Building on the above rationale and conceptualizations, I present a theoretical framework posing alternatives for how peace might be fostered in light of climate change without furthering environmental degradation. This section explores the normative theoretical basis for climate resilient peace and presents foundations of the framework: ecological aspects as well as synergies between the concepts of peace and degrowth. Building on this, I demonstrate constitutive pathways from degrowth to peace, presenting new possibilities for climate resilient peace through three degrowth processes – redistribution, reprioritized care economies, and global equity.
This framework toward climate resilient peace considers peace and climate limitations simultaneously. I suggest that the extent to which peace is climate resilient necessitates both that peace does not contribute to climate change and that people can experience peace through a changing climate. As discussed above, peace depends on how societies address the intersectional distribution of power and resources, focusing on how certain groups experience vulnerabilities or privileges. Through these power structures, climate change has diverse impacts, often most negatively affecting those in positions of greater vulnerability. At the same time, structures of power have allowed over-consumption and -industrialization that not only harm humans but drive climate change. Unequal power structures, therefore, both influence people’s experience of climate impacts and contribute to climate change. In light of this, peace depends not only on responses to climate shocks, but also on the extent to which societies are able to address problems of social inequality and violent power structures.
Ecological aspects of degrowth form a crucial foundation for this framework. Degrowth proposals heed ecological limitations and prioritize green sectors as a means to achieve environmental sustainability. This entails the downscaling of energy and material throughput in light of natural resource and ecosystem constraints. Findings suggest that environmentally sustainable renewable-energy economies are most likely to be achieved with lower production and consumption (Hueting 2010), and that a sustainable economy is more feasible at lower economic growth rates (D’Alessandro et al. 2010). The throughput limitations suggested under degrowth proposals as well as other aspects of such an approach, for example localized environmental impacts, address environmental sustainability. Thus, potential benefits of degrowth align with climate limitations.
Between peace and degrowth, a local focus and potential for well-being emerge as synergies. The governance and economic aspects of degrowth are localized. Decentralized decision-making facilitates more direct citizen participation in democratic processes while (re)localization of economies re-allocates production and distribution of goods and services at the local level (Mocca 2020), localizing not only priorities of people but also environmental impacts. Such local self-governance envisioned through degrowth prioritizes and addresses the problems and needs of communities as necessitated by intersectional positive peace. Though notedly the discussion of feasibility and practicalities of localization requires more study, the theoretical underpinnings are consistent with the focus of intersectional positive peace. Greater well-being is also promoted by both positive peace and degrowth. The emphasis on egalitarian sharing of resources and space in degrowth speaks to realizing a “good life” through enabling people to meet their basic needs. Positive peace specifies the negation of structural violence, such that people have more equal access to power and resources. These components contribute to fostering greater well-being.
This framework reframes resilience for studying the peace–climate nexus within a particular context; although it may have general theoretical application, this framework is designed in the context of the Global North. Within this context, climate resilient peace and degrowth have been conceptualized primarily at a local level. As a process toward equal access to and distribution of power and resources, the peace concept applies to all people in communities both during and beyond times of armed conflict. Climate change, likewise, will impact all people in all parts of the globe. Meanwhile, degrowth is thus far rarely intended as a universal approach. It rather targets high-consumption and highly industrialized societies of the Global North, although some crucial aspects of degrowth parallel movements and ideas found in other parts of the world (Martínez-Alier 2012; Kothari et al. 2014). While the overarching goals for climate resilient peace presented in this paper may find resonance beyond the Global North, there may be varied pathways in different contexts, for example in emerging economies or in conflict-affected communities. That is, although in theory this framework may have broader relevance, pathways for balancing peace and environmental aspects may vary. Such dynamics present opportunities for further research, including, for example, the impacts localized action would have at international levels.
The sections below build on these foundations to suggest three ways that degrowth may contribute to climate resilient peace. I highlight three key processes of degrowth— redistribution, reprioritized care economies, and global equity—and underline how they address power structures and ecological limitations. For each of these processes, I highlight both peace and environmental benefits and then present a concrete degrowth initiative and explain how it addresses structural harms in light of climate change. A specific empirical example is then given of a case where each initiative has been implemented, along with a discussion of the social and environmental impacts. These are intended to illustrate seeds of change; to demonstrate promising aspects of degrowth practices for peace, thus suggesting ways by which peace on a local level might be possible within planetary boundaries. While these degrowth aspects and the examples given are neither meant to be exhaustive nor mutually exclusive, they represent opportunities to negate structural violence and enhance resilience in light of climate change.
Redistribution: moving beyond structural violence
Climate resilient peace highlights that power and resource distribution is influenced by structures existing at the intersection of people’s social and political identities. This necessitates that people have access to resources as well as the power over use of these resources. The redistributive components of degrowth are suggested to be tools to address privileges and power hierarchies, holding potential to make visible and address existing power structures. A degrowth transition crucially relies on shifting priorities, policies, and practices toward a system wherein political power, wealth, technology, leisure time, and other resources are accessible and shared among people. This is proposed through, for instance, grassroots economic practices and new forms of commons, community currencies, and participatory democracy. Such proposals aim to have less accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few and to distribute power more equally on a local basis. Thus, redistribution not only meets material needs as occurring at the intersection of identity factors, but also alleviates structural inequalities. Redistribution then emerges as a key aspect of tackling structural violence to facilitate peace.
This process can be exemplified through grassroots urban gardening initiatives, localized alternative food systems. Urban gardens are low impact and provide environmental benefits through for example reducing dependence on harmful petroleum-based food production, sequestering carbon, preventing soil erosion, and filtering air and rain water (Anguelovski 2015; Clarke et al. 2019). Urban community gardens have often been used in the context of political or economic crises, for example to boost food security during times of economic recession (Clarke et al. 2019). These gardens not only provide fresh food to communities and health benefits such as relaxation, trauma recovery, and leisure opportunities, but also can strengthen neighborhood relations and help foster sharing of space and responsibilities (Anguelovski 2015).
The city of Detroit in the United States provides one illustration of how this process addresses structural violence. Urban gardening in Detroit spans a long history; today, these activities are largely citizen-led and have become an important component of the city. Urban gardening provides material resources for structural problems that can be understood not least through access to food and health statistics. Neighborhoods with more low-income and Black households have been shown to have less access to supermarkets with healthier food options, and health impacts such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and hypertension disproportionately affect Black women (White 2011). Urban gardening in Detroit has improved access to healthy food, including for low-income families, by impacting how food is obtained and distributed (Colasanti et al. 2012; Taylor and Ard 2015). This constitutes redistribution of food as a key resource, with benefits for individual and household food security and health.
Urban gardening in Detroit also facilitates local agency and political engagement through for example improved access to food, community building, empowerment, and cooperative economics (White 2011). This gardening has provided employment opportunities, green spaces, political agency, and impetus for social change among many community members and for whole neighborhoods (Taylor and Ard 2015). These activities present opportunities to reclaim “unutilized” city spaces, organize social change to address structural inequalities, and promote civic agriculture (Colasanti et al. 2012). Thus, with environmental benefits, urban gardening provides material solutions to alleviate the experience of structural violence, and it addresses power structures themselves, redistributing resources and power as necessary for climate resilient peace.
Reprioritized care: disrupting harmful power structures
Structural violence can be understood as the violent effects of power hierarchies and categories of inequality, through, for example, gendered structures (Anglin 1998; Sjoberg 2013). As pointed out by Ariel Salleh and Nancy Fraser among others, systems of growth are sustained through largely invisible reproductive and care labor (Barca 2019). Care work is understood as “daily action performed by human beings for their welfare and for the welfare of their community”, which may include concrete work in care-giving for young or elderly persons and often refers to labor carried out in the private or domestic sphere (D’Alisa et al. 2015, p. 63). The focus here is on the unpaid work on which the economy rests, noting in particular the gendered nature of this work (Gregoratti and Raphael 2019). In the current growth system, even efforts to increase gender equality tend to reinforce the paid and unpaid labor divide. “Empowering women” has largely meant greater gender equality in paid labor, while women still carry the brunt of care work, creating double burdens for many women (Dengler and Strunk 2018, pp. 166–167).
Peaceful potential of degrowth lies in disrupting such power structures. As part of a transition toward reduced resource and labor throughput, degrowth proposals may help restore services of high social value such as care work to the center of the economy (D’Alisa et al. 2015). Care economies focus on well-being and social cohesion within ecological limits by (re)valuing care for humans and nature, including future generations (Wichterich 2015). Reprioritization of care economies presents the opportunity to disrupt violent hierarchies, so as to expose and address imbalances at the intersection of for example gender, class, age, race, ethnicity, and ability.
Take, for example, basic income, which proposes that all people in a state or given community would receive periodic payment, typically advocated to be guaranteed, unconditional, and universal (Alexander 2015). In addition to other potential benefits such as added self-care or altruism, this contributes to the (re)valuing of care work. It encourages combining roles of worker and caregiver, and guarantees minimal resources for well-being, reducing inequalities of power between and within households (Zelleke 2011; Cantillon and McLean 2016). Environmental benefits stem from changing patterns of production and consumption through reduced status-driven consumption of positional goods, or achieving long-term emissions targets by bringing more people to a modest expenditure level (Howard et al. 2019).
Dauphin, Canada experimented with basic income in the 1970s. In connection with the policy, both men’s and women’s paid labor participation decreased slightly, though notedly more so for women, who at the time contributed a lower proportion of an average household’s income. Engagement in care work was found to be one of the motivations for participants who left work in association with receiving basic income (Calnitsky and Latner 2017). Research showed improved health and social outcomes at the community level (Forget 2011). This exemplifies capacity and material goods as well as structural benefits through re-valuing care work.
Importantly, the peaceful focus here is not on gender equality in paid work but on a re-valuation process to disrupt harmful power structures. Basic income helps meet the material needs of those who take responsibility for care work (Miller et al. 2019), and helps balance household power linked to gender as well as income, education, or ethnicity (Cantillon and McLean 2016). Furthermore, basic income applied universally avoids dividing society between receivers and givers (Bollain et al. 2019). The material benefits of basic income then accompany prospects of economic autonomy, valuation, and control. The reprioritization of care is seen to disrupt harmful power structures, presenting opportunities for more egalitarian structures to foster peace.
Global equity: decolonizing peace
Degrowth enacts limitations on throughput and redistribution locally; this will also have impacts globally that must be acknowledged and addressed with concern for class, gender, race, and global inequality. This matters for climate resilient peace if we consider the relationship between excessive wealth and emissions contributing to climate change. As of 2015, the richest one percent of people emitted 30 times more than the poorest 50% (Oxfam 2015). While there are extraordinarily wealthy individuals around the globe, the majority of the world’s richest 10%, who produce half of the world’s emissions, live in rich OECD countries (Chancel and Piketty 2015). High-income countries also overwhelmingly drive climate damages (Hickel 2020) and wealthy countries moreover tend to utilize environmental space and resources with little or no payment and create imbalanced damages (Martinez-Alier 2002). In part, the peace potential of degrowth lies in recognizing and addressing the unequal contribution to drivers of climate change both between and within countries.
Given this, there also lies a decolonial potential of degrowth in acknowledging and addressing inequalities and injustices (Martínez-Alier 2012). This potential is understood in line with Maria Lugones’s scholarship as an “opportunity to go beyond the (post-colonial) analysis of racialized, capitalist and gendered structural injustices, i.e., the coloniality of the status quo and to foster decoloniality in theory and practice” (Dengler and Seebacher 2019, p. 247). Take, for example, wealth caps or maximum income policies, which impose a ceiling on individual wealth and earnings through, for instance, progressive taxes or a maximum tied to a minimum (Pizzigati 2004; Alexander 2015). Such measures may benefit the environment by limiting environmentally unsustainable lifestyles (Buch-Hansen and Koch 2019). In addition, these polices address inequalities within nations (Pizzigati 2004).
Although there are few examples of large-scale wealth-limiting policies, there have been proposals, similar efforts, and sector-specific initiatives in several countries including the United States, Great Britain, Switzerland, and Spain (Buch-Hansen and Koch 2019). Since 2015, the Netherlands has had a bonus cap in the financial sector, tied to base salaries; in 2018, the government introduced plans to restrict pay, having financial service providers explain managers’ pay levels and limiting selling of shares for short-term gains (Meijer 2018). Such sectoral or other localized schemes stand to redistribute wealth and balance environmental harm both within and potentially also between countries. This curbs growth linked to drivers of climate change, and interrupts associated structural violence. These policies, if focused on the richest and biggest emitters, hold potential for creating material equity as well as for decolonizing “conceptual space” (Kallis et al. 2015, p. 5) so that countries and communities have the chance to pursue their own trajectories of a good life and peace. This approach holds potential to dismantle hierarchies of exploitation, detangling countries and communities from harmful chains of production and consumption.