poster on facade of European Commission

Degrowth advocates from Scientist Rebellion and affiliated groups blocked the entryway to the European Commission office in Brussels on June 7, 2024. Using posters, they wrote a slogan, "The future is degrowth," onto the building's facade.

(Photo: Growth Kills)

Scientists Blockade EU Commission Offices to Demand Degrowth

Amid elections in Europe, opponents of ongoing planetary destruction argue that the "science is clear: politicians' obsession with infinite economic growth is leading us straight to disaster."

A group of about 20 scientists and allies on Friday blocked the doors to the European Commission office in Brussels to demand degrowth policies as European Union elections unfold in which no party has such an agenda and pro-environment candidates are expected to lose seats.

The degrowth advocates, who came from Scientist Rebellion and affiliated groups, called for the EU to stop using Gross Domestic Product as an index of prosperity and an end to "over-consumption and the advertising that drives it," among other demands. Carrying placards with messages such as "Green growth is a myth," they prevented employees of the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, from getting to work Friday morning, they said in an emailed statement.

Wolfgang Cramer, an environmental geographer at the Mediterranean Institute for Biodiversity and Ecology in France and an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) author, supported the action from a distance.

"Economic growth is a concept that was useful almost 100 years ago to help politicians overcome the disaster of the 1929 world economic crisis," Cramer said, according to the statement. "Today, it has become a leitmotif to justify the destruction of our natural resources and to support the redistribution of wealth to the richest. What we need is an economic system that guarantees the well-being of everyone, while respecting the planet's limits. This is entirely possible if we have the political will."

The degrowth movement, which began in the 2000s following work in the field of ecological economics, seeks to address not only the climate crisis but also other ecological crises. Its proponents argue that economic growth is linked with energy and resource use—the more growth, the more difficult to stay within planetary limits on carbon emissions, or, for example, nitrogen and phosphorous use, they argue.

Degrowth is the subject of mockery in some legacy media outlets that hold economic growth sacrosanct and is a matter of fierce debate among leftist political thinkers, some of whom strongly oppose it. Despite the criticism, degrowth has grown in influence, especially in Europe, where the topic has moved from the "policy fringes" toward a "mainstream audience," Financial Timesreported last year. The economic paradigm questioning endless expansion has even received favorable mention in EU policy briefs and IPCC reports.

"It is unlikely that a long-lasting, absolute decoupling of economic growth from environmental pressures and impacts can be achieved at the global scale,” a European Environment Agency briefing says. "Therefore, societies need to rethink what is meant by growth and progress and their meaning for global sustainability."

Many climate policy researchers are in fact skeptical of "green growth" and support "growth agnostic" or degrowth policies, a 2023 study in Nature Sustainability found.

In a manifesto Scientist Rebellion pointed to on Friday, the group argued that, "The science is clear: politicians' obsession with infinite economic growth is leading us straight to disaster."

The group's Friday action comes on the second day of this week's EU elections, which run from Thursday to Sunday. Right-wing parties are pushing anti-environment messages with great success, The New York Timesreported Friday.

"The right wing is ascendant," according to the Times, which explained that the European Greens are polling poorly this year, after having won a record 10% of seats in the EU Parliament in 2019—a year of large climate protests, when the "zeitgeist was green."

That victory helped propel the EU toward the European Green Deal, a set of environmental laws and regulations centered around a legally binding target to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030.

However, inflation and high energy prices due to the war in Ukraine have changed some of the political dynamics. Rising prices have helped lead to what the European Council on Foreign Relations has called a “growing greenlash.”

Ahead of the elections, farmers' groups have protested regulations on agricultural pollutants, showing that "agriculture has been instrumentalized by the populist and hard-right groups throughout the 27-nation bloc," The Associated Pressreported.

Yet climate activist groups remain determined to push forward. Scientist Rebellion seeks to draw attention to what it sees as the blind spots in the political platforms of even Europe's left-wing and green parties.

"We deplore the fact that virtually no party is proposing a program that is up to the social and environmental challenge," said Laura Stalenhoef, a Ph.D. candidate in cognitive psychology in Germany who took part in Friday's action. "But we do not just denounce political inaction, we put forward concrete proposals for change: we urgently need to abandon GDP as an index of prosperity and organise a voluntary contraction of the economy before we witness ecological and social collapse."

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