PhD course:

Political Ecology of Scarcity, Limits and Degrowth

New PhD course offered by NMBU’s Political Ecology Forum and Sustainability Arena. Free course running 7-10 June 2022. Application deadline: 15 February 2022.



In 1972, the Club of Rome report ‘Limits to Growth’ triggered heated debates on the notion of environmental limits and their political implications. It claimed that dominant development pathways based on continued economic growth were leading to the scarcity of various environmental resources and to unsustainable resource use and pollution levels. 

The report was instrumental in sparking the emergence of two versions of political ecology, but in different ways. In the Anglophone version it led to a critique of Malthusianism and its lack of social or class analysis when presenting environmental crisis scenarios, while in France the report inspired the emergence of discourses of décroissance (degrowth) and a radicalization of green politics under the banner of écologie politique

These two political ecology traditions and their contrasting views on the issues of scarcity, and limits were recently the point of departure for a Virtual Forum debate in the journal Political Geography. The discussion started off with a keynote by Paul Robbins at the Political Ecology (POLLEN) conference in Oslo in June 2018 and discussant comments by Erik Gómez-Baggethun. 

In his keynote paper, Robbins points out that (anglophone) political ecology scholarship often has deconstructed notions of limits and carrying capacities and has made the case that these ideas tend to serve political and economic elites, thereby reinforcing social injustices and marginalization. This political ecology tradition may be seen to stand in contrast to degrowth’s emphasis on planetary boundaries and ecological limits. 

In his response, Gómez-Baggethun argues that the economy cannot continue to grow forever on a finite planet, pointing to the rising social and environmental costs of growth.  ‘In today’s post-truth era’, he states, ‘banalizing research on ecological limits as mere narratives or social constructs pays service (albeit unintendedly) to the same elites and business powers against which such claims where initially conceived’. 

This debate thus suggests a rift within political ecology between, on the one hand, those skeptical of narratives of environmental limits and scarcity, and, on the other hand, those committed to alternative sustainabilities based on these very concepts.   

The aim of this PhD course is to follow up on this debate and to explore how political ecologists are engaging with, and aligning themselves with respect to each position (or perhaps staking out entirely new stances). We have invited scholars with different perspectives on technology, energy and the environment to help bring this debate forward amidst an increasingly urgent climate and environmental crisis. 

The course is relevant for PhD students who are examining and trying to understand issues related to scarcity and limits. It will include lectures from leading scholars in the field who approach this theme from different perspectives. The course will also offer opportunities for participants to present, discuss and advance their own research and to interact and engage with scholars and students undertaking studies on related topics.

Learning goals

  1. To expose students to the latest research on environmental scarcity, limits and boundaries
  2. To develop students’ interdisciplinary analytical skills related to this topic
  3. To enhance students writing skills related to this topic

Teaching methods

In advance of the course, participants must:

  1. Read the course curriculum
  2. Prepare an individual course essay (of about 4000 words)
  3. Read and prepare comments to the individual course essays of group members

 During the course:

  1. Lectures: Theoretical/conceptual/methodological/empirical perspectives on environmental scarcity, limits and boundaries
  2. Course essay sessions: Groups of participants and lecturers meet to discuss the course essays

 Lecturers and facilitators

  • Michael Watts, Professor Emeritus, Department of Geography, University of California Berkeley, USA
  • Lyla Mehta, Professor, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex (UK) and Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences 
  • Paul Robbins, Dean, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA (online lecture)
  • Connor Cavanagh, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of Bergen, Norway
  • Giacomo D’Alisa, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal
  • Mariel Aguilar Støen, Professor, Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo, Norway
  • Chris Sandbrook, University Senior Lecturer and Fellow of Darwin College, University of Cambridge, UK
  • Nitin Rai, independent scholar, Bangalore, India
  • Erik Gómez-Baggethun, Professor, Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Faculty of Landscape and Society, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
  • Tor A. Benjaminsen, Professor, Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Faculty of Landscape and Society, Norwegian University of Life Sciences

Participant requirements and application

Apply to take the course

Interested students should upload the following via the application form:

  1. Confirmation of PhD status at home institution
  2. Brief curriculum vitae (max 30 MB)
  3. Abstract of course essay (maximum 500 words)
  4. Brief motivation letter (maximum 500 words)

Application deadline: 15 February 2022
Successful applicants will be contacted by 28 February 2022    
The final programme and list of literature (course curriculum) will follow on 15 March 2022

The course paper is due on 15 May 2022. Participation in the course is contingent upon submission of a satisfactory course paper and commenting on papers of fellow students. 

Upon completing all course activities, participants will be awarded 5 ECTS credits and a course certificate. 

Participation in the course will be in person (not online) and is free of charge. This includes coffee breaks, lunches and one dinner. Participants will have to cover own transport and accommodation.

Limits to Growth +50: Can economies keep growing indefinitely on a finite planet?

The course will be followed by a seminar celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Club of Rome report Limits to Growth, to be held in Oslo on June 10th. 

The seminar will include a keynote speech by Limits to Growth co-author Jørgen Randers (Professor Emeritus of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School) as well as hosting leading international scholars, including Michael Watts (University of California Berkeley) and Lyla Mehta (IDS and NMBU).

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s