Does quantity also mean more quality?
Working in the community garden of Can Masdeu, Spain

Less is more - The Limits to Growth and the Better Life

A film by Karin de Miguel Wessendorf, length: 52 minutes

Premier broadcast: 1st October 2013 on arte, theme night starting 20.15 h

Is there prosperity without economic growth? Throughout Europe, we were searching for examples showing the way towards a post-growth economy


“The biggest problem in Europe is the lack of economic growth”. This is the credo of businesses and politicians. However, the economic crisis and climate change have shaken the belief in unlimited growth. Population boom, peak oil and scarcity of resources are problems that can no longer be ignored.

We accompany the author trying to answer the question: How can we manage the exit from the growth spiral? How viable is our way of life? She visits people, companies and cities which have recognized that growth does not necessarily mean prosperity. With every visit it is becoming clearer that there is a new movement where people look for alternatives to quantitative growth. The author realized that sustainable consumption does not necessarily mean abstention. In many cases, it even means a better quality of life.

The Movie

For a long time I had thought of myself as quite an eco-conscious person. I recycle, switch off technical devices, I don’t own a car and I mostly buy organic food. But it feels increasingly wrong to eat imported food, to look at the amount of plastic packaging I throw away every week or when I think about buying a new mobile or take the plane during my holiday. I decided to get an assessment of my footprint, calculated by an environmental organization. The result was shocking: my personal carbon footprint amounts to 9 tons a year. If everybody in the world lived like me, we would need the resources of 3 planets. What can I do personally to achieve a carbon footprint of 2.7tons that would be in line with the climate objectives? Which sacrifices would I be ready to make? What could I renounce without lowering my quality of life? And above all: is this an aim that can be achieved in a society defined by economic growth?

Own less to live better: Décroissance in France

In order to find my answers I travel to Lyon, the centre of the French de-growthmovement. For years, the objecteurs de croissance have advocated economic de-growth: Less production and less consumption, de-globalization and re-localization of the economy. “The production of consumables has a devastating effect on our environment”, criticizes political scientist Vincent Cheynet. “We set the example of a more moderate life against over-consumption and over-production –a simplicité volontaire”. Cheynet has sold his car years ago and gave away energy-intensive technical devices. Instead of buying new things, he swaps or recycles. “By changing behavior patterns and mind sets, we want to build a society that is more about sharing and that lives in harmony with nature and one another”. During the economic crisis, criticism of consumerism has left its niche in France. One example of this development is the popular Troc-Parties. Once a month, women meet at the Café L’Antre-Autre in Lyon to exchange clothes and accessories, without any cash involved. “Troc-Partiesare an opportunity to get new clothes even in times of crisis”, explains organizer Sophie Berniot. “And they also make clear that loving fashion and caring for the environment are not mutually exclusive.”

Spain: Self-Sufficiency and Urban Subsistence

In Spain, the economic crisis has also changed consumption patterns of many people, not because of an increased environmental awareness, but because of a lack of financial means. Purchasing power has dramatically decreased. And while shops see their income plummet, barter markets, recycling initiatives and car-pooling are booming. In the centre of Barcelona there is a workshop where people can learn how to extend the lifecycle of technical devices and materials. Jordi Abat is the head of the project Reparat millor que nou (Catalan for: repaired is better than new). “The initiative was launched to avoid waste and to raise awareness for resources among the people”, he says. “At the outset, we only attracted people who are really environmentally-conscious or handicraft enthusiasts. However now, most of them come here to save money. They bring along their broken devices, furniture and shoes and we teach them how to repair them or how to convert them to be re-used.” Jordi Abat believes that this new attitude will survive the crisis. “In times of prosperity, the Spanish didn’t care much about recycling. The crisis has changed our way to use and value our resources”.

The crisis hasn’t really changed anything in the daily life of Ainhoa Roca. She lives in Can Masdeu, a housing project on the edge of the city. Ainhoa and her 20 flatmates have been exercising subsistence economy for the last 10 years. Their objective is to reduce their carbon footprint preferably to zero, if possible. They grow fruit and vegetables in collective gardens which are also used by the neighbors. This shortens the distance between production and consumption, saves energy and reduces the negative effect on the environment. For heating and cooking, self-made solar ovens are used. The washing machine works with pedals. They use a sophisticated system to avoid waste. In Can Masdeu there are only compost toilets. “At the beginning it was something you had to get used to”, recalls Ainhoa, “but nowadays I would find it scary to live a life where I don’t know what happens with my waste.”

Do it yourself: Transition Towns in England

In Totnes, England, the citizens didn’t want to wait for the government to make a change. So in 2006, they declared themselves Transition Town, the first of its kind in the world. By doing so they wanted to respond to climate change and prepare their city for the post-oil era on their own terms. “With the end of cheap oil our way of life will drastically change, whether we want it or not. It is better to be prepared”, says Rob Hopkins, founder of the transition movement. The aim is to become independent of oil by 2030. The community shall learn to meet its needs by regionally and independently producing food, energy and building material. Key to success is the community approach. The citizens of Totnes combine eco-activities with fun in practice. They learn how to grow vegetables in community gardens, promote cycling and develop vehicles working on old cooking oil or found sustainable construction firms and local power plants. The objective is resilience, Rob Hopkins explains: “When our economy shrinks and we are able to locally satisfy a large part of our needs and reduce our dependence on industrial products and imports, our economy will be more flexible and more resilient to external economic shocks.”