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute and is currently co-Director of the Simplicity Institute. Alexander’s interdisciplinary research focuses on degrowth, permaculture, voluntary simplicity, ‘grassroots’ theories of transition, and the relationship between culture and political economy. His current research is exploring the aesthetics of degrowth and energy descent futures. His books include Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary (2019, co-authored with Brendan Gleeson); Carbon Civilisation and the Energy Descent Future (2018, co-authored with Josh Floyd); Art Against Empire: Toward an Aesthetics of Degrowth (2017); Just Enough is Plenty: Thoreau’s Alternative Economics (2016); Deface the Currency: The Lost Dialogues of Diogenes (2016); Prosperous Descent: Crisis as Opportunity in an Age of Limits (2015); Sufficiency Economy: Enough, for Everyone, Forever (2015); and Entropia: Life Beyond Industrial Civilisation (2013); he is also editor of Voluntary Simplicity: The Poetic Alternative to Consumer Culture (2009) and co-editor of Simple Living in History: Pioneers of the Deep Future (2014). In 2016 he also released a documentary called A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity, co-produced with Jordan Osmond of Happen Films. Alexander blogs at

Tags: building resilient societies, critiques of capitalism, degrowth perspectives