Public debate

The Nuit des Idées in Mexico: Timothée Parrique, ecological economist

La poursuite d’une croissance à tout prix dans des pays déjà riches est écocidaire.

Author of Ralentir ou périr (L'économie de la décroissance), published by Seuil, Timothée Parrique proposes to abandon economic growth in order to better confront the challenges we are facing: from climate change to the reduction of inequalities and the improvement of our quality of life. On 20 April, he will participate in the eighth edition of the "Nuit des Idées" organised by the Institut français across the five continents, specifically through his video participation in the event to be held in Mexico on 20 April. 

Published on 13/04/2023

5 min

Timothée Parrique
© Mathieu Génon

You are going to participate remotely in the "Nuit des Idées" organised in Mexico by the Institut français of Latin America. The chosen theme, "More? " inspired by the motto of the Olympic Games, "Faster, higher, stronger - together", will focus on the issue of wellbeing in a world with limited resources. How do you think this theme reflects the challenges facing our societies today? 

It's a crucial theme that identifies an extremely problematic modern narrative: unlimiteditism, the belief that more is always better. Faster, bigger, fatter - always more. In economics, this accumulative and accelerative mentality translates into an obsession with growing financial indicators: Gross Domestic Product, profits, income, etc. Obsessed with our Monopoly money, we give priority to economic growth even if it degrades social health and ecological sustainability. This religion of the economy is currently our greatest obstacle to any ambitious ecological transition.


You are a researcher in ecological economics at Lund University in Sweden. Can you tell us more about this branch of economics? 

Ecological economics is a school of thought in economics that has existed since the 1980s. It studies economies as "social metabolisms", constantly crossed by a "biophysical flow" of natural resources. While traditional economics focuses on issues of production, allocation and consumption, ecological economics adds two steps to the economic sequence: the extraction of energy, matter and the mobilisation of ecosystem services, as well as the disposal of waste and pollution. Instead of focusing on money as the primary force of economic mechanics, ecological economists integrate energy, water, matter, and biomass to assess the conditions that would allow an economy to be truly sustainable.


As part of the Nuit des Idées, you recorded three videos, including one on GDP and another on green growth. Could you tell us your vision of GDP and growth?

The pursuit of growth at all costs in already wealthy countries is ecocidal. Our economic activities are extremely energy-, material-, land- and labour-intensive, even though most of these impacts are felt abroad (in the poorest countries, in fact). While we know that we need to reduce the use of natural resources, the already rich nations insist on monopolising a limited ecological budget to maintain their imperial lifestyle.

And even if such infinite growth were biophysically possible, what is the point of producing more and more? In all high-income countries, GDP per capita has long been disconnected from indicators of wellbeing(health, education, housing, public services, happiness, democracy, etc.). These economies have reached maturity; instead of growing in quantity, it would be much better to grow in quality.

The slowing down of economic activities is impossible to avoid, but there is nothing to prevent us from organising it intelligently so that it is democratic, fair and convivial.

You advocate degrowth, which was the subject of your thesis. Is this a choice dictated by your ecological convictions?

A doctor faced with an obese patient advocates a diet. This is dictated by physiological convictions. An ecological economist confronted with rich countries in a situation of ecological overshoot advocates degrowth, this time dictated by ecological convictions. On the biophysical aspect, it is not a matter of political convictions because no economic growth is sustainable in the long term, regardless of whether the economy is capitalist, socialist, anarchist, etc. Values do however inform the form of degrowth. I personally like to describe it as a democratically planned reduction of production and consumption in a spirit of social justice and concern for well-being, in order to reduce the ecological footprint. The slowing down of economic activities is impossible to avoid, but there is nothing to prevent us from organising it intelligently so that it is democratic, fair and convivial.


Talking about degrowth is more radical than advocating "reasoned growth" or sobriety. What distinction do you make between these different approaches?

Growth, whether it is rational, sober, green etc., should be seen as a temporary strategy for adjusting to a situation of scarcity - nothing more. We don't have enough of something and so we organise ourselves to produce more. Once the need is met, there is no need to keep increasing production. If we can simplify a need, we can even afford to produce less, thus relieving the pressure on ecosystems (extract and pollute less) and on social systems (work less).


One might assume that your approach is not very widespread in France. Is this really the case? What about abroad. are you close to other economists?

The popularity of this approach is exploding! Since 2008, there have been more than 600 scientific articles on degrowth and many books. There are more and more international researchers specialising in the subject, all connected in various research networks such as Research & Degrowth, the Post-growth Economics Network, or the Wellbeing Alliance. The European Parliament is organising a conference entitled "Beyond Growth" in May 2023, the latest IPCC report mentions degrowth several times, and the subject is appearing in more and more media. Degrowth is set to become one of the most important discussions of the decade.

L'institut français, LAB