New edition of our Carbon and Planning Workbook

The Carbon and Planning Workbook is a guide for local campaigners who want to estimate the carbon (greenhouse gas) consequences of proposed planning developments on local land.

It takes you through the various aspects to consider and data that you can use in your estimates. It also aims to forewarn you of potential problems and uncertainties in making such estimates.

We have now updated it, building on our recent experience in calculating the probable carbon impacts of new developments. There are additional references, improvements to readability and some short additional sections on associated sources of carbon emissions (transport, aviation, water system).

Do take a look, try it out, and let us know how you get on.

Click here for the workbook page

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Book review: Degrowth as a desirable and possible future


1) The Future Is Degrowth: A Guide to a World beyond Capitalism.
by Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter and Aaron Vansintjan. Verso, 2022. ISBN 9781839765841. £18.99 paperback, £11.39 ebook (publisher is currently offering both at the ebook price)

2) Political Friendship and Degrowth: An Ethical Grounding of an Economy of Human Flourishing. by Areti Giannopoulou. Routledge, 2022, ISBN 9780367757960. £120 hardback, £33.29 ebook.

More and more books are appearing on Degrowth. However, if you are looking for a clear, comprehensive, scholarly but practical overview, then I’d recommend The Future is Degrowth. Published by Verso, it does speak specifically to those of us on the left, but even if you are from a different political tradition, you could do worse than to read it.

Political Friendship and Degrowth is for a different audience, based on a PhD thesis from the University of Sussex, it is primarily directed to those with a grounding in philosophy, but it does make some interesting observations on degrowth and the kind of society that would restore solidarity and kindness among us.

The first book, by Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vetter and Aaron Vansintjan, has the following structure:

    • Introduction
    • Economic growth
    • Critiques of growth
    • Degrowth visions
    • Pathways to degrowth
    • Making degrowth real
    • The future of degrowth

The introductory chapter is particularly good at debunking the various misrepresentations and misunderstandings of degrowth. Degrowth, they note, is both a critique and a proposal, and later sections explore both aspects.

They begin by examining the concept of economic growth. Building on their statement in the introduction, “Economic growth, we argue, appears as the ideological, social, and biophysical materialization of capitalist accumulation”, they explain,

First, growth is a relatively recent idea, the hegemony of which is the core ideology of capitalism, justifying the belief that growth is natural, necessary, and good, and that growth, as the increase of output and the development of productive forces, is linked to progress and emancipation. Second, growth is a social process that has long preceded the current hegemony of growth in contemporary society: a specific set of social relations resulting from and driving capitalist accumulation that stabilizes modern societies dynamically and at the same time makes them dependent on expansive dynamics of growth, intensification, and acceleration. Third, growth is a material process – the ever-expanding use of land, resources, and energy and the related build-up of physical stocks – which fundamentally transforms the planet and increasingly threatens to undermine the foundations of growth itself.

While I would put the three points in the reverse order, this is one of the best definitions I have seen.

The next section surveys the various critiques of growth that come together in degrowth. Most will be familiar to readers of our work; they are (with my summary statements),

Ecological critique – growth destroys the very foundations of life on earth.

Socio-economic critique – growthism offers a false proxy for human well-being and stands in the way of a more equal society.

Cultural critique – growth destroys human relations, making them mechanistic, instrumental and alienating.

Critique of capitalism – growth is inherently bound up with the capitalist mode of production, that is with accumulation of surplus as a result of exploitation and expropriation.

Feminist critique – growthism, as an economic rationality, devalues other spheres of human labour and relies on gendered exploitation.

Critique of industrialism – growth is inseparable from the deployment of undemocratic technologies and structures.

South–North critique – foregrounds the exploitative and extractive relations between rich countries and the global South.

Moving on, the book considers what degrowth actually means. Having reviewed some of the definitions that have been offered, the authors suggest a synthesis,where,

A degrowth society… in a democratic process of transformation:

1. enables global ecological justice – in other words, it transforms and reduces its material metabolism, and thus also production and consumption, in such a way that its way of life is ecologically sustainable in the long term and globally just;

2. strengthens social justice and self-determination and strives for a good life for all under the conditions of this changed metabolism; and

3. redesigns its institutions and infrastructure so that they are not dependent on growth and continuous expansion for their functioning.”

So far so good, nice ideas but how can it be made to happen? The rest of the book is concerned with that key question. The answer can be contrasted with the simplified policy programme of the New Green Deal (to which the authors, while critical aof some aspects maintain a friendly orientation, emphasising the points in common). Rather than a single policy package, to be implemented by wise politicians, top-down,

“… degrowth proponents prefer a diverse policy platform and tend to approach the issue more holistically. This is because focusing on a single policy tends to minimize the amount of change needed in the whole system while failing to hedge against the possible negative effects of that policy taken in isolation.”

Focusing first on policy, six clusters are identified as covering the bulk of degrowth approaches, (1) the democratization of the economy, or, the strengthening of the commons, a solidarity-based economy, and economic democracy; (2) social security, redistribution, and caps on income and wealth; (3) convivial and democratic technology; (4) the redistribution and revaluation of labour; (5) the equitable dismantling and reconstruction of production; and (6) international solidarity.

However, in the penultimate chapter, the book also addresses the how of change. This is where many contributions to the debate fall apart. These authors do better. They begin by acknowledging a rift in the degrowth discussions between grand policy prescriptions and small-scale bottom up solutions (we ourselves position our distinctive approach between the two, primarily at the “meso-level”). The use this duality productively, seeing the bottom-up “nowtopias” as providing content, know-how, as vital for the more systemic interventions. Drawing on the work of Erik Olin Wright, his notion of “real utopias”, and taxonomy of strategies, they review the roles of nowtopias, non-reformist reforms, building counter-hegemony and transformative power, and the response to crises.

Will it work? We can only know by trying. The authors sum it up in these words,

Yet whether a degrowth society can and will become reality cannot be answered theoretically; it depends on the practices, relationships, and organizing of all of us. To make this vision real requires a massive, concerted effort from every corner of society – let alone those who consider themselves to be on the left. We have made some proposals for how to think about the strategies for systemic change, …. But to start this journey, we need a broad but unified ‘movement of movements’ for life and against capitalist growth to confidently take the first steps along this path of transformation. You don’t have to call this ‘degrowth’, but we hope that the core concerns of both the critique and the proposal of degrowth will be integrated into more and more struggles and transformative practices. There are endless ways to follow this path – from starting a workers’ cooperative to setting up a mutual aid centre or pushing for non-reformist reforms in your municipality. Whatever you choose to do, know that our trajectories are aligned.”

Degrowth as a movement of movements

Degrowth as a movement of movements

To conclude, The Future is Degrowth is a tour de force, it is well argued, and well referenced (although sometimes the references are to a whole text rather than the specific relevant part). It is unusual for me to read a text where I can hardly raise a quibble but these authors are extremely sure footed. I recommend you read it.

Political Friendship and Degrowth is a more difficult read. Only if you have an interest and some grounding in philosophy would I recommend it. It argues for the relevance of Aristotle’s concept of political friendship, a kind of extension of interpersonal friendship across the communities we live in, and potentially further. It is a concept that connects with the ideals and practices of solidarity, mutuality and accompaniment. Areti Giannopolou relates this idea, negatively to the writings of Adam Smith (the free market with its invisible hand), and more positively to Karl Marx (and economic equality) and Otto Neurath (a free, associational socialism). She explores the concept of the solidarity economy and discovers limitations in its political vision, it being tied to the logic of the market.

Finally, in the last chapter, and pulling in the eco-feminism of Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, she comes to degrowth and finds in its convivial emphasis on necessary production and “relational goods” rather than the current system that emphasises of material goods. She sees a clear synergy with the life-orientated approach of degrowth and an extended understanding of political friendship.

Sadly, the book is extremely expensive, even as an ebook (on the highly restricted Vital Source platform), so few will read it. That is a shame as it does make some helpful connections between political philosophy and the degrowth project.

Mark H Burton

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The Steady State Manchester Solidarity Grant

Permanent page for this scheme (any updates and changes will appear there).

We now offer a small grant (up to a few hundred pounds) to very small groups who want to do something original to challenge the damaging growth model of economic and social development in Greater Manchester.

We favour small, community-based groups who need a little financial support yet can’t easily, or yet, access the established funding sources. If you’re part of such a group or know people who are, there’s more about the Grant here:

One page summary

Details of the grant

We’ll consider activities which:

  • put into practice what we advocate, or are in keeping with our views;
  • challenge the economic status quo;
  • are open to all, unless targeted at minoritised people

Examples might include, amongst others,

  • new models of ownership, production, distribution etc.;
  • influencing/participating in local decision making;
  • meeting basic needs (like hunger, keeping warm);
  • tackling inequalities;
  • spending on: room hire, leaflets, zoom subscription, teabags, helping low income or mobility-impaired people with transport costs;
  • spending by small local groups whether or not they have written rules and a bank account.

There are some things we won’t fund.

See more here:
One page summary

Details of the grant

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Save Greater Manchester’s Greenbelt (SGMGB) awarded the Viable Future Mark

ThiSGMGB logos is the first article from our Viable Future Mark holders. Evelyn Frearson from Save Greater Manchester’s Greenbelt (SGMGB), explains what the organisation is, its aims, and what they are working on.

SGMGB was established in 2017 as an umbrella organisation to bring together Green Belt and greenspace community groups across Greater Manchester, with the aims of protecting Green Belt, green spaces and the environment in Greater Manchester. It is a constituted organisation with representatives from all ten boroughs in Greater Manchester.

Formation of the group was precipitated by the publication of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) in 2016. This draft plan proposed to remove the Green Belt status from large swathes of Green Belt land for development, which galvanised residents who treasure those spaces to join together and speak out against their loss. In response to objections from residents, GMSF was redrafted in 2019 and 2020 with reduced, but still significant, Green Belt loss. In 2020 Stockport Council voted against approval of GMSF and withdrew. The remaining nine authorities in Greater Manchester set up a new joint committee to proceed with a joint plan, which was revised to adjust for Stockport’s withdrawal and renamed Places for Everyone. This joint plan proposes significant loss of Green Belt land across the region and SGMGB members have continued to protest via every available avenue.

SGMGB members are currently preoccupied with the ongoing Examination in Public of the Places for Everyone Plan. Representations have been submitted to the consultations and members will participate in the Examination Hearings. Meanwhile, Stockport Council is preparing its own new Local Plan separately and is expected to consult residents on a number of draft options in the autumn of 2022.

We believe our Green Belt and greenspace is precious for ecology, food production, the rural economy, recreation, mental and physical health, and mitigating the impacts of climate change and air pollution.

We are becoming increasingly aware that we are part of a fragile ecological network with biodiversity that supports our existence. Some areas have seen a collapse in biodiversity, which poses a threat to the invisible network that we depend on. Our Green Belt and greenspaces help to support our ecological niche by providing habitats for a diverse range of species. For example, the Woodland Trust notes that a mature oak tree provides a habitat for 2,300 species of wildlife.

Green Belt and greenspaces include agricultural land which provides a livelihood for farmers and horticulturists and supports the rural economy. Global conflicts and climate change are threats to food supply chains. Locally produced food becomes increasingly important in providing food security and in reducing carbon emissions arising from transporting food. Farming has the ability support the environment while delivering economic, health and well-being benefits.

Countryside in Green Belt provides opportunities for access to nature and outdoor recreation that has well-established benefits for our physical and mental health. We believe that maintaining and enhancing these opportunities will improve quality of life in the population and reduce healthcare costs.

The challenges we face due to climate change are now acutely apparent. Green Belt and greenspaces play a vital role in mitigating the damaging effects of our life-styles and activities. Green plants and peat bogs absorb carbon dioxide. Trees also provide shade to reduce the amount of heat reaching the ground and some species, such as birch, trap particulate pollution on their leaves before it reaches our lungs. Green spaces absorb rainfall and help to reduce flood risk associated with development that covers the ground with non-absorbent materials, such as concrete and tarmac.

We liaise with other groups who have similar aims such as Wildlife Trusts and Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). We are proud to be associated with the Community Planning Alliance, which does great work to highlight national issues in planning. Many of our groups are on their map which at the time of writing marks 640 grass roots campaign groups fighting environmentally damaging development projects.

Our ethos very much aligns with Steady Sate Manchester and we are delighted to have been awarded the Viable Future Mark. Their report on the Climate Impact of the Places for Everyone Plan is particularly pertinent to our campaign.



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Viable Future Mark: the first five awards

We are delighted to announce the launch of The Viable Future Mark. This award is being given to groups and organisations whose work is consistent with our vision of a Viable Greater Manchester.

The Viable Future Mark badge

Viable Greater Manchester means a post-growth society that lives within its ecological means, enabling a sufficient, dignified and fulfilling life for all without exploiting other peoples and ecosystems globally. Read more about it below.

So who are the first holders of the Viable Future Mark?

They are,

In their different ways, each of these Greater Manchester groups makes a contribution, through one or more of,

  • campaigning,
  • informing and educating,
  • developing policy, or practice,

to at least two of,

  • Increasing public understanding of ecological limits and/or ecosystem realities.
  • Prioritising social justice for all people.
  • Integrating the spheres of ecology, politics and economics.
  • Challenging and changing prevailing economic and social arrangements.

Moreover, their work does not rely on assumptions of aggregate economic growth and,to some extent at least, promotes degrowth, post-growth or the steady state economy.

We will be featuring each of these groups in future articles here.

Meanwhile, if you know of a group or organisation whose work fits the above criteria, do suggest them for a Viable Future Mark. Likewise, if you think your organisation would qualify, then do get in touch. That way we can build a loose alliance of groups, whether campaigning organisations, services, community groups or businesses, all consciously working towards the Viable Future that we all need.

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The renewed clamour for growth: ignorance, stupidity or immorality?

This year, Earth Overshoot Day lands on July 28. It gets earlier and earlier, a clear consequence of global economic growth. This can’t go on. Click image to learn more.

We are currently seeing renewed calls from leading politicians for a focus on “growth”, by which they mean economic growth, as measured by Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. The Conservative contenders are doing it, and Labour’s current leadership are too.

Yet, for a politician to advocate increased economic growth, given the evidence, they have to be ignorant, wicked or stupid. Renowned Liverpool-born, US economist, Kenneth Boulding said it clearly in the 1970s,

Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.”

Starmer, Sunak, et al. will tell you that economic growth is compatible with “net” zero carbon emissions. But they are wrong.

It is known that it is not possible to decouple economic growth from increased material and energy throughput. By “not possible to decouple”, we mean not possible to do so in absolute terms, taking account of imports, at a sufficient rate, and permanently.

Critically that means more carbon emissions, yet more resource consumption and other pollution, more land grabbing, ecological and livelihood destruction, and as reserves of resources diminish, a reducing return on investment, itself causing economic instability.
What evidence there is for decoupling suggests that

a) it is mostly relative, not absolute (emissions etc. still rise but more slowly), and
b) where absolute it usually doesn’t take account of imports (outsourced emissions themselves) and is not sustained.

In the few cases where it seems to have been both absolute and taking account of imports, it has been transient and insufficient in relation to the cuts in throughput (e.g. emissions) needed. Moreover, it still does not take account of the hidden inflation of GDP in the rich countries by exploitation of labour in the exporting global industrial belts – that means the calculation rests on flawed metrics.

It’s not just us saying that but a substantial body of evidence that has never been convincingly challenged. It’s now a big field but the following sources are key recent ones.

Key findings are that there is no evidence of long-term absolute decoupling of economic growth from resource use either from the historical data or in more recent modelled projections for high-efficiency scenarios . Over the long- term, global gross domestic product and global unsustainable resource are tightly coupled.

Parrique, T., et al. (2019). Decoupling debunked: Evidence and arguments against green growth as a sole strategy for sustainability. European Environmental Bureau.

Haberl, H., et al. (2020). A systematic review of the evidence on decoupling of GDP, resource use and GHG emissions, part II. Environmental Research Letters, 15(6), 065003.

Vadén, T., et al.. (2020). Raising the bar: On the type, size and timeline of a ‘successful’ decoupling.Environmental Politics, 0(0), 1–15.

Weidmann, T., Lenzen, M., Keyßer, L. T., & Steinberger, J. K. (2020). Scientists’ warning on affluence. Nature Communications, 11(1), 3107.

Hickel, J., & Kallis, G. (2019). Is Green Growth Possible? New Political Economy, 1–18.

All that work relies on a host of primary sources.

High income countries since 1970 have been collectively responsible for 75% of cumulative excess material use. That is excess unsustainable use of the earth’s natural capital, and since 2000 that rate of usage has started to accelerate significantly. The USA is the single largest contributor to excess resource use, responsible for 27% of the world total whilst EU countries and the UK are together responsible for 25%.

Hickel, J., et al.. (2022). National responsibility for ecological breakdown: A fair-shares assessment of resource use, 1970–2017. The Lancet Planetary Health, 6(4), e342–e349.

Hickel, J., et al. (2022). Imperialist appropriation in the world economy: Drain from the global South through unequal exchange, 1990–2015. Global Environmental Change, 73, 102467.

We previously debunked the widely reported claim that several countries had decoupled carbon emissions from GDP growth

The only viable option is managed degrowth. An increasing body of work shows that, while it would be challenging to deliver (but not more than the unicorn of growth and falling emissions), it could mean a society, fair to everyone, that lived within the planet’s ecological means.

Here are some pieces that explain.

Hickel, J., et al. (2021). Urgent need for post-growth climate mitigation scenarios. Nature Energy.

Millward-Hopkins, J. et al. (2020). Providing decent living with minimum energy: A global scenario. Global Environmental Change, 65, 102168.

Nieto, J., et al. (2020). Macroeconomic modelling under energy constraints: Global low carbon transition scenarios. Energy Policy, 137, 111090.

Koch, M. (2022). Social Policy Without Growth: Moving Towards Sustainable Welfare States. Social Policy and Society, 21(3), 447–459.

So, to reiterate, politicians that advocate increased economic growth, given the evidence, would have to be ignorant, wicked or stupid.

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Greater Manchester’s Places for Everyone Plan: the Carbon Impact

Download the report, latest version (pdf, 0.6 MB)

Download the previous version (pdf, 0.6 MB)

We are pleased to publish this report. It makes a high level estimate of the carbon emissions that would result from implementing Places for Everyone, the strategic spatial plan for Greater Manchester (except Stockport).  A calculation like this should have been made by Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment for the plan.  So far as we can ascertain, that information is not in the possession of GMCA and this means the plan is flawed.

Given that the plan will generate additional greenhouse gas emissions, it is our contention that the plan should also explain how these will be mitigated, keeping in line with both the GMCA’s 2038, <67 Mtonne carbon budget and the legal requirements in the planning legislation.

The report is inevitably quite technical but we have tried to explain clearly what we did, what assumptions we made and what sources of data we used.  If you don’t understand anything, then do contact us.

Our original calculations were carried out during the consultation period on Places for Everyone.  We have since refined our methodology and carefully checked our calculations: the report linked here is the result.

Our modelling indicates that Places for Everyone would have an estimated total carbon impact of some 16.5 Mtonnes CO2e, or 25 per cent of the Paris-compliant carbon budget for Greater Manchester. If the proposed increase in aviation is included, the figure rises to 37 Mtonnes (55 per cent of the carbon budget). This is in the context of the city region already failing to meet the planned reductions in greenhouse gases that are required to stay within this carbon budget.

Bar chart, Places for Everyone carbon emissions compared to GM carbon budget.

Places for Everyone carbon emissions compared to GM carbon budget.

However, the above figures include sources not included in the GM carbon budget (aviation as noted, embodied emissions and land use emissions).  If we only counted the Places for Everyone emissions projected to arise from the sources included in the GM carbon budget, the total is 5.58 Mtonnes, still approaching 10% of the budget and therefore representing an additional pressure upon it. However, all emissions matter. Firstly, they add to the total global emissions and thereby reduce the world’s available carbon budget, the supposedly safe limit on what can be emitted. If Greater Manchester causes emissions, wherever they are, then inexorably, its available carbon budget will be effectively reduced: the effect, other things being equal, would be that the calculation of the available carbon budget will eventually have to be adjusted down. Secondly, under planning law, authorities (here Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the nine participating councils in Places for Everyone) have to show how their plans contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Full details can be found in the report.

Steady State Manchester (Mark Burton) led this work in close collaboration with Save Greater Manchester Green Belt.  We are especially grateful to Matthew Broadbent and Marj Powner for their input, and in Matthew’s case, extensive help with the calculations.

Download the report (pdf, 0.6 MB)


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Communicating about degrowth: an interview

In this interview with Dave Darby of, SSM’s Mark Burton talks about the problems that economic growth brings and the degrowth alternative. It is an introductory treatment: for more detail, do explore our website and our publications. Low Impact helpfully provide both a video (via a YouTube link) and a transcript.

Click this link to read or watch the interview (opens in a new tab).

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