Home > Uncategorized > Modern macro-economics and the sad truth about decoupling

Modern macro-economics and the sad truth about decoupling

Decoupling is the idea that when societies get richer, additional units of GDP will require less physical resources and will produce less carbon dioxide. This seems true when we look at national rich country production data. But it is not true when we look at rich country consumption data – as we outsourced energy and material intensive parts of producing our consumption goods to developing countries. We really have to blame our consumption pattern… Look here for an article of Mir and Storm (2016) about this; importantly they used a new comprehensive international database to derive these results. Schandle et al (2017) derive a somewhat comparable result from another new database (and look here for the present shortage of sand):

The international industrial ecology (IE) research community and United Nations (UN) Environment have, for the first time, agreed on an authoritative and comprehensive data set for globalmaterial extraction and trade covering 40 years of global economic activity and natural resource use… Only if economic growth and human development can become substantially decoupled from accelerating material use, waste, and emissions can the tensions inherent in the Sustainable Development Goals be resolved and inclusive human development be achieved. … The global results show a massive increase in materials extraction from 22 billion tonnes (Bt) in 1970 to 70 Bt in 2010, and an acceleration in material extraction since 2000

Both studies show what macro-economics can and should be. The authors still try to be optimistic, but their message isn’t: it is past twelve. When it comes to food production, Niek Koning is, in his new and wide ranging book about  this, slightly more optimistic. When we do not use too much land for bio-ethanol and comparable follies, restrict land use for cities a little, support and stabilize agricultural prices, back family farms with government supported research and do not pay too much attention to wealthy western middle class consumers who want to restrict use of chemical fertilizer and scientific pest control we just might manage to feed the additional four billion people which this century will people our earth.

  1. October 9, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    As a side notes, I don’t have the official statistics, but I think vegans have gone from about half a percent of the US market to closer to 2 percent in the last decade. Any statistical approach that attempts to project the difference in meat use linearly from developing to developed will be overly pessimistic.

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