Degrowth – What could be the role of the shipping sector?

Dr. Jason Hickel

At the KLU Symposium “Transitions: Readiness and Challenges in the Shipping Industry” on October 27, Dr. Jason Hickel, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Institute for Environmental Science and Technology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, will deliver a keynote address on "Green Growth or Degrowth". What can guests expect to see at the Symposium?

Leading up to the event, Gordon Wilmsmeier, Director of the Hapag-Lloyd Center for Shipping and Global Logistics (CSGL) at KLU, spoke with him.

Check out the full program and register for the the open-public event.

Can you please summarize the concept of degrowth in a few words?

Dr. Jason Hickel: We often think of growth as a synonym for social progress or improvements in well-being. But that’s not accurate. In an economic context, growth is very narrowly defined as an increase in total production, as measured in terms of market prices. So, producing $100 worth of teargas and machine guns is valued exactly the same as producing $100 worth of education and healthcare.

Clearly, in some contexts, the growth of specific sectors is good and important. And the problem isn’t growth as such, the problem is excess growth. In rich countries, excess production and consumption are fueling a dangerous ecological breakdown. There are huge segments of the economy that are wasteful and unnecessary for human well-being: SUVs, private jets, beef, mansions, fast fashion, advertising, and the widespread practice of planned obsolescence. Degrowth scholarship simply argues that production in these segments should be scaled down, so as to bring resource and energy use back to sustainable levels.

So, in a nutshell, “degrowth” means scaling down less-necessary forms of production and instead focusing the economy on what is actually required to secure human well-being and improve social outcomes.

Why do you think degrowth is relevant for the shipping and port sector?

Hickel: For three reasons. First, the shipping and port sector is highly energy-intensive and highly polluting. It is incumbent on the sector’s leaders to make the radical changes that are necessary to reduce its ecological impact, in line with scientific evidence. Second, if entire countries agree to adopt degrowth principles, shipping volumes will decrease. It is critical that this transition be managed in a just and equitable way. Third, we should ask ourselves what role the shipping sector could play in facilitating a just degrowth transition. Under what conditions would this be feasible? What sort of changes would be required? These are challenging questions.

Thanks very much, Mr. Hickel!

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