David Robinson received a grant from the Greening Haverford fund this summer. Here are his reflections of the experience.
Earlier this summer I received funding from the Greening Haverford Fund (along with funding from the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship) to attend a conference called Degrowth in the Americas, which was being held in Montreal. Degrowth is a radical sect of environmentalism. Proponents of the movement maintain that environmental problems are, above all, due to the growth imperative of society’s economic thought. In other words, infinite economic growth is incompatible with a finite planet and therefore in order to solve environmental problems we must completely scale down our growth-oriented economy.
I first heard of the degrowth movement from a Haverford alumni, Peter Brown. He is currently a professor of geography at the McGill University School of Environment and was one of the organizing directors of the conference. He came to speak at Haverford in the spring about degrowth and suggested that I come to the conference to learn more about the movement and about degrowth thought.
As a whole, the experience was very valuable, but not for the reasons that I had expected. The sessions at the conference tended to be very hit or miss. Some of the parallel sessions were not as useful as I had hoped. I found that while some of the presenters had a very clear idea of a desired degrowth society, there was very little discussion of a means to reach that end. The keynote speakers, however, generally had much stronger presentations. In particular, David Suzuki, a Canadian biologist, environmentalist and celebrity, gave an inspiring talk. Other keynote sessions had panels of experts that discussed a gamut of environmental issues from population to environmental ethics.
My problem with lectures is that it is a one-way track. As an attendee of the conference, I could only listen to people speak and try to soak in as much of it as I could. I am an interactive learner. As a result, what I found the most valuable was the opportunity to talk and discuss with other attendees, especially other students. On most nights a group of students would go out to dinner or a bar and have discussions about the day’s events and topics. It was here where I felt I learned the most.
One of the questions that I kept thinking about during the conference was, how, as a 20-year old college student, could I contribute to a more sustainable and degrowth-oriented world? Talking with other students was actually very empowering in this respect. One person I met, a student at Concordia University, has already started his own NGO that facilitates a network of permaculture businesses in Quebec. Speaking with young people who are active and innovative is empowering, and it shows that perseverance can accomplish a lot. In the same respect, during our time in Montreal there were student protests against hikes in tuition. On one night there was a protest with over 50,000 people in the streets. While the cause was different, seeing young people take to the streets and come together in protest had a similar empowering influence on me. The final event of the conference was actually a street protest against industrial expansion in pristine areas of northern Quebec.
Overall, I came away from the conference with the inspiration to do two things. First, I want to live a low-impact lifestyle. This means limiting my consumption, limiting the amount of things I own, when I need to, buying sustainably-sourced things, riding a bike, and eating sustainably-produced food. And second, I can try to be as involved as possible in grassroots environmental movements. I believe wholeheartedly that these seemingly small actions can make a difference on a larger scale, and I am glad that this conference reinforced these values.
I want to thank the CER, as well as the CPGC for giving me the opportunity to attend this conference. I feel lucky that these opportunities for personal and intellectual growth are readily available to Haverford students.