Monday, July 27, 2020

Such As You Are - Economic Growth Cannot Be Decoupled From Increased Resource Consumption

vice |  As societies get richer, they consume more resources. That also means they generate more pollution, driving climate change and destroying natural ecosystems.

We need to somehow break this link between material wealth and environmental catastrophe. That’s why financial institutions and governments have been focused on the idea of ‘decoupling’ GDP growth from resource use.

The idea of ‘decoupling’ is driven by the recognition that to stay within the ‘safe limit’ of 1.5 degrees Celsius, we have to dramatically reduce our material consumption of Earth's resources.

The assumption is that it is possible to continue growing the global economy while reducing our actual resource use and material footprint, perhaps by shifting to renewable energy.

This notion has been most recently articulated in the book More From Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources—and What Happens Next, by Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Financial and other data, McAfee argued, shows we can actually easily reduce our material footprint while continuing to grow our economies in a win-win scenario.

But new scientific analysis by a group of systems scientists and economists who have advised the United Nations seems to pull the rug out from under this entire enterprise. The new research indicates that the conventional approach is based on selective readings of statistical data.

McAfee argues, for instance, that as we are increasing wealth, the productivity motor of capitalism is driving us to greater heights of efficiency due to better technologies. This means we are able to make stuff faster and smaller using less materials and in some cases less energy. And that in turn implies we are causing less pollution. The problem is that this story, according to the new research, ignores how greater efficiency in certain regions or sectors is not slowing down the overall consumption machine. Within the wider system these efficiencies are enabling us to consume even greater quantities of resources overall.


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