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It’s getting to look a lot like degrowth: Part 3

April 26, 2023

As a general rule, deeply-held mental models are only abandoned when the pain they inflict finally outweighs the psychological comfort they provide.

What is involuntary degrowth going to look like?

By definition, involuntary degrowth is unplanned. It is what actually happens while we pretend we are doing something else, like maybe saving the planet with “green growth”.

Prices go haywire

Central banks get more interventionist, bank failures become more common

Recession, then depression

Escalating extreme weather events disrupt economic flows and destroy resource stocks


Civil unrest, political instability

Nations drift toward protectionism, repression, and isolationism, causing climate mitigation efforts to turn inward

Large political units (nation-states) become unmanageable and ungovernable, triggering involuntary “de-complexification” of no-longer-sustainable institutions

Authoritarians take care of authoritarians, not the planet.

In Conclusion

Our leaders are wedded to a mental model of perpetual growth and capitalist accumulation that no longer fits the planetary challenges we face. They are trying to solve the global problems of climate change, overshoot, and resource depletion using the same instruments that caused the problems to appear in the first place.


  1. To get a preview of how at least some Americans are likely to respond to rationing and deconsumption, we only need to consider the rejection of masks and vaccines during COVID, an anti-altruistic stance that Republicans embraced enthusiastically, at a cost of 76% more deaths among Republicans than Democrats in two GOP-led states (source, see also source). Another example of this unwillingness to consider the needs of others is Americans’ gun fetish, which allows them to prioritize their “freedom” to own military-grade weapons, overriding the obvious fact that those weapons are regularly used to slaughter their own children (source). These are wildly irrational, even insane, examples of an infantile attachment to selfish, self-centered values. They do not bode well for an orderly, reasonable, well-managed, voluntary transition to the post-carbon future that awaits us all.
  2. For fans of authoritarian regimes, it is worth noting that only through democratic elections were we able to remove Trump and Bolsonaro from power. Orbán is still there. When elections are eliminated or thoroughly corrupted, authoritarians are much, much harder to remove. Maybe democratic accountability isn’t such a bad idea after all.
  3. Although hardly in the way Marx and his collaborator Engels thought it would.

Steve Genco

Steve is author of Intuitive Marketing (2019) & Neuromarketing for Dummies (2013). He holds a PhD in Political Science from Stanford University.

Tags: collapse of complex civilizations, degrowth perspectives, Future Scenarios