EU Youth Are Calling For A Post-Growth Society

A recently published youth-led Manifesto for an Intergenerationally Just Post-growth European Economy shows that post-growth is becoming more prominent in the EU policy debate, with strong support from youth.

by Natalia Mrowczynska, Generation Climate Europe

Youth are demanding a new economic system

The Beyond Growth Conference, which was held in May at the European Parliament and counted over 6000 in person and online attendees, demonstrated a growing momentum for post-growth alternatives to the current economic system. Their advocates are calling for a future centred on human and planetary wellbeing. As the momentum for post-growth is growing, a recent Manifesto published by a group of youth networks and organisations, led by Generation Climate Europe, shows strong support from youth for a new vision of the future.

The Manifesto, backed by youth organisations involving over 20 million young Europeans and over 80 civil society organisations and experts, argues that current measures — such as the European Green Deal — are falling short of tackling the root causes of the climate crisis. Instead, it demands a transition to a post-growth and post-colonial economic system — one centred around the objectives of intergenerational justice, human wellbeing, and life within the planetary boundaries rather than the pursuit of economic growth. The Manifesto takes the call for “systems change, not climate change” — a slogan often used during climate protests around the world — a step further by outlining specific and actionable policy proposals to EU policymakers for an alternative economic order. 

With the rise of Fridays for Future and the increased visibility of young people in climate demonstrations, the role of youth in pushing for a more ambitious climate action has been increasingly recognised. But young people want their voices to be heard beyond the climate demonstrations. By advocating for specific policy recommendations, the Manifesto — alongside other calls — paves the way for post-growth to rise in prominence within European institutions.

Why post-growth?

In a world suffering from multiple ongoing emergencies — including the climate crisis, environmental breakdown, biodiversity loss, skyrocketing inequality, political instability, mental health crisis, and many others — fragmentary solutions, which seek to deal with these emergencies individually, without acknowledging their shared roots, are simply not good enough. Indeed, according to the youth organisations behind the Manifesto, we need to stop treating these crises as isolated emergencies altogether. Instead, we should think of them as part of one “eco-social crisis” comprising multiple complex and interlinked environmental and social crises.

Many of these emergencies originate in, or are exacerbated by, the current economic system. This system prioritises economic growth and private profits above other objectives such as collective human wellbeing or environmental protection, threatening the lives of current and future generations — particularly of communities in the Global South.

Take the climate crisis: here, our obsession with economic expansion is directly at odds with the finite planetary boundaries. Centred around growth at all costs, the current system incentivises overconsumption and overproduction in order to ensure economic expansion. But this constant desire to increase economic output requires an ever-increasing quantity of inputs, including raw materials and cheap, often outsourced, labour. Consequently, continued extraction of natural resources and production processes, where they are transformed into finished commodities, drive the destruction of natural environments and the rise of greenhouse gas emissions. The latter being further exacerbated when commodities are transported to be consumed in far away places.

While current EU policies have promoted the idea of “green growth” — according to which economic growth can be environmentally sustainable if decoupled from resource use — research has shown this concept to be oxymoronic. Thus far, no country has been able to absolutely decouple its economic growth from increases in resource consumption and carbon emissions, and therefore from its environmental footprint.

Post-growth recognises that we must end this dependency on growth, for the sake of current and future generations. Prioritising human wellbeing and environmental protection will help us select those economic activities which achieve these objectives, and move away from those which are unnecessary or even harmful.

What’s next for post-growth?

As current piecemeal solutions to the ongoing crises increasingly disappoint, the post-growth vision has gained prominence, and policymakers are increasingly waking up to this reality. At the Beyond Growth Conference, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, argued that “the growth model centred on fossil fuels is simply obsolete.”

The Manifesto shows not only that the youth are increasingly united behind post-growth. Through its concrete proposals, it also illustrates that there is a clear path forward for post-growth to enter into the EU policy agenda. It is now time for EU policymakers to translate these proposals into policies to ensure a just future for all.

About the organisation:
Generation Climate Europe (GCE) is the largest coalition of youth-led networks on climate and environmental issues at the European level, bringing together 381 national organisations across 46 countries in Europe. Natalia is leading the Rethinking our Economy Research team at GCE.
Learn more about GCE here:

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