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The decoupling delusion: rethinking growth and sustainability

James Ward and colleagues write in The Conversation (13.3.17) about the conundrum of economic growth and increased prosperity in the developed world coming at the expense of the environment and its largely finite resources.

'Our economy and society ultimately depend on natural resources: land, water, material (such as metals) and energy. But some scientists have recognised that there are hard limits to the amount of these resources we can use. It is our consumption of these resources that is behind environmental problems such as extinction, pollution and climate change.

'Even supposedly “green” technologies such as renewable energy require materials, land and solar exposure, and cannot grow indefinitely on this (or any) planet.

'Most economic policy around the world is driven by the goal of maximising economic growth (or increase in gross domestic product – GDP). Economic growth usually means using more resources. So if we can’t keep using more and more resources, what does this mean for growth?

'Most conventional economists and policymakers now endorse the idea that growth can be “decoupled” from environmental impacts – that the economy can grow, without using more resources and exacerbating environmental problems.'

 

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