The term postgrowth defines a range of approaches to socioecological challenges. They address these challenges in ways that are diametrically opposed to green-growth, which expresses the belief that society can simultaneously expand economic activity and reduce emissions and the demand for materials. Postgrowth approaches, by contrast, argue that the unlimited expansion of production and consumption is impossible and undesirable on a finite planet.
Postgrowth approaches also argue that to meet targets for reducing emissions and societies’ broader ecological footprint, we need to question the economic compulsion to accumulate, extract, and exploit nature and labor.
Degrowth is a radical, postgrowth approach to social and ecological justice. It recognizes that living within planetary boundaries requires that societies downsize all forms of production and consumption that damage environments without contributing to collective wellbeing.
In particular, degrowth focuses on reducing all that is unnecessary for societies to live well together and exceeds decent standards of living. At the same time, degrowth seeks social justice. It recognizes that overconsumption and overproduction result from a capitalist system that tends to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few. It also recognizes that this wealth is unevenly distributed geographically. Some areas and social groups enjoy enormous wealth and opportunities for material consumption, whereas others are marginalized, racialized, and exploited.
Degrowth is a liberation from the compulsion to grow. This liberation allows for an abundance of essential goods, accessible to all: housing, land, clean air, healthy food, and mobility. Degrowth is therefore a social and political transition. It fosters institutions that pursue collective wellbeing and justice because they do not depend on profit and increasing economic output. It advocates democratic, convivial, and cooperative ways of organizing the economy. It pursues sufficiency rather than limitless accumulation.
The commons are goods, services, and resources that are essential for people’s wellbeing. Commoning is the process of organizing, maintaining, protecting, and nurturing those essential resources. Urban commons are resources that do not function as commodities to be bought and sold on the market. They are used and managed directly by those who maintain them.
Commoning questions the property structures that sustain the growth economy. Both state property and private property refer to one kind of actor: the company. Whether it operates on behalf of a state or private stakeholders, companies have often proven ineffective in maintaining resources that are both accessible and of high quality. They tend to exploit resources for profit and are often unable to maintain them in ways that respond to users’ changing needs.
Commoning confronts these limitations with forms of property that are collaborative and organized democratically by the direct users of a given resource. This makes it possible to keep the resource accessible according to rules and processes that are established collectively. These processes can be adapted when necessary and directly respond to users’ needs.
A metabolism is the flow of materials and energy through a particular system. These materials are extracted, transformed, used, and turned into waste that can be reused or disposed of. The system might be a city, region, country, or the whole planet, depending on the focus of analysis.
A circular metabolism is one that decreases the input of raw materials, increases the use of materials already within the system, and reduces the waste output. In a city, this means that fewer raw materials are used to produce the built environment and sustain urban consumption. It also means that the built environment lasts longer and is adaptable to changing needs, so as to reduce waste as much as possible. Finally, the waste that cities produce is reused to sustain urban transformation, new production, and essential consumption.
The term circular economy specifically refers to an economic system that thrives out of a circular metabolism. It is a model of economic production and consumption. A circular economy can be realized in different ways. Some may be compatible with degrowth because they foster justice and material reduction; others may be oriented toward profit and fuel economic growth.