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Decoupling (or eco-economic decoupling)

Decoupling refers to the idea of disconnecting the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) from increases in environmental impacts – climate change in particular. The term is sometimes used more broadly in relation to overall human well-being rather than GDP. The idea of decoupling is based on the understanding that economic growth often goes hand in hand with increases in environmental impacts. Advocates of decoupling think that advances in technology will provide ways of fostering economic growth without increasing the use of resources or the generation of environmental impacts, and without requiring radical shifts in aspirations as to what constitutes a ‘good’ standard of living. Decoupling can be used both in a relative sense (e.g. a lower ratio of environmental impacts versus GDP) and in an absolute sense (i.e. the overall amount of environmental impacts is reduced). Relative decoupling is sometimes criticised for being open ended and thereby failing to speak to the need of keeping production and consumption levels within environmental limits. In general, critics question whether decoupling (both relative and absolute) is feasible for diverse reasons: because of the possibility of rebound effects; because it is unlikely to be possible to separate the production of goods and services from resource use (and the impacts of this resource use) to the degree that is necessary; and because the growth-based economic paradigm on which faith in decoupling is based fails to challenge the potential insatiability of human demand – an insatiability which (it is argued) lies at the root of our environmental crisis.