Contributors: Norgard, Jorgen (Technical University of Denmark)
Scientific paper contribution: The delusion of decoupling environmental impact and economic activities – How to mitigate rebound effect
Keywords: Decoupling, Rebound effect, Labor input, Work time, IPAT.
Narrative step: The current financial and environmental crises call for an open view on the measures available for approaching a degrowth economy, including lower production, work sharing, low birth rates, and more equity nationally as well as globally. Financial policies must adapt to these developments, allowing for degrowth ‘without tears’.
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 ‘A’. All three factors are in the equation coupled to ‘I’, and in general we should avoid using the misleading terminology of decoupling 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’. This relief, however, tends to rebound 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 from the ‘I’ decrease. The paper suggest this to be achievable in affluent countries, by allowing declining ‘P’ through low birth rates, and allowing ‘A’ to decline by lowering labor input into the economy, for instance in exchange for more satisfactory work conditions, etc. Both measures are in line with some trends in public preferences in Western Europe.