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Social Well-Being Within Planetary Boundaries The Precautionary Post-Growth Approach

This discussion paper focuses on the role of economic performance and its future development in wealthy countries such as Germany with respect to compliance with planetary boundaries. To improve our understanding of this controversial topic, we introduce the debate in a systematic way, presenting analyses on numerous aspects, pointing out open questions and finally deriving guidelines and options for political action. The presentation, analysis and initial assessment of key arguments and conclusions represent our contribution to making the post-growth discourse – which so far has been conducted primarily in the realms of academia and civil society – accessible to a wider audience.

There are two particularly prominent and clearly antagonistic positions within the discourse whose political consequences are fully contradictory: green growth and degrowth. Our analyses show that both positions are based on core assumptions that cannot be adequately substantiated scientifically and thus cannot claim to serve as the sole strategy for environmental policy action. We therefore propose a third position and put it up for discussion with this paper: precautionary post-growth. From our point of view, this approach has the potential to create a new consensus in the sustainability debate. The discussion paper explores the potential for societal orientation and need for knowledge associated with this position.  On the basis of an analysis of the various current positions (chapter 2), this paper presents a detailed overview of the causes of economic growth and identifies those areas of society whose functioning could be dependent on economic growth (chapter 3). We then discuss the possibility that economic systems can be shaped by various reform proposals in such a way that they would be less dependent on permanent economic growth (chapter 4). Finally, we outline the guiding elements of our proposal for such a precautionary post-growth approach (chapter 5).

With this discussion paper, we hope to provide an impulse for the societal debate on the design and instrumentation of transformation paths for social well-being within planetary boundaries. Our aim is to stimulate and structure discussion and research processes. The precautionary post-growth approach offers a platform for discussing strategies, whose implementation has yet to be worked out in all details, to meet the challenge of respecting planetary boundaries. 

This discussion paper is a translated version of the partial report „Gesellschaftliches Wohlbefinden innerhalb planetarer Grenzen – Der Ansatz einer vorsorgeorientierten Postwachstumsposition“ of the project “Approaches to Resource Conservation in the Context of Post-Growth Concepts” (Project No. (FKZ) 3715 311040). The complete final report of the project has been published in spring 2020 in German only (UBA Texte 98/2020).

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