A Scientist Rebellion for Post-Growth

Speech at the Science & Music Climate March, May 7th, Amsterdam, organized by Scientist Rebellion NL

by Miriam Meissner

Two years ago, the International Energy Agency issued a rare statement:

To have any reasonable chance of keeping global heating below catastrophic levels, ANY further development of oil, coal and gas must be stopped.

In short, the Agency was saying: ‘Keep it in the ground!’ Existing stocks of fossil fuels are enough to push us over the brink.

That’s one example – one of many examples – of a science-policy body that recently sounded the alarm. 

Everywhere, scientists are sounding the alarm. Have been for a while now.

Now, why am I standing here today? 

I’m standing here, because governments are not listening:

Not listening to OUR collective warnings.

Not listening to the people who are losing their homes, losing their crops, losing their lives due to climate breakdown.

CERTAINLY not listening to the countless signs of ecosystems collapsing – from animals dying to diseases spreading, from soils eroding to oceans warming.

When reading the news, I see that governments are doing the DIRECT OPPOSITE of what is needed. 

It’s in DIRECT OPPOSITION to the advice of the International Energy Agency that the Dutch government gave the permit to drill for gas in the Wadden Sea.

It’s in direct opposition to the advice of the IPCC that the Dutch government is giving billions in subsidies to fossil fuel companies.

Companies that make billions in profit every quarter, for their shareholders. 

Companies that have been lying to the public for decades (and still do).

Companies that spend more on greenwashing than they spend on green energy.

In acting against all reason, the Dutch government is not alone.

Worldwide, governments give 11 MILLION DOLLARS to fossil fuel companies EVERY MINUTE – from taxpayers’ money. 

We are made to fund our own extinction!

Now, a burning question that keeps me occupied is: 

Why are we failing to stop this bullshit?

The first IPCC report was published 33 (!) years ago. I was 4 years old. 

Since then, time has passed. Agreements were signed. Promises were made. 

The result? An increase in carbon emissions by more than 60%! 

The problem of climate breakdown isn’t being tackled – as governments make us believe. It is getting worse – year by year.

So, my question isn’t just why ARE we failing, but why have we been failing – failing for decades to stop this problem?

But … I should say that ‘WE’ have not been failing, because there is no uniform we.

The world’s richest 10% are responsible for 50% of the global carbon emissions. In contrast, the world’s poorest half is responsible for only 10%.

The Global North is responsible for 92% of the excess emissions that are now driving global heating. 

In contrast, 80% of the world’s biodiversity is in territories stewarded by Indigenous Communities.

So, ‘we’ are not all responsible for environmental breakdown. And ‘we’ are not all failing to counteract it.

But what makes the difference?

It would be unscientific to narrow this down to a single factor. 

One KEY factor, however, has to do with industrial nations’ holy grail: ECONOMIC GROWTH!

Economic growth is supposed to bring us all prosperity. 

If the cake is big, then everyone will get a slice – or so the logic goes.

BUT, economic growth has never worked for all of us. In the Netherlands, 10% of the population own 61% of the collective wealth. 

So yes, there is growth in prosperity, but mostly for the rich.

And that’s not the only problem.

Because, to achieve economic growth, we need raw materials, we need land, and we need energy. 

That’s why economic growth causes extraction, causes emissions, causes pollution. 

To achieve prosperity – prosperity for the rich – we destroy the foundations of our lives, and that of many other species.

That’s crazy. 


If you ask our governments, then the solution is simple: TECHNOLOGY

Technology to decouple economic growth from its negative eco-impacts. 

Technology that is not yet invented, I should say.

That WAS the answer 50 years ago, and it’s still the answer. 

The time has come to challenge that answer! – because it doesn’t work. 

We can’t wait for more lives to be lost. We can’t wait for more tipping points to be hit. 

‘there is NO EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE supporting the existence of a decoupling of economic growth from environmental pressures on ANYWHERE near the scale that needed to deal with environmental breakdown’ 

That’s the conclusion of a recent report. 

European Environment Agency, European Environmental Bureau, Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity. They all come to the same conclusion:

There is no such thing as green growth. It’s either green or growth.  It’s either growth or life. 

So, we need to do without growth, go beyond growth. 

— but what does that actually mean?

In the words of George Monbiot: What counts to prevent climate breakdown ‘is not the good things we start to do, but the bad things that we cease to do.”


No more subsidies for fossil fuels criminals!

No more bailouts for KLM!

No more ad-space for greenwashing!

No more subsidies for agro-multinationals!

No more mass slaughter of livestock animals!

No more nitrogen in our groundwater!

‘But that means that people will suffer’ – I am sometimes told. 

People will freeze in their homes. People will miss their holidays. 


In the Netherlands, 8% of all citizen take 42% of all flights. 

So who will suffer, if we shrink aviation? If we ground private jets?

It’s the rich who need to ‘consuminderen’!

The rich with their frequent-flier miles. The rich with their energy-eating mansions. The rich with their urban tanks, which clog our streets and pollute our air!

Most ‘PEOPLE’, however, will gain from going beyond growth. 

They will gain in air quality, gain in green space, GAIN IN HOPE!

BUT this does not solve all concerns.

Because, if we shrink harmful industries, then some will lose their jobs, states will lose their revenues, social welfare systems might go broke.

We cannot neglect these concerns. But this doesn’t mean that no-growth is no option.

Instead, it means that shrinking harmful industries needs to be combined with policies for redistribution.

Policies that take from the 10% that own 70% of the global wealth, and give it to the rest.

Luckily, scientists know how to do that. 

What we need is:

  • The effective taxation of the super-rich: those who brought us into this mess.
  • The progressive taxation of environmentally harmful forms of consumption, such as frequent flying, and meat eating.
  • The subsidization of low impact activities, such as train riding and plant-based diets.
  • The introduction of work-sharing and a universal basic income – to even out losses in income.
  • AND The investment in activities that bring us all wellbeing, but do so without a massive eco-footprint, such as care, such as culture, such education … AND of course SCIENCE!

Now, contrary to what those in power make us believe, these are feasible proposals. Much more feasible than waiting for a miracle technology. 

These proposals NEED to find their way into policy. 

But – let’s not fool ourselves – the fact that these are good proposals, does not mean that governments will listen.

They won’t listen because industries lobby politicians.

They won’t listen because industries gaslight the public.

They won’t listen because they’ve gotten used to ignoring us.

We cannot let that happen, and that’s why it’s time to shift gears. 

As scientists,we’re trained to be hyper-cautious. Understand before you act. Don’t trust the black and white. Underline how things are complex.

But, the science is clear.

AND, I’m not just a scientist. I’m also a person.

I grieve the massive losses that I witness. I’m worried about the future. I’m ANGRY about the status quo. 

That’s why I’m standing here today.

In the face of lives lost every day. In the face of climate tipping points. In the face of government inaction, the appropriate response IS NOT just writing another paper, a grant application, or a policy brief. 

The appropriate response, dear Fellow Scientists, is Rebellion! 

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