The growth of the global economy is starting to outpace the growth of carbon emissions, and that “decoupling” has some massive—and exciting—implications for humanity’s continued ability to thrive, sustainably. The New York Times reports:
Last year, for the first time in the 40 years since both metrics have been recorded, global G.D.P. grew but global carbon emissions leveled off. Economists got excited, but they also acknowledged that it could have been an anomalous blip.
But a study released by the International Energy Agency last month found that the trend continued in 2015. In another study published on Tuesday, Nathaniel Aden, a research fellow at the World Resources Institute, a Washington think tank, found that since the start of the 21st century, 21 countries, including the United States, have already fully decoupled their economic growth from carbon emissions. In those countries, while G.D.P. went up over the past 15 years, carbon pollution went down.
“It’s really exciting, and it suggests that countries can sever the historic link between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr. Aden said.
Most green policies quickly fall flat thanks in large part to one of the central tenants of modern environmental thinking: that economic development and environmental stewardship are mutually exclusive. The modern green spends a great deal of time cursing the world for having the audacity to choose growth over Gaia, and then wonders why no one pays any attention to half baked solutions to the supposedly apocalyptic problems now facing humanity. But eco-fecklessness isn’t hard to understand: donning the hair shirt in service of some far off goal is neither a popular nor a politically expedient strategy.
This is why decoupling is so important: it allows us to have our cake and eat it, too. We’ve long maintained that environmentally friendly policies don’t necessarily preclude economic growth, and in fact that’s something the United States has already proven in recent years (thanks in no small part to the shale boom). This divergence between growth and emissions is only going to accelerate as the world continues to move towards a less energy intensive, more efficient economy based on the manipulation of information rather than the production of, well, stuff.
So here’s yet another reminder (if you needed one): don’t listen to the Malthusian Chicken Littles of the world. We face some difficult challenges this century with climate change near the top of the list, but the sky isn’t falling—we can grow, green.