You are here

Jevon's Paradox

Green growth vs degrowth: are we missing the point?

By Beth Stratford - Open Democracy, December 4, 2020

It’s time to stop talking past each other and unite against the real enemies of environmental justice.

The row about ecological limits to growth is back with a vengeance. On one side are those who are deeply sceptical about the idea of ‘infinite growth on a finite planet’. They argue that to be sure of offering a good life for all within planetary boundaries, we need to kick our addiction to consumption growth (in wealthy countries at least). These ‘green growth sceptics’ include those advocating for ‘degrowth’, ‘prosperity without growth’, ‘steady state economics’, ‘doughnut economics’ and ‘wellbeing economics’.

In the opposite corner are ‘green growth’ advocates who believe that the historical relationship between GDP and environmental impact can be not just weakened but effectively severed. For green growthers, the key to maintaining a habitable planet is decoupling — reducing the environmental impact associated with each pound or dollar of GDP. By deploying new technologies, and shifting the nature of our consumption, they argue we can do our bit for the environment while continuing to grow GDP, even in wealthy countries.

Green growth sceptics do not dispute the need for decoupling, but observe that the faster we grow the faster we have to decouple. Even a modest goal like 2% growth per year implies doubling the scale of consumption every 35 years. Unfortunately, we have never approached the rates of decoupling that would be necessary for rich countries to get back within their fair share of ecological space while maintaining that kind of exponential growth.

Green growth advocates tend to respond that the historical record shouldn’t be taken as a guide to what is possible in future. Pessimism about future technological breakthroughs will be self-fulfilling, they say.

For some this is a compelling and entertaining debate. But it is not going to be settled in a timeframe that is useful for maintaining a habitable planet. In the meantime, these adversaries are in danger of delivering a major own goal. Because the more time we spend in nerdy (and sometimes venomous) exchanges about decoupling, the less time we have to build the broad-based movement we need to take on the vested interests who benefit from the status quo.

The Industrial Workers’ Climate Plan: A Great Green Charter

By various - Bristol IWW, 2019

An ecology movement that once seemed jaded is budding and blossoming beautifully. The fantastic efforts of the school strikes’ movement and groups like Extinction Rebellion, Earth Strike and the Green Anti-Capitalist Front have forced green issues back into mainstream public debate. This achievement has been marked by declarations that there is a ‘climate emergency’, first by the Welsh and Scottish governments and then, fittingly on 1st May, by the UK Parliament. A fortnight earlier, the University of Bristol had become the first UK university to declare a climate emergency. So successful have these campaigns been that there is now a broad consensus that something must be done. It is essential to build on this achievement and keep up the momentum. We urgently need to continue the conversation about what do to now.

Alongside the general strikes for climate action in September 2019, Earth Strike is therefore proposing that a Great Green Charter would be a powerful rallying document for the environmental crisis of the Twenty-First Century. The nineteenth-century movement called Chartism inspired the idea of a Great Green Charter. The Chartists drew up clear and agreed points which they pursued with a mix of political, economic and cultural approaches. Chartism became the largest reform movement of its time, taken up by thousands of ordinary people across the United Kingdom. The Chartists were successful, in as much as most of the points listed on ‘The People’s Charter’ were eventually attained, and even exceeded. While this was not within the years of Chartism, and achieved only after great struggle, the Chartists defined the terms of political reform for the decades to come.

Read the report (PDF).

Does the transition to the Circular Economy on a global scale enhance mechanisms of intragenerational inequality?

By Sara Huier - International Development Studies and Global Studies, Roskilde University, April 2019

The study argues that the Circular Economy (CE) model often privileges the Global North economies’ standpoint, revealing a significant inadequacy. Therefore, the present research investigates the extent of the disparities in closed-loop strategies between developed and developing countries. The objective of the analysis is to understand whether these contingencies are relevant and whether they are the display of global economy dynamics that reinforce mechanisms of inequality, conflicting with the Sustainable Development rationale.

It is found that the analysis corroborates the existence of imbalanced drivers, opportunities, barriers and drawbacks between the Global North and the Global South, although potential benefits for the South are entailed. However, it also emerges the existence of critical transnational dynamics which may prevent the achievement of CE objectives globally. The existence of these overlooked and unaddressed global forces is identified as the actual problem of the CE model. Indeed, the narrow focus of the CE on production processes and local, national and regional dynamics diverts the attention from the Global Value Chains. Thus, it is recommended to analyse the global CE structure by applying the Global Value Chain framework, in order to investigate if it is possible to overcome the exposed CE’s limits.

Read the Report (PDF).

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.