The transition>>lab and the whole Thinkfarm (I’ve met at least twenty of them!) seemed to be at the 2014 Degrowth Conference in Leipzig. As a matter of fact, the Degrowth conference was a huge mix of activists, researchers, social entrepreneurs, transitioners, ecovillagers, etc. With 3000 participants (750 were international), this was a huge crowd with over 50 sessions running in parallel twice a day for 3 complete days!
Rally point. Degrowth appeared as a rally point for scores of communities that are thinking or living the alternative to the a global productivist economic model that is conflagrating with planetary boundaries and sparking huge inequalities. This was illustrated by the opening keynote of Naomi Klein who is currently writing a book on climate change (after her bestselling anti neo-liberal pamphlet The Shock Doctrine).
Diversity. To illustrate the diversity of the conference, here is an excerpt of what I could observe (see the huge program here):
- rather traditional critiques of the neo-liberal and productivist economic model emphasizing political resistance and civic disobience;
- activists from the environmental justice movement which struggles against deforestation, large fossil fuel infrastructures, GMOs;
- experience feedback from local initiatives like Ecovillages, Transition Town initiatives, or cooperatives like Mondragon;
- a strong presence of the commons movement with two keynotes by Silke Helfrich (in GER, min 12:55) and Michel Bauwens (min 10:00).
- hands-on workshops on how, for example, to set up a permaculture garden;
- a hippie caravan village in the neighbouring park where Paul, the vegan French baker, made an excellent sour dough (organic) bread out of his mobile baking oven;
- and the very recent addition of techies proning open source hardware, open maps, peer production, convivial technologies, etc.;
- a few sessions and talks about the role of spritual development on the road to degrowth;
- and more around sharing, giving economies.
Commons as a degrowth practice. This was the perfect place for my presentation exploring the role of grassroots in producing and maintaining digital information commons without relying on market solutions to enable local sustainability/degrowth/post-growth initiatives. transition>>lab was also there to support the official international launch of Transformap, an initiative that seeks to map all alternatives, local socio-ecological innovation using Open Street Maps (in contrast to the propietary Google Maps). In the end, for me, the most inspiring input came from Michel Bauwens and his analysis of the current transformation of capitalism in the age of the internet seeing the emergence of netarchical capitalism (Facebook…) and decentralized capitalism (Bitcoin…). He called participants to unite and ensure they contribute to building a global knowledge commons that would serve local communities to produce the goods they need locally, but avoiding to build only local resilience in a selfish way. He proposes a commons-based economy that would reorganize global flows of knowledge and material production along the principle of “what is light can be global, what is heavy has to be local”. He concluded with a proposal to develop a commons-based reciprocity license that would ensure that for-profits do no freeride on such global knowledge commons (like Open Source Software).
Degrowth entrepreneurs. Jasmin Wiefek from transition>>lab presented with Bernd Sommer from University Flensburg, their findings on degrowth-neutral businesses in Germany. They showed that many of those businesses suffer from the amateurism in business management of their founders, that is compensated by their access to a wealth of social capital, an organic growth pace, and their access to niche markets. A concrete example of degrowth oriented entrepreneurs was the presentation by Sinnwerksatt and Waschtumswende of a new online network https://wachstumswende.de/designed to provide an online platform for degrowth-oriented grassroots initiatives.
Slow conference. The organization of Degrowth 2014 itself was a quite of a model of how these huge events can be organized differently. Food was provided every day twice by a local grassroots cooking group (Volksküche) enrolling participants to chop kilos of local organic vegetables. Only two time slots a day were reserved for scheduled sessions. The rest of the time being used for plenary keynotes, book presentation, film projections and a very lively open space.
Controversy. The most controversial moment of the whole conference (in German) was the debate between the German counterculture popstar Harald Welzer and the more institutional Uwe Schneidewind from the Wuppertal Institute. The two seemed to play a ‘good cop, bad cop’ game: Welzer proning the construction of a radical alternative outside of the mainstream (counterculture), not being afraid of clashing with the current order and calling for untraditional political alliances (eg. between degrowth movement and conservatives); while Schneidewind, described the vast amount of policies happening at various levels of governance (especially local), the crave from German young greens frustrated by their Green Party politics, and scores of bottom-up initiatives as a more consensual way to organize a transition of the current system.
On twitter: #degrowth14,
The conference website http://leipzig.degrowth.org/en/