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Degrowth and Environmental Justice: Decoupling

Jezri Krinsky
blobMetropolis, 2021
Level: beginner
Perspective: Ecological Economics
Topic: (De-)growth, Criticism of Capitalism, Resources, Environment & Climate, Social movements & Transformation
Format: Explainer Video
Duration: 7:36

Based on a paper by Jason Hickel and Giorgos Kallis Decoupling refers to the separation of economic value creation material extraction and pollution. Ecological limits pose a challenge to growth-led development and the low historical and predicted rate of decoupling suggests that long-term sustainable growth-led development is impossible. While it is important for some developing countries to increase their ecological impact in order to achieve a minimum social standard of living overall we should try and achieve development goals through extensive redistribution programmes and a direct focus on human welfare rather than economic growth. Further, continued environmental destruction for growth under the current will further worsen environmental injustice. And environmental justice means that only very selective growth should be pursued to remain within a safe ecological limit for humanity. (All ecological overshoots are driven by overconsumption in the global north rather than neo-Malthusian ideas of overpopulation in the global South, but more on this in another video). There has been absolute decoupling of fossil fuel emissions from growth in wealthy countries, and a rapid transition to renewables is a viable option for remaining below a 2-degree increase by 2100 but this is much easier to achieve with very low or growth and easier still with degrowth. Most scenarios that show otherwise depend on bioenergy with carbon capture and storage a highly speculative and probably costly technology. Decarbonization with low rates of growth or 'agrowth' is just about possible though. However, our dependence on material inputs and pollution more generally is much more difficult to decouple. There is no sign of an environmental Kuznets curve regarding dematerialization and a reduction in environmental damage more broadly. If measure using direct material consumption it appears wealthier countries have decoupled, but using material footprint a consumption-based measure this trend reverses.

Comment from our editors:

This is a little decontextualised and doesn't go over the overall concept of regrowth, its political economy or what selective growth may be necessary in the global South in order to provide some minimum acceptable standard of living. But this will be expanded upon in later videos.

Go to: Degrowth and Environmental Justice: Decoupling


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