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We welcome this opportunity to participate in this important dialogue between political ecology and degrowth. We bring to this debate two issues: (1) perspectives on limits and scarcity, and (2) the histories and knowledges of feminist political ecology and decolonial feminism as a way of enriching degrowth’s political grammar and strategies.
Robbins and Gómez-Baggethun, citing Mehta’s The Limits to Scarcity (2010), both refer to the political ecology take on scarcity as a ‘construct that is allied with elite power, not emancipatory process’. It is important to note that Mehta and her collaborators draw not just on political ecology but also on non-equilibrium ecology, heterodox economics, political philosophy and anthropology to question scarcity’s taken-for-granted nature. Scarcity rarely takes place due to the natural order of things. It is the result of exclusion and unequal gender, social and power relations that legitimize skewed access to, and control over, finite and limited resources. As such, scarcity is a relational concept connected to market forces of demand and supply. This does not mean that scarcity is merely a social construct or only the result of power and politics. As argued in Mehta (2010), there are biophysical realities concerning falling groundwater levels, melting ice caps and declining soil fertility, and these biophysical limits need to be acknowledged. However, biophysical limits should not be used to deploy universal and blanket notions of scarcity that deny how women and men (especially the poorest and powerless among them) in specific localities perceive and experience scarcity. So-called limits and thresholds will always be perceived and experienced differently by different actors (cf. Luks, 2010). This means we need to discursively unpack what is meant by scarcity.