Friday, June 5, 2015

Secular Stagnation vs. Global Warming

Who needs decoupling when we've already got maximum feasible disconnect? Is there a difference? Probably not.

"Decoupling" refers to the wishful thinking that GDP growth can be decoupled from greenhouse gas emissions. There are two problems with this pipe dream -- actually three problems. The first problem arises from the distinction between relative and absolute decoupling. Relative decoupling means that GHG emissions continue to rise, just not as fast as GDP growth. Relative decoupling happens.

Absolute decoupling requires that GHG emissions stop growing or decrease while GDP continues to grow. It has never happened.

The second problem is that mere absolute decoupling of GHG emissions from GDP growth is not enough. To stabilize or reduce atmospheric GHG concentration requires reducing GHG emissions to a level at or below the natural rate of absorption of GHG.

The third problem is that there doesn't appear to be the political will to even aim at mere absolute decoupling. The rhetoric of decoupling obscures the distinction between relative and absolute decoupling and celebrates the former as if it was a "sign of progress" toward the latter.

In contrast to the decoupling discourse, disconnect simply talks about restoring output growth to its "potential" without mentioning or considering the relationship between industrial activity and GHG emissions. In disconnect mode, there is no need to pretend that relative decoupling is a sign of progress toward absolute decoupling. That's another department.

But, really, since relative decoupling is inherent in the technological trend, anyway. It probably makes little difference whether one is ignoring the connection between industrial activity and GHG emissions or pretending that a worsening situation is a sign of progress toward improvement.


Bruce Wilder said...

I thought this was a useful post, in its plain and unadorned simplicity.

Economics could be useful to us, in a practical sense, if it were not already so useful in an impractical sense.

Kas Thomas said...

Great post. Until decoupling happens maybe we should just use greenhouse gas emissions in place of GDP. It's simple, it's empirical, it can't be gamed. Some graphs of this would be nice.