How Buddhists Can Embrace the Degrowth Movement

- through Francois Leclercq

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Chart showing global temperatures in 2023, in orange, compared to previous years. From

This week, on July 3 to be exact, scientists estimate that Earth experienced its hottest day on record. Then the 4th of July was warmer. And July 5 was even hotter. As the El Niño ocean temperature phenomenon takes effect in the coming months, we can expect more record-breaking heat, along with weather disasters and loss of life, as humans, animals and plants cannot run away or cope with these rapid changes.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has said there is a 90% chance El Niño will persist through the second half of the year. The WMO has urged governments around the world to take action to protect vulnerable people immediately: “The onset of El Niño will dramatically increase the likelihood of breaking temperature records and triggering more extreme heat in many regions. of the world and in the ocean,” the WMO said. general secretary Petteri Taalas. (CNBC)

Long-term calls for a transition to low-carbon energy sources have been made for decades, but we are now entering a more urgent phase of climate change in which we are collectively paying the price for our past inaction. We are entering uncharted climate territory.


In Buddhism, the doctrine of no self tells us that we are all made up of ever-changing parts. These parts, such as our carbon atoms and water molecules, enter us at some point in our lives and then leave us. The billions of carbon molecules in us have also been present in billions and billions of other people, as well as in the earth, plants and other animals.

The carbon dioxide molecules we create when we burn fossil fuels in our cars, homes, and planes enter the Earth's atmosphere. There, each traps a tiny fraction of the Sun's heat. Each of us, with relative wealth and in affluent countries in particular, creates billions of these molecules every day. And these, in turn, trap heat that will affect people across the planet for decades to come.

If we can see our deep interconnectedness and how our actions cause suffering, we may be able to internalize the need to make changes.

Many of the changes we can make to reduce our carbon footprint can themselves fuel a consumer habit, with its side effects of dissatisfaction and the need to buy more. These can include things like buying the latest electric vehicle and adding solar panels to our homes. We can also buy more efficient home heating/cooling systems and better quality clothes that will last for years.


However, one must be wary of the impulse to consume. As Thich Nhat Hanh explained many years ago:

We believe that if we can buy new and exciting things, then we can forget the emptiness inside. It doesn't seem to have any effect. We buy more and more, but we don't feel the kind of satisfaction we need. We need love, we need peace, but we don't know how to recreate peace, so we look for other things to cover the pain and the emptiness inside of us.

(The Ecologist)

A problem with green things is that they cannot satisfy our underlying desires, our cravings. Having solar panels or an electric vehicle doesn't help if we use them to justify driving all the time or building a giant house with precision temperature controls.

With that in mind, many people today are advocating not for more green stuff in our lives, but for less stuff overall. BDG columnist John Harvey Negru expressed this idea well in an article last November titled “Supply and Demand: How to Do More with Less?” Negru reminds us of the Buddhist value of renunciation. He rightly notes that little is said about it, even among contemporary Buddhist leaders and institutions, let alone in society at large. This, he rightly suggests, is in urgent need of change.

Knowing this, there are a number of ways to embrace the degrowth movement. What is the degrowth movement? The folks at write:

The degrowth movement of activists and researchers advocates for societies that prioritize social and ecological well-being over corporate profits, overproduction and excessive consumption. This requires a radical redistribution, a reduction in the material size of the global economy and a shift from common values ​​towards caring, solidarity and self-reliance. Degrowth means transforming societies to ensure environmental justice and a good life for all within planetary boundaries.


Bill McKibben, well-known conservationist and founder of, has other ideas. A longtime advocate for a rapid green energy transition, McKibben has recently leaned into criticisms of the green transition in his own degrowth movement.

In an article by The new yorker titled “To save the planet, should we really go slower? The degrowth movement is making a comeback,” McKibben is looking for a way forward to Both development of green energies and an overall reduction in consumption, leading to a truly stabilized man-nature relationship.

McKibbin praises Parisian leaders, who have “made huge investments in public transport, built hundreds of miles of cycle paths and closed many streets to cars. Car journeys in the city fell nearly 60% between 2001 and 2018, car accidents fell 30% and pollution improved. He adds: “The city is quieter and calmer; test scores increase as the air around schools becomes cleaner. (The new yorker)

Nonetheless, says McKibbin, the populist yellow vest movement was partly sparked by fuel taxes that threatened the livelihoods of many rural French workers. Very often, the social progress of some will be at the expense of others. While many environmentally conscious people will embrace degrowth policies and others will reap the benefits, those left behind could eventually thwart progress altogether.

With social policies, we must tackle the haves and the have-nots, accepting that there may be problems with even our most cherished ideals. And yet, we must move forward, through setbacks and political obstacles, if we are to effect the great planetary changes that are necessary to sustain civilization on Earth.

At the same time, there is a lot we can do as individuals to slow down both our consumption to cause less secondary damage in the world and our minds, which naturally leads to more calm, focus and joy.

One thing we can do is travel less. For many of us, the COVID-19 lockdowns gave us a taste of it. Maybe we want to travel a lot now to make up for lost time, but maybe we could also delve into the beauty of where we live now, and the many unexplored human and natural sites. No doubt we will continue to travel, but we can infuse each journey with more meaning and richness if we limit ourselves.

While we're at it, can we stop idolizing rich people on TV and social media who always seem to be on a yacht or an exotic beach? Instead, find people enjoying the richness of the world around them, from rivers and streams to libraries and theaters.

This brings us to a related topic: living (hyper) local. How it works will be different for all of us, but we can focus much more of our time and energy in our own neighborhoods and cities. Get to know the people around you. Offer help.

Last month, an elderly neighbor near me said she needed someone to install a window air conditioner for her and she would pay US$50. I replied that I would do it for free and agreed on a time to drop by. She was only two blocks from me and I ended up having a wonderful time getting to know her and her husband and even came home with a loaf of fresh bread and two books for my daughter.

Third, we must return to nature. This too can take many forms. At the very least, start growing herbs in an indoor planter that can be placed in sunlight. For more, plant a garden in your backyard, housing estate, or community garden. Or head to a nature reserve or forest terrain for regular walks. Observe. Discover the flora and fauna that come and go with the seasons.

Unknown butterfly or moth. Photo of the author

I started hiking in a beautiful canyon near my home in Montana with my wife and daughter. We walked through fall leaves, winter snow and spring flowers. And now blueberry season, much to my delight and that of my three-year-old daughter. Listen to soil, air and water. Listen to their story and you will hear the story for yourself.

Big sky. Photo of the author

To make the most of it all, we need to retreat regularly. In retreat, this is where the pieces really come together. Retirement is where our degrowth mindset can be truly tested and strengthened. Even picking up a magazine can be a form of consumption we try to avoid in retirement. When we eat, too, we examine our food, grateful for its many sources. We don't just devour, as it is quite easy in our daily lives. Walking, sitting, listening, lying down at the end of the day are all enhanced. We no longer simply consume, but are aware of the space we occupy on Earth and the impact of each step and breath.

David Loy, a prominent American professor of ecodharma, even founded a retreat center in Colorado dedicated to combining Buddhist retreat experiences with ecological awareness and action.

Finally, remember the importance of sangha (community). Surrounded by people who respect the Earth, we too will respect the Earth. Surrounded by unhappy and unmotivated people, we too will be unhappy and unmotivated. We need support to live more simply and by supporting others, we cultivate our generosity and our compassion. Degrowth, to work, will require radical sharing. This sharing forces us to listen to others to know their needs and to listen to ourselves to understand clearly what we can offer.

The process will be difficult. But since when have humans not had a difficult challenge before us? Bill McKibben concludes his essay by encouraging solidarity, realizing that “An EV is a good way to reduce carbon emissions, but so it turns out to be a four-day work week. Do them both, and a thousand other things – and fast – and we might just have a chance. (The new yorker)

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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