The delusion of decoupling, and policy options for mitigating the rebound effect and the environmental impact

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Abstract

When analyzing environmental problems, it is useful to apply the following simple equation for the environmental impact ‘I’, (here representing energy consumption):
I = P·A·T,
With ‘P’ representing population, ‘A’ affluence per capita, and ‘T’ resource intensity, i.e. energy per affluence unit ‘A’. All three factors are through the equation coupled to ‘I’, and in general we should avoid using the misleading terminology of decoupling environmental impact (energy consumption) from the economy, represented by ‘P·A’. So far essentially all policies towards lowering ‘I’ has been devoted towards technical increase in energy efficiency, i.e., lowering ‘T’. The relief thereby obtained on ‘I’, however, tends to be rebounded by increasing both ‘P’ and ‘A’, which pull ‘I’ upwards.
In a future degrowth economy, aiming at reducing ‘I’ significantly, focusing only on ‘T’ will not suffice. We must also reduce, or at least limit, ‘P’ and ‘A’, including their rebound growth from the ‘T’ decrease. The paper suggest this to be achievable in affluent countries, by letting ‘P’ decline through low birth rates, and encouraging ‘A’ to decline in exchange for lowering labor input to the economy, partly as shorter work time, and/or more satisfactory work conditions. A rather painless way to reduce ‘A’ can be to gradually extend the life time of durable goods, i.e. slowing down their repetitive replacement. The measures are in line with some trends in public preferences in Western Europe, but totally incompatible with the prevailing financial growth policy pursued by most governments.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2014
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventFourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity - Leipzig, Germany
Duration: 2 Sep 20146 Sep 2014
Conference number: 4

Conference

ConferenceFourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity
Number4
CountryGermany
CityLeipzig
Period02/09/201406/09/2014

Keywords

  • Decoupling
  • Rebound effect
  • In-direct energy
  • Labor input
  • Work time
  • IPAT

Cite this

Nørgaard, J. (2014). The delusion of decoupling, and policy options for mitigating the rebound effect and the environmental impact. Paper presented at Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, Leipzig, Germany.
Nørgaard, Jørgen. / The delusion of decoupling, and policy options for mitigating the rebound effect and the environmental impact. Paper presented at Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, Leipzig, Germany.12 p.
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Nørgaard, J 2014, 'The delusion of decoupling, and policy options for mitigating the rebound effect and the environmental impact', Paper presented at Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, Leipzig, Germany, 02/09/2014 - 06/09/2014.

The delusion of decoupling, and policy options for mitigating the rebound effect and the environmental impact. / Nørgaard, Jørgen.

2014. Paper presented at Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, Leipzig, Germany.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review

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AB - When analyzing environmental problems, it is useful to apply the following simple equation for the environmental impact ‘I’, (here representing energy consumption):I = P·A·T,With ‘P’ representing population, ‘A’ affluence per capita, and ‘T’ resource intensity, i.e. energy per affluence unit ‘A’. All three factors are through the equation coupled to ‘I’, and in general we should avoid using the misleading terminology of decoupling environmental impact (energy consumption) from the economy, represented by ‘P·A’. So far essentially all policies towards lowering ‘I’ has been devoted towards technical increase in energy efficiency, i.e., lowering ‘T’. The relief thereby obtained on ‘I’, however, tends to be rebounded by increasing both ‘P’ and ‘A’, which pull ‘I’ upwards.In a future degrowth economy, aiming at reducing ‘I’ significantly, focusing only on ‘T’ will not suffice. We must also reduce, or at least limit, ‘P’ and ‘A’, including their rebound growth from the ‘T’ decrease. The paper suggest this to be achievable in affluent countries, by letting ‘P’ decline through low birth rates, and encouraging ‘A’ to decline in exchange for lowering labor input to the economy, partly as shorter work time, and/or more satisfactory work conditions. A rather painless way to reduce ‘A’ can be to gradually extend the life time of durable goods, i.e. slowing down their repetitive replacement. The measures are in line with some trends in public preferences in Western Europe, but totally incompatible with the prevailing financial growth policy pursued by most governments.

KW - Decoupling

KW - Rebound effect

KW - In-direct energy

KW - Labor input

KW - Work time

KW - IPAT

M3 - Paper

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Nørgaard J. The delusion of decoupling, and policy options for mitigating the rebound effect and the environmental impact. 2014. Paper presented at Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, Leipzig, Germany.