Giorgos Kallis is on a roll. He came out with the first comprehensive book on degrowth in English this past December, for which one of his collaborators was asked to appear on a national Spanish television network. Most recently, he published “The Degrowth Alternative” in the February newsletter of the Great Transition Initiative, getting attention from leading thinkers on economic alternatives for sustainable societies in the U.S. Kallis has emerged as a face of degrowth in English, pushing us to shift in our thinking of degrowth as less of an economic indicator and more of a “frame” with a diverse set of motivating sources and solutions.
I met Kallis briefly this past summer as part of a research program studying degrowth at the University of Barcelona Institute of Environmental Science and Technology. Kallis stood out among a series of lecturers in his ability to clearly and without effort defend degrowth.
Degrowth tends to go down like soap in the mouth of even the most creative American ecological and social justice thinkers, including those who belong to the Great Transition Movement. That’s intentional say those in the movement. “Both the name and the theory of degrowth aim explicitly to re-politicize environmentalism” and “it’s subversive” writes Kallis in the Degrowth Alternative. In this piece, he goes right at what has become taboo in American environmental politics, suggesting that there is a conflict between the economy – as we know it – and the environment. But that rather than pretending it doesn’t exist (or listening to the polls), we should change the economy or even “exit the economy” and it’s “an invitation to abandon economistic thinking and construct viable alternatives to capitalism.” Kallis doesn’t shy away from struggles within the movement, which lives primarily in southern Europe.
In Degrowth a Vocabulary for a New Era, Kallis, along with co-editors, Giacomo D’Alisa and Federico Demaria, collate a big-tent for degrowth, bringing together diverse lines of thinking from critics of development, to environmental justice, to environmental economics. Then going to the philosophical core, the book explores commodification, decolonization of the imaginary, and simplicity. The text and the movement is still the weakest in proposing grounded actions to achieve a socially sustainable degrowth, but touches on cooperatives, basic and maximum income, and work sharing. More of an extended glossary than anything, the editors tapped some of the best in the field, like Tim Jackson, Juliet Shor, and Serge Latouche.
It feels like degrowth may have finally found a competent spokesperson to carry the flag in English in Giorgos Kallis. Kallis, as a Greek national, maybe particular poised to speak on economic transitions, although degrowth has yet to infiltrate Syriza rhetoric, who knows, perhaps we will see Kallis as a Greek Minister of Finance a few years down the road.