Re: We scare people off by talking about 'degrowth'
This is a comment on We scare people off by talking about 'degrowth' in The Ecologist — copied here for self-archiving purposes, keeping in mind that all comments previously made to the Times were recently lost when they erected their new pay wall.
Nice take on a crucial problem: If resources are limited (and they are), so is growth - how do we communicate that?
A few issues, though:
(1) It is probably correct to say that "We scare people off by talking about 'degrowth'", but can the solution be to coin yet another euphemism? If so, we should probably go for 'natural', 'balanced', 'healthy' or 'holistic' economy, since these labels seem to do quite well in terms of PR. But keep in mind that we also scare (some) people off by talking about 'democracy', 'evolution', 'gender inequality', 'public peer review', 'environmental footprint', 'homework', or even 'health insurance' - does this mean we should stop discussing these topics (or hide them behind layers of euphemisms) because some people might be offended?
(2) The meanings of "décroissance" and "degrowth" are identical, and so I would expect that preferring one over the other simply correlates (inversely) with the relative command of the two languages - using foreign words is often necessary to be precise, but it is also a common euphemistic strategy. The proposed alternative, "dynamic equilibrium", is just another way to describe situations for which the term of art (at least in systems theory) would be "steady state": when the flows (of matter, energy, money - you name it) to and from a system balance each other. Non-vanishing flows make the system dynamic, whereas the equilibrium (itself just another word for balance) makes it steady, i.e. robust with respect to lower-scale perturbations.
(3) Everybody - including the people you are afraid to offend - should worry about major perturbations to the current system, as they are ahead in terms of peak oil, peak fish, peak Helium and so on (just pick your favourite), climate change or world population. But given that an economy geared towards eternal growth will certainly have a harder time to cope with such perturbations (the keyword being resilience) than an economy near equilibrium.
So how do we communicate that? Perhaps by simplifying the debate even further, e.g. by estimating the number of Earths that we are using versus those that we have: http://www.pnas.org/content/99/14/9266/F1.expansion.html . Surely, there is a certain amount of buffering capacity in the system, but it is limited. Even the most outspoken proponents of "technology will save us" ideas will ultimately concede that there is just one inhabitable planet that we know of, and that we won't be able to settle onto another one before fossil fuels run out (and even if we could, this would not solve the problem, just shift it in time).
If all this does not help, we still have the analogy of cancer and healthy tissue.