“Degrowth: The Quest for a Social Tipping Point” – An Interview with Erin Remblance

Erin Remblance is a Sydney-based writer and co-creator of (re)Biz.

Can you tell us how you began the journey to become an advocate for degrowth and regeneration? 

I was already quite active in the climate space when I read Jason Hickel’s Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World just over two years ago. For the first time realised just how unsustainable our growth economies are. I set out to learn as much as I could, but also to share as much as I could about what I was learning, and I’m still going. 

What is Degrowth, and why is it so central to the debate for our future? 

Degrowth is a planned and democratic reduction in energy and material footprint in over-consuming nations to get back within the planetary boundaries while improving wellbeing and global justice. It is recognition that we are living as if we have 1.75 planet Earths, but that is a global average and some countries are living as if we have 3, 4, 5 or 6 planet Earths. It is completely unsustainable. Our ecological debt has come due: we are in the sixth mass extinction. If we want to avoid a catastrophic outcome we will need to make some significant changes to how we are living, and start making decisions with people and planet at the heart and not profit and growth.

You’ve written a great piece about the Kerala model – what is that about? 

Ah yes, I think you mean this piece. The Indian state of Kerala is a fascinating example of what is possible when there is radical democracy, meaning decentralised governance down to the local community level and active participation in decision making both politically and economically. Decisions are then made based on what is going to produce the best societal outcomes and not on what is best for economic growth. Kerala has a Human Development Index in line with many European countries, a high Sustainable Development Index, the highest daily wages and literacy rates (94%) in India, electricity in all cities and rural areas, and the lowest rates of corruption, poverty and infant mortality in India. It achieves all this with an average annual income of just US$12,736/capita and CO2 emissions of 2.84t/capita, both of which are well below that of Western nations. 

A 4-hour work-day. What does this mean and how do we stop “bullshit jobs”? 

A 4-hour work-day is essentially a reduction in working hours by around 50%. Ultimately the hours/day configuration is less important than the total reduction in hours overall. It is recognition that over the last 70 years or more workers have been working a 40-hour, typically 5-day work week. Despite the technological advancements over this period, our working hours have not reduced. Rather than new technologies giving us freedom to enjoy an increase in leisure time, more and more people are working bullshit jobs and spending more time in paid employment. 

The way we stop bullshit jobs is the same way we won the weekend – by using our power as a combined labour movement (by strong unions) and changing the structural conditions of the economy. 

How did you and Ra start up Re(biz) and how do you change the mindsets of your clients?

Ra approached me about working together about a year ago. He could see that we were aligned in our worldview and approach and we both had the sense that we couldn’t do anything else other than share what we knew with others. It’s been a really rewarding 12 months and we’ve met some wonderful people whom we now have the privilege of having in the (re)Biz community. 

We actually go deeper than mindset, to worldview, which is what the mind is set in. We help people understand and assess their current worldview by looking at a broad range of topics, including indigenous and dominant worldview continuum’s, the role of hegemony, language, empathy, grief, intuition, ancestry, natural law, restorative justice, biomimicry in system design, interspecies and intergenerational diversity and much more. It’s a really full syllabus considering it is only a 4-week course, but we’ve received incredible feedback from participants and we’re really proud of what we have co-created together. 

What needs to happen now to stop the trajectory society is on? What role do you see for ordinary citizens? For leaders? 

For us to stop the trajectory society is on we need to reach a ‘social tipping point’ where minority views quicky become majority views and action becomes inevitable. The research indicates that around 25% of a population getting behind a movement is the magic tipping point, where it very quickly becomes 75% of a population who support a movement. Leaders and people with influence have a greater ability to edge us towards the tipping point than the ordinary citizen, but we all have a role to play, especially when the stakes are so high and the need for action so urgent.

Once we reach the social tipping point, our greatest leverage point is the strength of our labour movement and unions, and we need to use this strength across society to bring structural change to our economy (not simply a change in conditions and wages at the company/industry level). This will enable us to implement radical democracy, not just politically, but also economically, so that we can reduce production and consumption to get us back within planetary boundaries while improving societal wellbeing and global justice i.e., degrowth.

What are you working on next?

I am still in the process of learning and sharing. There’s so many topics I want to know more about, and I want others to know about too, such as ways other cultures have lived in sustainably for generations, the role of utopia and imagination in shaping what we think might be possible and the forces that are preventing us from making decisions that centre people and the planet and not simply profit and growth. I’m sure through the process of learning more about these topics I’ll find even more I want to learn and share about too!

Thanks so much!

INTERVIEW by Christian Sarkar