Regenerating & Degrowth

by Slow Factory

A massive revision of our approach to consumerism and economics is vital to moving towards a more utopian society. At the Slow Factory we believe in the need to think on both the macro and micro levels when seeking solutions to the problems we face, when seeking new approaches that match the scale of our problems. In this current moment we often witness a forced and false binary between individual action and systemic change. Before diving into our approach to regeneration and degrowth we need to briefly dispel this harmful dichotomy that serves to disempower individuals and make change seem like an insurmountable task.

So, to remove the idea that individual actors are powerless and massive system change is somehow divorced from individual action let us first look at a union. In a workplace with 100 workers, each worker may feel powerless to push back against harmful policies such as no sick leave or being forced to work exorbitant overtime. And they are, individually. Yet, and this is the crux of the matter, the move from individually disempowered workers to a strong union requires countless individual actions. Core workers may form an organizing committee, they might hold conversations with worker-leaders or just their friends at the job. It is this cascading series of individual actions that lead to and enable powerful collective action. This is to say that all collective action is composed of an ensemble of individual actions, whether it be hundreds or thousands or millions of people acting in concert. In other words, the dichotomy between individual action and collective action is largely a false one. The two are inextricably linked, and those who pretend otherwise often work to demobilize people seeking to make change, intentionally or unintentionally. Those who think carefully about making change do emphasize collective action, but they acknowledge and uplift the fact that we as individuals must take action ourselves to be a part of that collective movement.

The reason we needed to begin with this brief explanation of our take on the relationship between the individual and the collective is that recently the fight against climate change has often been framed in terms of individual action, or personal responsibility. On the one hand corporations have told us that what we ought to do about the climate crisis is focus on our own individual “carbon footprints.” This idea reached a farcical conclusion, or what we can only hope is a conclusion, with companies like BP talking about reducing their carbon footprints etc. Restaurant chains and others also dove into the discussion with items like paper straws, metal straws and more. And the response from the public, at this point, has become largely an understandable disillusion with these personal lifestyle choices. Every few days the internet is captivated by news of a 30 mile celebrity private jet flight, shocking footage of the ocean on fire, or a flood rampaging through the middle of a city. Whenever these news items or video clips go viral a veritable wave of comments along the lines of “I don’t think my paper straws are going to solve this” are attached to the tweet, or Instagram post, or Youtube video. And the commenters are correct. Our paper straws are no substitute for moving away from fossil fuels, for example. But, in our society that discusses things in such sharp, contrasting terms, this accurate assessment often gets extended into, “So there’s nothing I can do.” And here is where the danger lies.

**We need a synthesis of individual action and collective movements. We need to understand how one feeds into the other, how one creates the other and how they reinforce one another. Much like collective action is a compilation of individual actions, powerful collective movements create the conditions that allow individuals to thrive and to take meaningful steps to change the world.** This is the context in which we understand regenerative economies and degrowth to operate, to be most effective, and to be something that millions of people can access and participate in. That is to say we see regenerative ecosystems and economies being moved forward at the micro level as integral to laying the foundation for a bigger regenerative system at the macro level. We are already witnessing folks changing the landscapes around their homes and in their communities to foster regenerative and cyclical ecosystems. We’re seeing mutual aid groups affect their neighborhoods, and federate along with groups that promote solidarity economies to build power. It is these exact steps and processes that allow individuals to make a real difference. People who create these groups and collectives create spaces where people can plug in and see their personal actions connect with the work of others to begin fundamentally changing the systems we live in. At Slow Factory we look to the work of networks like our friends at the New Economy Coalition and the Climate Justice Alliance and know that real power is being built and real change towards regenerative economies is happening as we speak. 

Folks at the aforementioned groups and elsewhere are also working towards degrowth, a crucial part of making a regenerative system a reality. Capitalism is premised on infinite growth, an impossible proposition and one that is very directly hurting people, the planet, and every living being. Our earlier conversation about the role of individual people is vital here, because while people organize and build power, there is also very real and important work we can do to consume less and play our small part in degrowth while building towards systems change. We can consume less. We can upcycle and reuse and plant gardens instead of buying food from around the world. What we certainly can’t do and won’t do is pretend that these actions are in and of themselves enough, but that doesn’t mean we discount them. Communities where everyone has a garden growing fresh food consume less, and are also more resilient to the supply chain shocks we’ve already started seeing, and which will only grow more intense with the climate crisis. Communities where your neighbors have the skills to sew and craft and build are able to consume less, and are again more resilient to natural disasters and other shocks as well. We can’t discount these real benefits that come with thinking about and implementing degrowth on the micro level. Building resilience and neighborhood organizing and local power also gives us many of the pieces that can create the bigger tapestry of radical change. Little neighborhood groups can federate and work together, state-wide networks can form a national coalition. We’re already seeing this happening in many cases. It takes all of us. As Diane di Prima said, “No one way works, it will take all of us shoving at the thing from all sides to bring it down.”

It also takes all of us building from every side to create the new world and the new systems we need to stop climate collapse, to survive the worst of its effects, and to create a more just society. And that’s exactly what we do and encourage and teach at the Slow Factory - build from every side.