There’s a link at Naked Capitalism to a Real News Network debate between Bob Pollin and Peter Victor over whether degrowth is part of the answer to the threat of climate change. I posted a comment to NC, but it never got posted. Readers of EconoSpeak might be interested, however, so I’m putting it up here.
I put a question about this on a statistics exam a couple of weeks ago, based on recent work by Mir and Storm challenging the so-called Carbon Kuznets Curve. (Updated from the original comment.) The evidence that increases in GDP per capita are strongly correlated with increases in carbon emissions per capita is incontrovertible. If you use a consumption-based rather than production-based metric for emissions, no decoupling is yet visible.
But: correlation is not causation (that was the answer), and the GDP per capita variable is, ahem, not identified. In fact, from the vantage point of the broad sweep of human history, it seems clear to me that the discovery and exploitation of fossil fuel resources has been a major boon to economic growth. To put it negatively, if we adhere to the program of reducing fossil fuel consumption (weighted by greenhouse effect) by 8% per year, we are likely to see economic growth here and elsewhere take a major hit. I realize that Bob Pollin disagrees, and that’s worth exploring at some point, but let’s put that aside for now.
To the extent that decarbonization will have negative effects on measured economic output, what do we do about it? What bothers me about the degrowthers is that they appear to celebrate this. Who needs all that nasty GDP stuff? Let’s simplify our lifestyles and turn economic shrinkage into an opportunity. I think the unreality of that position, it’s disinterest in how economic collapse is likely to play out in the real world, is frightening. (Or it’s just sprinkled with fairy dust, as in Naomi Klein’s assurance that we will have both reductions in GDP and an increase in jobs. Right.)
So I guess I have problems with both sides. I think it will be difficult to prevent serious economic harm if we mobilize against climate change, and we should do what we can to keep that harm to a minimum.