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Perspective Debates

Poster presented at the Second International Degrowth

Conference in Barcelona 26-29 March 2010

Class, Degrowth and  Transition to a Just and Sustainable Society

 

Marko Ulvila and Jarna Pasanen

Left Forum and Friends of the Earth Finland

marko.ulvila@kaapeli.fi & jarna.pasanen@kaapeli.fi

Introduction: income ≈ environmental harm

The best ideas in environmental economics, such as de-growth and steady-state-economy, need to be placed in a context of socio-economic classes for them to gain wider appeal and to become a transformative force. Income-based classes are very relevant for environmental debates since income has a strong relationship with ecological damage. The higher the income the larger the harmful footprint.

Four income-based classes: struggling, sustainable, consuming and over-consuming

Four global income-based classes with environmental and equity relevance can be outlined globally by using income data. They are conceptually presented in the Table 1.

 

Income

level

Basic

needs

Environmental damage

Class

Low

Not met

Small

Struggling

Moderate

Met

Moderate

Sustainable

High

Met

Significant

Consuming

Very high

Met

Very high

Over-consuming

Table 1 The conceptual basis for the income-based classes.

Building on earlier work by Alan Durning and Mathew Bentley, we have set indicative income thresholds for the four classes. The income levels are indicated as per capita shares of the Gross Domestic Product on purchasing power parity. They are presented in the Table 2 along the sizes of the classes globally and the proposed transformation paths.

Class

 

Income USD ppp

Size bn

Transformation scenario

Struggling

<750

2

Empowerment

Sustainable

750-7.500

3

Steady-state

Consuming

7.500-14.000

1

Gentle degrowth

Over-consuming

 

>14.000

 

1

 

Immediate degrowth

Table 2 The four global classes and their future scenarios.

Based on these indicative income thresholds the number of people belonging to each of the classes can be roughly estimated across the World. The results for relative size of the classes are presented in the Figure 1.

Empowerment, steady-state and degrowth

Figure 1 The relative size of the four classes across regions.

Degrowth interventions for the consuming and over-consuming classes would include maximum income through progressive taxation, luxury taxes on excessive energy consumption and prohibition of most polluting properties such as private palaces and jet planes. For the sustainable classes the need is to have respect, protection and promotion of their less polluting steady-state ways. The struggling class would need empowerment through access to natural resources and full realisation of political and social rights. The impact of such transformation on incomes is illustrated in the Figure 2.

On a societal level the transformation would entail replacing the plutocratic world-system of fossil capitalism with eco-sufficient, democratic and egalitarian society. In this ongoing transition the popular movements of the struggling and sustainable classes are playing a key role.

Figure 2 Annual changes of incomes by income centiles in the Empowerment-SteadyState-Degrowth transformation scenario.

Literature: Ulvila, Marko and Jarna Pasanen eds. (2009) Sustainable Futures - Replacing Growth Imperative and Hierarchies with Sustainable Ways. Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Helsinki.

Sustainable Futures is available for free

 

Acknowledgements: Illustrations by Pia Westerholm, Sustainable Futures study funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. Present work funded by the Left Forum, Finland. www.vasemmistofoorumi.fi

 

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