Date of Award

Spring 2022

Degree Type


Director of Thesis

Douglas P. Woodward

First Reader

Carol E. Harrison

Second Reader

Carol E. Harrison


The paradigm dominating how American policymakers currently approach the climate crisis issue is green growth, positing that the global economy can maintain desirable levels of persistent economic growth while also effectively reducing carbon emissions and slowing the process of global warming, all by means of market-spurred technological innovation and green production processes. Some environmental thinkers dispute the sustainability potential of green growth, urging green growth economists and policymakers to think beyond the ostensibly “limiting” economic growth paradigm. Among this dissent, a new paradigm has emerged, one de-centering goals of economic growth and instead advocating for a reduction in economic throughput, consumption, and – by extension – a reduction in energy and resource usage. This movement, called “degrowth”, seeks a balance between environmental health and human well-being.

After careful review of the research and literature supporting both methods of economic strategy, I find that the growth imperative has limited potential for sustainable environmental transformations. In the short amount of time our economies have left to transition to renewable energy sources and effectively avert an irreversible 1.5 degrees of global warming, the degrowth perspective is more promising. There has been no significant historical evidence that green growth can effectively decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, and because of this, a more radical solution is needed. The degrowth strategy propounds a period of economic degrowth, observing lower output and consumption rates, with the goal of reaching an environmentally sustainable steady state that compounds lower throughput with much more availability for leisure and work-sharing.

The necessary approach to a post-degrowth sustainable steady state must account for the vast differences in economic development levels across the globe. I advocate for green growth in developing countries who have yet to grow into an ecologically sustainable steady state and degrowth for wealthy countries who have surpassed the sustainable economic state, with the goal of moving the global economy towards a sustainable steady state in the long run.

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