The Myth of Decoupling

It is something probably every junkie dreams of – to be able to keep taking drugs and feeling free, careless or just high, but without all the unpleasant side-effects like health issues, financial ruin, destroyed social networks etc. This, however, is illusion and no reasonable person would deny that it is. It is therefore astonishing how many otherwise reasonable persons fall prey to this illusion with regard to the great societal addiction – economic growth. They invoke the idea of decoupling GDP growth from resource use, environmental pollution and the like. But decoupling growth has nothing to do with reality, it is a myth. Continue reading


Where Does Technological Progress Lead – Ancient Greece or “Beggars in Spain”?

Ancient Greek polis are often thought to be the ideal form of participative democracy and vital cultural life of a society. Political discussions, philosophy, science and arts – male Greeks enjoyed a real “highlife” that many in the educated “elites” of today dream of. However, to engage in politics, arts, philosophy and science, one needs a significant amount of free time. Indeed, Greek vivid public life rested on a peculiar foundation: slaves. Greek citizens were free of doing most of the less pleasant (but necessary) work like washing, cleaning, production of simple everyday-use goods etc. Therefore they had lots of time to visit the Agora or the Amphitheatre. Continue reading

The Need to Decouple from Growth

Not first since the recent Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro there has been much talk about the need to make the world economy “green”. The problem with this mention, somewhat similar to “sustainability”, is that everyone has a different picture of what constitutes a “green” economy (thus the decision in Rio to leave the definition in the national domain…). Astonishingly many view the “green economy” as one that still relies on economic growth – but without all the negative side-effects, such as climate change and environmental degradation in general. This is the idea of “decoupling growth“. It is just as tempting as flawed. Continue reading

Reposted: Green Growth or Steady State?

Forty years ago, a team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology declared that civilisation had a problem: it was fast approaching a cliff. The Limits to Growth, published in 1972, was a wake-up call for a society then only dimly aware of the finite resources of the Earth. Through its marshalling of hard statistics and what was then cutting-edge computer modeling, Limits to Growth kicked off a debate that is still burning today: can economic growth be reconciled with environmental constraints? […]

If you’d like to read this quite interesting article comparing the arguments of green growth and steady-state (no-growth) advocats, go here.

From Efficiency to Consistency, from Consistency to Sufficiency

It is a near-consensus that the way we produce and consume goods and services in modern economies is not sustainable. We systematically (and knowingly) overuse natural resources, ignore the social cost of (ab)using Nature’s services… So, the diagnosis is more or less uncontroversial and agreed upon. However, the question about the right therapy is still unsettled: how can we do it all in a better way? Generally, there are three strategies that are often named as necessary to achieve true sustainability: efficiency, consistency and sufficiency. Continue reading

Stop Debating Growth and Focus on What Is Important

For years already, there is a debate ongoing about the role of economic growth (in terms of GDP and related measures) with regard to well-being and environmental sustainability. While some claim that GDP growth is a well-suited tool for economic policy-making and should not be questioned as a social indicator as well, most see this as problematic. It is widely believed that within the current economic system, economic growth causes disruptions both in social and environmental systems – in the latter particularly. But this let to another debate emerge, regarding whether GDP growth and environmental impacts can be decoupled or whether a transition to a no-growth economy is the only solution of anthropogenic environmental problems. But is this ongoing debate not detracting our attention from more real problems? Continue reading

Decoupling Growth or System Change?

It is becoming ever more clear that something has to change in the way human economic activity takes place and impacts the world around us. The ecological footprint of the world economy is ever increasing – it is by now believed to have reached unsustainable levels. Few people are questioning this. However, so far the (re-)actions to this new challenge have not been adequate – the 17th Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC in Durban last month, where the world leaders failed to agree on a binding framework aiming at tackling anthropogenic climate change, is a prime recent example. Alas, it is not the only one – rather it is the tip of the iceberg. There are many proposals what to do. And it is clear that human economic activity (including consumption) is the main problem. One popular idea is to “decouple” growth from resource use (in a wide sense of the latter). Continue reading