When growth isn’t

Making the environmentalist message palatable in an age of hyper-consumerism is a challenge, to say the least, and it requires a considerable degree of of linguistic dexterity and political creativity. The problem is that the kind of creative language used in eco-spin can so easily backfire on its creators. We have seen this time and again, and it is about time that lessons were learned.

Now I don’t know much about the Worldwatch Institute, save that it is an environmental thinktank based in Washington DC, and one that presents itself as a sharp, professional lobbying outfit and environmental policy consultancy. As a journalist with an interest in environmental matters I find myself on the institute’s press mailing list, and rarely a week passes without a graphics and text-heavy missive landing in my inbox. The title of the latest Worldwatch email is…

Time Running Out to Ensure Sustainable Prosperity for All

This is what I mean by linguistic dexterity. The words “sustainable” and “prosperity” do not sit easily together, but I imagine that this feeling could pass, and one might accept albeit critically the dissonant terminology of eco-capitalism. One should also accept that any current uneasiness may be the result of long-term ideological conditioning on the left of the political spectrum.

However, on reading the lengthy Worldwatch e-missive, I come across the following…

Degrowth in Overdeveloped Countries: Humanity uses 1.5 Earths’ worth of ecological capacity, with much of that consumed by overdeveloped industrial countries. Sustainable prosperity will require economic degrowth in these countries.”

The first four words above are enough to switch the lights out “overdeveloped countries”, and not in any energy-conserving sense.

“Degrowth” is an abomination of a word with its origins in a peculiarly French form of deep-green political theory based on a bastardised and thoroughly pseudified form of the physical second law of thermodynamics. “Overdeveloped” begs many questions. The substantive content of the white paper aside, what does this tortured prose say about the Worldwatch Institute?