Degrowth and decarbonization will harm people

Michigan is caught up in an energy transition frenzy, and 10 million people stand to differ

Michigan is caught up in a transition frenzy, and its people will suffer as a result.

Elected officials, utility executives, regulators, and environmental groups across the state are advocating decarbonization.

This entails a move from the reliable and affordable energy we obtain from fossil fuels to intermittent forms of energy, such as wind and solar. Michiganders are told we must transition our transportation sector from reliable and safe internal combustion engine vehicles to more expensive and unreliable electric vehicles.

Degrowth” is an unknown concept to many.

But it increasingly influences other, better-known, ideas such as climate change, decarbonization and the energy transition.

From a degrowth perspective,” explains an article, “the current fixation on economic growth is inconsistent with the goal of reducing carbon emissions, resource use and social inequity. Instead, degrowth advocates call for an ‘equitable downscaling of throughput, with a concomitant securing of wellbeing.’”

But the claim that degrowth will necessarily lead to a “concomitant securing of wellbeing” is questionable. At best.

To the average Michigander (or American), who will suffer through increasing costs and decreasing reliability for electricity service, as well as higher costs and range anxiety while traveling, it’s reasonable to assume that personal well-being would be better served with reliable and affordable vehicles and energy.

Extreme ideas typify the burgeoning link between degrowth and the decarbonization/climate mitigation push. For example, “Exhaled human breath can contain small, elevated concentrations of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), both of which contribute to global warming,” noted Nicholas Cowan, an atmospheric physicist at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. “We would urge caution in the assumption that emissions from humans are negligible,” he added.

Breathing is being characterized as dangerous for the climate, but having kids is, too, according to Travis Rieder, a research scholar at the Berman Institute of Bioethics.

In a 2017 NBC Think piece Rieder argued that “a child is a major contributor to climate change.” This led to Rieder’s conclusion that “everyone on Earth ought to consider having fewer children.” The provocative headline of Rieder’s article takes that suggestion even further. “Science proves kids are bad for Earth. Morality suggests we stop having them.”

Breathing and procreating harm the climate, and now, even dying is causing climate concerns. The Huffington Post worriedly asks, “What are the environmental impacts of our deaths ― and how can we reduce them?” HuffPo writers complain that standard burial and cremation techniques mean that now “death has a climate change problem.”

The Mackinac Center study, “Conflict to Cooperation,” described how differing worldviews play into this situation.

On the one hand, notable conservationists like Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot recognized humans as a part of the natural environment. They focused on a mix of stewardship and responsibility, a balance that allows for the protection and what they called the “wise use” of natural resources.

On the other hand, ideas like degrowth are based in a preservationist worldview.

This perception often views humans as separate from the natural environment and believes our activities are inherently intrusive and destructive. Extreme versions of that worldview go so far as to consider humans an infestation on the earth and advocate for our removal.

This skewed perception of humanity’s place in the natural environment was amply demonstrated in David Graber’s 1989 review of Bill McKibben’s book “The End of Nature.”

Graber argued, “It is too late. Global warming is already entrained; we are in for the ride, ready or not, and so are our innocent fellow travelers. Of course, as bad as things are, we always can make them worse. Nature may be finished, but there is still our own goose to cook. ...We contaminated the planet with atmospheric hydrocarbons and metals beginning with the Industrial Revolution. The atomic age wrote another indelible signature in radioisotopes on every bit of Earth’s surface.”

Graber’s thought process is unmistakable: humans destroy. He longs to implement a decisive corrective measure.

Whether proponents realize it or not, the degrowth mindset and the narrative that “humans destroy” underlie actions like the energy legislation that requires us to phase out fossil fuels.

These fuels have driven significant improvements in human health and well-being since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The proposed replacements do not protect the environment or provide the reliable energy we need to power our society.

Despite the clear benefits of fossil fuels, green activists demand that we “leave (them) in the ground and learn to live without them.”

That’s the language of degrowth. Learn to notice it when you hear it.

Jason Hayes is director of energy and environmental policy at the Mackinac Center. Email him at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.