Appropriate Technology and Voluntary Simplicity Offer Alternatives to Destructive Extractivism

Two days ago the 3rd international conference on degrowth, ecological sustainability and social equity, Venezia 2012, wrapped up in Venice, Italy. It ran from Sept. 19-23 and brought together about 600 activists and intellectuals from around the world. Degrowth is a concept that argues that voluntary simplicity, a simplified lifestyle that rejects consumerism, and a reduction in destructive extraction is the most appropriate solution for the multiple crises facing our world today.

Many excellent speakers addressed the conference including Catalan ecological economist Juan Martinez-Alier who's speech and especially his website point out the physical impossibility of infinite growth in a finite world and offer some interesting alternatives. Another great speech was delivered by Colombian anthropologist Arturo Escobar about the changes happening in Latin America coming primarily from social movements who are increasingly critical of extractivism as a strategy to address social injustice. Escobar lauded the Andean indigenous concept of “buen vivir”, a vision of life in which the well-being of human and the rest of the natural world are considered as interrelated and pursued at the same time. He pointed out that the concept of buen vivir was incorporated into the Ecuadorian constitution in 2008 and Equador had recently used capital raised from royalties to buy out the global oil industry's interests in that country as well as remove a huge area from production in order to create a nature preserve.

De-growth is a great concept, it has supporters almost everywhere, including a very active group near here in Vancouver B.C. but as one of it's leaders, 'Work Less Party' founder Conrad Schmidt says, “You can’t shop your way to a sustainable planet.” And of course that's one of the problems with a conference that has 600 of attendees and many others in their posses consuming the resources required to travel to Venice from all around the world, then stay in expensive hotels, eat at pricey restaurants, etc all in the name of 'voluntary simplicity'. Sounds more like exceptionalism, like elitism, like voluntary consumption to me.

Demand, every economic exchange is driven by demand. The extractors extract to meet the demanders demand. The capitalist rebuttal to the de-growth concept is that any reduction in demand and consumption will result in an equivilant reduction in jobs resulting in poverty and hunger, but it's just another bit of fear mongering. What the capitalists refuse to say and the de-growth folks only whisper is the concept of inappropriate technology [see video below for an excellent example]. If, instead of buying bigger machines, which themselves require bigger machines to produce and interest to be paid to already rich bank shareholders and corporate profits and bonuses and and and, we instead hired people and paid them reasonably there would be no poverty and hunger or advertising industry driven demand leading to over consumption and yet more destructive extractivism. It's a vicious circle who's endless swirling only serves the rich. Stop being a victim, take control of your destiny and save the world. It's all possible by simply wanting less.