Wicked tensions between modernity and low-growth economics

The pineapple story is one I have told frequently. An excerpt from my chapter in Health in the Anthropocene: Living Well on a Finite Planet summarizes where this comes from:

In early 2017, alongside colleague Brett Dolter, I acted as guest editor for a special issue of Alternatives Journal (A\J) – a Canadian academic transfer journal for environmental issues. The issue was a follow up to the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics’ 2015 biannual conference in Vancouver, BC. Our main objective was to disseminate the underlying principles and applications of ecological economics to the broader environmental community. During this time, I learned that editors of academic transfer journals have a difficult task; they need to be a certain degree of expert on a different topic for every issue of their journal. The A\J editor at the time, Leah Gerber, took this task very seriously. Over the months of development, Gerber and I spent hours talking about degrowth, agrowth, and low-growth economics. We discussed ecological economic philosophy, toolkits, and places where it has been implemented successfully. As our publishing date neared and we were having a final meeting on the structure and organization of the issue Gerber seemed dissatisfied.

I asked her what she thought was missing. After a moments’ pause she turned to me and said: “What about my pineapples?”

The framing of this question has stuck with me ever since. Gerber was tapping into a problem that few environmentalists engage with openly and honestly: what are the trade-offs we’ll have to make to live in a more sustainable way? After telling Gerber that her children, or maybe her children’s children, are likely to eat pineapple as only a very special treat, if at all, we went on to discuss the wider implications of her question.

It’s easy for environmentalists to look at supply chains and see that it might be difficult to have access to pineapples in a sustainable society as we reduce the amount of unnecessary transportation. It is more difficult for environmentalists to see the ‘supply chain’ of abstract concepts that hold a great deal of power and importance in our modern lives such as freedom, individual rights, and relative peace. This is primarily because, ever since the early 1700s, these concepts have come to define every moment and thought in our modern, Western lives. They have become the ideals that we strive to uphold and maintain. They are the fundamental rights and responsibilities of all citizens. So, it is very difficult to step back and see the evolution of such entrenched and ingrained concepts in our lives and even more difficult to consider that our well-intentioned sustainability agendas might undermine them.

I presented on this topic during my CANSEE 2019 plenary. I included some ways forward that I’m really not happy with. But hey, give me a break… I had slept for 2 hours and had a baby on me for the whole week! I deserve a second shot at those solutions, and hope to start such work by doing multivariable and multinational data analysis.