April 4, 2018
I recently wrote an article for Fast Company explaining why “green growth” is not a thing. I looked at three high-profile studies showing that even aggressive taxes and rapid improvements in technological efficiency will not be enough to cut global resource use as long as we keep growing the world economy. Right now we are consuming about 85 billion tons of material stuff per year, exceeding the sustainable threshold by 70%. According to the UN, our resource use will rise to at least 132 billion tons per year by 2050, and possibly as high as 180 billion tons.
It is on this basis that scientists have concluded that absolute decoupling of GDP from aggregate resource use is not possible. But the ecomodernists at the Breakthrough Institute aren’t convinced. Linus Blomqvist wrote a blog post responding to my article, arguing that focusing on aggregate material flows is “misleading”, and that in reality absolute decoupling “is still a very real possibility.” The stakes are high. After all, decoupling is the central objective of ecomodernism. No decoupling, no ecomodernism.
Blomqvist seems to agree that absolute decoupling of GDP from aggregate material use is not possible; or at least he doesn’t dispute the point. But we needn’t worry about this fact, he says; it doesn’t matter if we keep using more and more resources each year, because aggregate material use is not a meaningful proxy for environmental impact. Industrial and construction materials, for instance, “account for a pretty small portion of environmental impacts like greenhouse gas emissions or land use,” and while biomass use keeps growing, land use has peaked (at least for now).