~jakintosh/degrowth

Degrowth

Background

Degrowth is, to my understanding, an emerging movement that is critical of the concept of inifite growth. It is a continuation of ideas that have been around for about 50 years, dating back to the beginning of the environmental movement and most easily tied to the publication of Limits to Growth.

I believe there are a number of factors driving the adoption of the /degrowth banner, especially among young people in the global north. First was the increased visibility of wealth inequality due to the "socialist revival" of the 2010s, and the more widespread ability to critique capitalism that followed. This is closely tied to the polarization of the political climate in the West, and specifically the (re)development of proto-fascist groups that have further pushed many to adopt a more radical and critical understanding of political and economic systems. Second was the chaos of the early 2020s that saw the social and economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic coincide with the beginnings of tangible effects of the /climate crisis in the global north. This continued parade of nightmares has brought many young people to correctly begin to see the connections between the failures, and has created an environment where /complex systems thinking is beginning to spread among everyday people.

I believe that Degrowth, as a movement, is the result of an increasing number of people becoming /collapse-aware due to all of these factors. The only consistent idea under this banner at the current moment is the understanding that there cannot be infinite growth on a planet of finite resources.

A Cultural Sea Change

While "Degrowth" itself may ultimately be another shortlived banner, I believe there are the seeds of a cultural shift within its boundaries. The conflict that it wrestles with, the idea of dethroning "growth" as the primary directive of human society, is a fundamental building block of our entire modern world. Until recently, even the most radical visions for replacing capitalism as an economic system still featured endless growth and development—just held in public, not private. (See "Fully Automated Luxury Communism".)

Degrowth goes beyond this, recognizing that capitalism is no longer the source of our problems but just the harbinger for the even more insidious idea that "we can keep having more, forever". Even if we nationalized the fossil fuel companies into worker cooperatives tomorrow, we'd all still have to massively alter our lifestyles to stop burning oil and put an end to the climate crisis—our lifestyles in the Global North are just far too energy-intensive.

And so within this movement of /degrowth is perhaps the last chance for humanity to step back from the edge of total ecological ruin. It has the potential to be a rallying point for reimagining the future not as a malignant tumor, but as a cycle in balance. Degrowth can be an aesthetic and philosophical guide towards a new culture that brings humanity's expectations back into alignment with the inescapable laws of physics.

See Also

/degrowth Stream

June 8, 2023

/stream /degrowth /benign-computing /complex-systems /climate-crisis

When reading about /benign computing, there was a point where it was explaining the way natural systems are more resilient to failure compared to the fragility of human-made complex systems. This reminded me of the fact that our poorly designed systems are stabilized by the resilience of nature, like how the global ecosystem was able to absorb and handle a huge amount of carbon emissions before deteriorating. This makes it very difficult for humans to see, since our time scales are so short.

/stream /reading /technology /permacomputing /degrowth /benign-computing /complex-systems

Read Abstraction, indirection, and Sevareid's Law: Towards benign computing after seeing it mentioned on Damaged Earth Catalog. It provides background on the idea that computing may, in general, be creating more problems than solutions, and proposes a design framework for computing that minimizes that outcome. The core principles are “scale out”, “fail well”, “open design”, and “fractal”. In essence, it promotes small nodes speaking open protocols that are individually resilient, creating an emergent larger network that also exhibits these properties. It prioritizes long term resiliency and harm mitigation over short term costs and maximum availability.

I like the idea of benign computing aiming to mimic how nature *fails*, instead of how it *succeeds*. Placing the emphasis on resilience as opposed to solutions naturally puts you in a defensive and critical position during system design. I think that this framework lends itself well to an analysis of the Coalescent Computer which shares many of these goals, and would benefit from a deeper analysis through this lens.

June 2, 2023

/stream /reading /technology /permacomputing /degrowth /collapse

Following some links led me to The Monster Footprint of Digital Technology on Low Tech Magazine. While the concept of embodied energy (in microchips, or in general) was not new to me, this article did a great job of describing the scale and trends in energy and resource consumption in the manufacturing of modern digital technology.

One aspect in particular stood out to me, which was the claim that "digital technology is a product of cheap energy". I think about this idea from many angles, that there are many aspects of our modern society that have expanded to consume all of the "infinite energy" we've had access to during the fossil fuel era. The proliferation of cars, processed foods, and microchips are all goods that have fundamentally changed the way we have lived, but are (and have always been) unsustainable to produce in the long term since they are fundeamentally born out of an environment with very cheap, portable, and dense energy sources. Trying to maintain that lifestyle without fossil fuels will be nearly impossible due to "Energy Return on Investment" (EROI) calculations and the laws of physics. And yet, at the same time, many people (and our economic system more broadly) have become completely dependent on these goods and this lifestyle, with a looming threat of /collapse if they were to suddenly disappear.

And so I wonder about what computing might look like in a world with more restricted and balanced energy use, if we managed to actually ramp down our energy and resource consumption to a truly sustainable level. Will computing still exist? How accessible would it be?

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