Skip to content

Degrowth: should we halve our energy consumption?

GroenLinks believes that we should move towards degrowth, i.e. become poorer, and halve our energy consumption. Justifiably?

According to GroenLinks, we cannot continue to grow endlessly on a planet with limited resources. That is why it is time for degrowth, a contraction. This will make everyone poorer, and we will reduce our ecological footprint. That means an end to capitalism as we know it today, according to GroenLinks. These ideas are shared to a lesser extent by PvdA, D66 and ChristenUnie.

The Ritz Carlton floating hotel, for rich people.

Capitalism, the pros and cons

Capitalism is the system in which capital is owned by entrepreneurs, who produce value with it. To do this, they hire workers and purchase raw materials, which they convert into products and services. Capitalism is the dominant economic system in the Netherlands and most of the rest of the world. Capitalism turns out to be very successful in producing wealth, which is why the Netherlands is so rich. But it has little success in distributing wealth where it is needed.

In recent years, there have been more and more questions about capitalism. Capitalism shifts the costs onto others, if given the chance. An example is the extraction of raw materials. This is often at the expense of nature and the environment. Workers are also often underpaid. A lot of environmental pollution occurs during production.

Because polluting the environment is free, there is no incentive within capitalism to produce in an environmentally friendly manner. Governments can intervene, but sometimes entrepreneurs use their friends in politics to block legislation that tackles environmental pollution, or to campaign against, for example, a smoking ban.

In successful countries, such as the Scandinavian countries, capitalism is therefore tightly regulated, so that entrepreneurs can only earn their money honestly and pay for the damage they cause. Capitalism works fine that way.

Why free energy is so important

Literally everything, both in nature and in human society, revolves around energy. Free energy (Gibbs energy), to be precise. Free energy is the energy with which you can perform useful work, for example growing, moving, writing an official policy document or inventing an infinite source of energy.

When people talk about energy supply, they always mean free energy. Heat energy is useless as long as there is no temperature difference. There is enough heat. `If you cool one cubic meter of water at room temperature to absolute zero, this produces more than 300 kWh of heat energy. You can’t do anything with this heat energy, because it takes a lot of free energy to extract this heat from the water. The reason why your refrigerator is not an energy source, but an energy guzzler.

Did you have that cubic yard of water at room temperature, on the icy dwarf Pluto, where it’s 223 degrees below zero on a hot day? Then you could have extracted more than half of it as free energy. For example with a Stirling engine. This, because of the large temperature difference of almost 250 degrees.

stirling engine
A Stirling engine taps temperature differences. Source Paul U. Ehmer, Wikipedia

Halving (free) energy consumption: the consequences of degrowth

What PvdA and GroenLinks propose is to halve our use of free energy. In other words, we can do half as many things. So a “degrowth” of fifty percent. As a result, we become a lot poorer. They use the argument that we now use more energy than natural, sustainable sources in the Netherlands yield and we pollute the environment.

A positive effect is that we pollute the environment a lot less. Half as much packaging material, half as much waste, half as much polluting overseas transport, half as much driving. That means much less litter and nanoplastic particles, which poison us. And of course, what progressive parties find very important, less CO2 emissions.

Indeed, the rich people in the Netherlands can cut down their consumption quite considerably, without their quality of life deteriorating appreciably. But for people who have to get by on the minimum wage, or benefits, it is different. If they have to halve their energy consumption, that means abject poverty. For the Netherlands as a whole, this means, at best, a drop in living standards to those of Hungary or Argentina. Especially the lowest incomes will then pay the price. It’s a political choice. But is it the only choice?

Smarter production and consumption

It is smarter to take the sharp edges off our consumption. Believe it or not, the Soviet Union used more energy per person than the Netherlands (via if you are not a scientist) at that time. The reason: the district heating in the large Soviet residential blocks always blared at full blast during the heating season. It was so bad that the Soviet citizens regularly had to open their windows to prevent them from being cooked like lobsters.

Meanwhile, some Russian women then, and still today, have to do their laundry by hand. Which explains why so many Ukrainian washing machines were stolen by the Russians. In short: a good example of how not to do it.

But here in the Netherlands, too, we often use energy and raw materials rather stupidly. Small disposable packaging, for example. Clothes that we never wear, but that take up space in our closet. Waste that we still landfill instead of processing. Trash that we immediately throw away. Do not insulate poor people’s houses, because we are too miserly to invest in this as the Netherlands. Flut products from the Action that are screwed together for a pittance in China, while for a little more money we can make something here in the Netherlands that lasts ten times as long.

People are central with more energy instead of degrowth

We can solve many of these problems with more free energy. Because raw materials consist of atoms, and atoms do not wear out. So we can reuse those atoms endlessly. If we convert the atoms in waste into new raw materials, we hardly need to import anything. And that free energy is also there enough. The sun, for example. In one hour, enough sunlight shines on the earth to provide more than 100% of the world’s energy needs per year.

If we store this, or if we create our own sun on earth, there will be more than enough energy to provide the entire world population with a Dutch standard of living, and more than that. So let’s go do that. Poverty is a cruel crime against humanity. There is no excuse for letting people in the Netherlands and the rest of the world live in poverty, if we have more than enough sustainable energy to take them out of there.

Calculation example: Niger, get rich with sun

Niger is poverty-stricken, but you could easily live off solar energy there. Source: World Bank.

Niger, a sparsely populated desert-like country in the Sahara, is about the poorest country in the world. A Nigerien earns an average of about 600 euros per year, or 50 euros per month. Keep in mind that the average age in Niger is 15, so that most Nigeriens are children and therefore do not work, the income per family is considerably higher, around eight times.

Niger is extremely sunny, so solar panels in Niger have an insanely high efficiency. If you have ten thousand watts of power from solar panels in Niger (around 25 pieces), which would cost you around 14,500 euros in the Netherlands, you will generate around 18,000 kilowatt hours per year. With the peak prices of last December, of more than one euro per kWh, you would have lost that solar panel in Niger in one year.

If we assume the electricity price in neighboring Mali, which is just over 20 cents per kWh, you will earn almost 4,000 euros per year with the same ten thousand watts as the Nigerien. Put a large roof there with those panels, and a Nigerien family will have enough income for a year. With ten football fields per inhabitant, there is enough space in Niger for solar panels. For example, you can also extract water from the air with cheap energy. Melt down iron ore. And so forth. What is unfortunately lacking is the political will. And that is really not just the fault of so-called populists.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *