Evidence of unsustainable growth is rampant in Vancouver, Rees points out. While the city has magnificent scenery, great parks and excellent environmental quality, "we've bought and sold our own myth of being a green city by mistaking livability for sustainability. Most of the things Vancouverites do that are unsustainable have their immediate impacts somewhere else."
He adds that Vancouverites have among the world's largest ecological impact per capita.
"Currently, the average Vancouverite's impact is three times larger than his or her fair allocation of global carrying capacity. We are a livable city because we offload our ecological footprint on the rest of the planet, leaving us with clear air, water and a wonderful place to live."
Pointing out that most people aren't concerned necessarily with the issue of economic growth but with economic security, Rees continues by saying, "People are generally not willing to accept economic changes to establish a sustainable society unless they can be assured of more security.
"The course we are on promises greater economic insecurity through job loss, economic volatility, and ecological instability through climate change, so it is ironic that people are unwilling to choose something else."
Degrowth 'a bit of a distraction': CCPA's Klein
Members of the Degrowth movement make a case to reduce economic growth, measured by the gross domestic product (GDP) in order to save the environment. But is their campaign the best way to establish equity and reduce our ecological footprint?
Seth Klein researches poverty, inequality and economic security at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He's concerned that Degrowth isn't the best way to communicate the importance of redefining our economy so that it operates within natural ecological limits.
"I think it is important that we're talking about Degrowth, but I also think the debate is a bit of a distraction." Although there's no disputing that we're running up against ecological limits, Klein says debating whether to grow the economy or not confuses two concepts.
"GDP is just a measure of income growth. The people talking about Degrowth are actually more concerned [about] material throughput," he says.
The question remains whether GDP must decrease in order to reduce our ecological footprint. But is there a way to decouple income growth from material use? To address this, Klein draws on the issue of climate change to demonstrate how it could work.
"As we get serious about climate change, there's no doubt that we have to reduce our consumption, look at re-localizing production and realize declines in net exports. Though the challenge of climate change is so great, we will need significant investments in the public and private sector to reach carbon neutrality."
To meet the challenges of climate change, he says, private investments and government spending may need to increase so dramatically, it may even have a positive impact on GDP.
But, he adds, we should move past the evaluation of government performance based on GDP.
"Let's deal with what we're actually concerned with: GHG emissions, material use and waste. We'll see what impact that has on economic growth. GDP is a measure that doesn't really matter, and we should move on. Nor, do I think we should obsess over shrinking it."
Reflecting on his presentation at the 2011 Vancouver Degrowth Conference, Klein says that, "when you go to these conferences, you realize that there is a broad agreement [within the Degrowth Party] along the lines of what I'm saying, but when broadly talking about degrowth in society, the nuance is lost. I'm worried that our ability to engage the population at large about how to rethink our economy under natural ecological limits is impaired by Degrowth."
The link between economic activity and ecological footprint reduction shouldn't have to scare people away, he says.
"This is really more about redefining our understanding of the good life. Material consumption and overconsumption leaves a lot of us cold. The more we can talk about this in terms of quality of life, the better."
Cultivating an audience
Both Shaw and Schmidt hope to see support for their party coming from the greater than 60 per cent of Vancouver's population that didn't vote in the recent election -- and with those that are choosing to live with less.
"There are people across the city who are starting to practice voluntary simplicity," says Schmidt. "Everyone saying, 'I don't need to buy it' or 'I don't need a European vacation' is our ally."
Though overall election turnout improved in 2011 from 2008 (35 per cent vs. 31 per cent respectively), Shaw said such low numbers indicate the apathy of the general public.
"Most people don't expect the system to deliver anything, and you have the absence of actual election reform because it is in the interest of the major parties to fight the battles in the centre rather than engaging a broader segment of the city," he says. "Degrowth won't be able to influence the agenda at council, because the only way the city will respond is if there are actions, people in the streets and people using their own initiative to create their own parallel structures. This government won't deliver it."
The party plans to further the conversation on Degrowth by publishing a regular newspaper. The first issue of Degrowth Vancouver launched Friday, Nov. 4, featuring articles on local aspects of the concept by party candidates and conference attendees.
"We need a newspaper because we've lost the news. Our headlines fail to tell the story behind why our economy is contracting and European nations are experiencing debt crises," says Schmidt. Another issue is planned for early 2012.
Schmidt sees the Vancouver Degrowth party as the way for our city to start living up to Vancouver's goal of being the world's greenest city. Though none of the party's candidates were elected, he maintains that by furthering the dialogue on infinite growth, the party is off to an excellent start.
"We didn't have to choose Degrowth," he says, "because it will happen to us regardless."