Public health and degrowth working synergistically: what leverage for public health?
The climate crisis represents the biggest public health threat of our time. It interacts with the rising inequalities, chronic diseases and mental illness widely associated with our dominant economic system. Though degrowth and public health approaches differ, both share common values. The former proposes a new paradigm intended to halt the destruction of life-supporting systems by infinite economic growth, while improving social justice and cohesion. The latter aims to maximize health and well-being while reducing health inequities, using strategies ranging from health protection to health promotion.
In various jurisdictions, public health is legally mandated to act when population health is threatened. Some have also adopted a “Health in all Policies” approach. Though public health has leadership for climate change and health adaptation planning, decisions and efforts on mitigation strategies are often left to other sectors; several tools such as health impact assessments, healthy public policy development, socio-economic and ecological determinants of health frameworks, and theories of behavior and social change, are often ignored.
Using theoretical analysis and practical examples from Canada, including Indigenous jurisdictions, we discuss barriers and facilitators to achieving synergy between public health and degrowth goals. We argue that public health has an ethical and legal duty to lead debates around sustainable living, and to unequivocally use its leverage to support the degrowth movement. However, as long as public health networks are embedded in governmental bodies, it may be difficult to fully support transition towards degrowth to the extent required by the biggest challenge of our time.