A Macedonian bee-farmer - “half the honey for them, half for us” - shows us what “de-growth” might feel like
We came across a pretty compelling film tip the other day (see left).
Honeyland (trailer above - out in these UK cinemas now, or downloadable from Apple TV) is the story of a rural Macedonia bee-keeper and honey farmer, whose way of life is threatened by a rapacious, development-oriented new neighbour.
Nestled in an isolated mountain region deep within the Balkans, Hatidze Muratova lives with her ailing mother in a village without roads, electricity or running water.
She’s the last in a long line of Macedonian wild beekeepers, eking out a living farming honey in small batches to be sold in the closest city – a mere four hours’ walk away.
Hatidze’s peaceful existence is thrown into upheaval by the arrival of an itinerant family, with their roaring engines, seven rambunctious children and herd of cattle.
Hatidze optimistically meets the promise of change with an open heart, offering up her affections, her brandy and her tried-and-true beekeeping advice.
It doesn’t take long however, before Hussein, the itinerant family’s patriarch, senses opportunity and develops an interest in selling his own honey. Hussein has seven young mouths to feed and nowhere to graze his cattle, and he soon casts Hatidze’s advice aside in his hunt for profit.
This causes a breach in the natural order that provokes a conflict with Hatidze that exposes the fundamental tension between nature and humanity, harmony and discord, exploitation and sustainability.
Even as the family provides a much-needed respite from Hatidze’s isolation and loneliness, her very means of survival are threatened.
Sounds amazing, moving, worth watching.
We’ll be honest, we’ve struggled a little with the “de-growth” discourse. Not so much with its idea that “producing-to-consume” has to be drastically reduced, as a economic model, if we are to commit to a zero-carbon world. But more with the metaphor of being against “growth” itself, which feels like it rubs against much of the imaginative and optimistic aspects of human nature.
Following Jason’s tweet was another which pointed to a 2014 article about the case for de-growth. In light of Hatizde’s spellbinding, near-equal dance with her productive bees - “half of the honey for me, half for them” - this section (which talks about what de-growth might feel like) is really interesting:
In a degrowth society we would aspire to localise our economies as far and as appropriately as possible. This would assist with reducing carbon-intensive global trade, while also building resilience in the face of an uncertain and turbulent future.
Through forms of direct or participatory democracy we would organise our economies to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met, and then redirect our energies away from economic expansion. This would be a relatively low-energy mode of living that ran primarily on renewable energy systems.
Renewable energy cannot sustain an energy-intensive global society of high-end consumers. A degrowth society embraces the necessity of “energy descent”, turning our energy crises into an opportunity for civilisational renewal.
We would tend to reduce our working hours in the formal economy in exchange for more home-production and leisure. We would have less income, but more freedom. Thus, in our simplicity, we would be rich.
Wherever possible, we would grow our own organic food, water our gardens with water tanks, and turn our neighbourhoods into edible landscapes as the Cubans have done in Havana. As my friend Adam Grubb so delightfully declares, we should “eat the suburbs”, while supplementing urban agriculture with food from local farmers’ markets.
We do not need to purchase so many new clothes. Let us mend or exchange the clothes we have, buy second-hand, or make our own. In a degrowth society, the fashion and marketing industries would quickly wither away.
A new aesthetic of sufficiency would develop, where we creatively re-use and refashion the vast existing stock of clothing and materials, and explore less impactful ways of producing new clothes.
We would become radical recyclers and do-it-yourself experts. This would partly be driven by the fact that we would simply be living in an era of relative scarcity, with reduced discretionary income.
But human beings find creative projects fulfilling, and the challenge of building the new world within the shell of the old promises to be immensely meaningful, even if it will also entail times of trial. The apparent scarcity of goods can also be greatly reduced by scaling up the sharing economy, which would also enrich our communities.
One day, we might even live in cob houses that we build ourselves, but over the next few critical decades the fact is that most of us will be living within the poorly designed urban infrastructure that already exists. We are hardly going to knock it all down and start again.
Instead, we must ‘retrofit the suburbs’, as leading permaculturalist David Holmgren argues. This would involve doing everything we can to make our homes more energy-efficient, more productive, and probably more densely inhabited.
This is not the eco-future that we are shown in glossy design magazines featuring million-dollar “green homes” that are prohibitively expensive.
Degrowth offers a more humble – and I would say more realistic – vision of a sustainable future.
Is this for you?
We’ll be going to see Honeyland, in order that we can measure the distance between a life stably conducted within natural limits, and a life of restless appetite and material aspiration.
But we probably need more narrative visions that spring up between the middle of these dramatic extremes. (The documentary 2040 - premiered here before, and now fully available - attempts to “prefigure” the de-growth future).