Book: Less is More by Jason Hickel

Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World. A new book by Jason Hickel.

“We are not the defenders of the river. We are the river.”
– Fisherman, Magdalena River, Colombia

Core idea of capitalism is: one not only has to always profit but also do it in an accelerating way. When one does not grow enough, it's an economic crisis. The movement of degrowth raises the arguments against this social imaginary. Always growing is irrational, with no basis, but more importantly it is fatally dangerous. Earth is a balanced system; humanity is one of the cogs and by massively exploiting the Earth's resources the balance is no more and the system collapses.

Degrowth is about scaling down world production, as it's the only way to prevent the aforementioned environmental collapse. There are several pathways:

  1. End planned obsolescence. The lightbulb's life is the most famous example.
  2. Advertising. Manipulating people to make irrational purchases does increase the GDP yet it doesn't improve our well-being.
  3. Usership. Not every house needs a lawn mower every day.
  4. End food waste. 30%-50% of all the food that's being produced is wasted.
  5. Scale down eco-destructive industries. E.g. fossil fuel and beef.

Undoubtedly, these pathways require massive economic and social restructuring. Countless problems, expected and unexpected, will arise. The author provides answers and solutions to many, yet, of course it could never be enough. Alas, it seems it's the only way to mitigate the sixth extinction.

Looking back millions of years into the Earth system’s history there have been five mass extinction events. It looks like the sixth one has began.

“Recent figures show that around 85% of global fish stocks are now depleted or facing collapse. Haddock have fallen to 1% of their former volume; halibut, those magnificent giants of the sea, to one-fifth of 1%. Fish catches are beginning to decline around the world, for the first time in recorded history. In the Asia-Pacific, fishery yields are on track to hit zero by 2048.

Most of this is due to aggressive overfishing: just as with agriculture, corporations have turned fishing into an act of warfare, using industrial megatrawlers to scrape the seafloor in their hunt for increasingly scarce fish, hauling up hundreds of species in order to catch the few that have ‘market value’, turning coral gardens and colourful ecosystems into lifeless plains in the process. Whole ocean landscapes have been decimated in the scramble for profit.”

– Excerpt from “Less is More” by Jason Hickel, Chapter: Welcome to the Anthropocene

The book begins with a very succinct state of affairs on the Earth system. Hopelessness overtakes one's mind as the amount of suffering and death humanity has caused during the last 500 years is immeasurable. In exchange for what? Inequality in survival potential—caused by the few at the top. But, Jason's other book is a much more complete case for this argument.

When a constituent of a system does not play its role then the system’s collapse is inevitable. This is what happened a few thousand years ago, during the Austronesian expansion, when humans left mainland Asia and settled in the islands of south-east Pacific Ocean. Being accustomed to the huge ecosystem of mainland Asia, they didn’t consider that those small islands have a much more delicate life balance. Their rate of tree cutting and animal hunting were unsustainable, which lead to whole islands collapsing and being abandoned. However, the settlers learned from their mistakes. They understood how the ecosystem worked and did, subsequently, achieve a balance that allowed all organisms of the ecosystem to live.

This is the challenge we are facing, only this time on a planet level rather than on a small island. Odds are against us. It will require global collaboration in an unprecedented level. It's one of the greatest collective challenges of all time. If one is looking for something to work on, this is a considerably attractive choice.

The author says this is a book about hope. It’s difficult to apprehend that, especially in the beginning of the book. As it progresses, potential solutions are offered but their application and success do not seem likely.

In the end, after having the whole picture together, one can finally understand. True optimism is not blind optimism. And true hope is not one without knowing the bleakness of reality. One has to know; and still venture into this high-stakes undertaking—not because they fear death, but because they are excited about life. This is why this book is about hope.