Can We Cut Carbon Emissions and Still Have Economic Growth?

This Real News Network segment marshals data to make a provocative argument: there are more ways to decouple carbon emissions and GDP growth than most observers believe. This isn’t airy fairy idealism but a look at the experience of the 21 countries that have increased GDP while lowering their carbon output.

Given the short time of this interview, this is a still a nuanced discussion. I apologize for the lack of a transcript, but Real News Network did not supply one. And I must remind readers: listen to the video before commenting. It’s discourteous to blurt out your opinion without having listened to the argument made and the data presented.

And there is a second issue: can carbon emissions be reduced enough to ward off disastrous outcomes without reduction in growth? On the one hand, both advanced and emerging economies are profligate in the way we use resources. If there were a full bore effort to tackle this issue, I believe vastly more could be achieved on this front than is now dreamed possible. But we have too much of what passed for talent in this country being sucked into activities with low to negative social value, like implementing the gig economy, designing financial “innovations,” and lobbying.

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  1. tony

    Why should we even care so much about GDP anyway? Jobs, leisure time, healthy society contribute far more to the general well being.

  2. rusti

    I can’t say I found any of the answers particularly compelling. The most important question by the interviewer (as far as industrial civilization is concerned) was his suggestion that the Western countries are simply exporting their emissions to China, and the answer was that the tiny economies of Uzbekistan and Bulgaria (who have less than 1% of US GDP combined) increased their “industrial” share of GDP incidentally with growth?

    GDP is an arbitrary metric, so we can absolutely have “growth” without increasing the rate at which we burn stuff by changing the definition of which sorts of enterprises are included in the calculation. But that requires massive political organization against the short-term interests of much of the current oligarchy.

  3. Fiver

    We need a better idea of what the prices of oil and its various derivatives are going to be with some degree of confidence into the future before even beginning to answer the question. One of my fears is that this Saudi oil price gambit was perhaps really aimed at taking out green technology as much or more than US oil shale. A good reason to put a nice chunk of any potential ‘infrastructure’ money into solving the basic energy questions once and for all.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I don’t think there is any reason to doubt that the prime target of the Saudi’s was oil shale. There is, at present, very little competition between renewables and oil. Almost all renewable energy is for electricity, and the biggest user of oil is transport. Renewables threaten coal and gas production, not oil, at least in the short to medium term. The Saudi’s are actually very interested in solar developments, as they see it as a way of displacing domestic oil demand to help them maintain their exports.

      However, you are right to say that low oil prices have had an impact on renewables, and not just for the obvious reasons. A lot of investment in renewables is actually made by western oil firms (especially Statoil of Norway and Elf of France), and they have a lot less money now than they did. It has also created a lot of uncertainty among investors which had led to a more conservative approach to investing in all forms of energy.

      1. different clue

        Since France ( the home of Elf) is right next to North West Africa, France ( and Elf to the extent of its investment in bulk-commodity production of solar electricity), Elf perhaps with French government guidance and support might still have incentive to invest in trial solar electricity farms in Morocco and Algeria. If they work to the satisfaction of France and Elf and Morocco and Algeria alike, then Elf can go on to work with Morocco and Algeria to install vast electro-generation solar farms in Morocco and Algeria.

        The electricity could be sold to users in Mo-Al first of all, but once all Mo-Al needs and wants were satisfied, the vast huge surplus could be sold to France and if France had more than it could use, it could set up transmission lines to move electricity into Germany, etc.

        And for when the sun goes down? Spend the day electrolizing water and storing the hydrogen. Spend the nights burning the hydrogen back down to produce electricity. Storing hydrogen a problem? Even in huge high pressure tanks right there on site? Perhaps that super-microporous carbon mentioned in past comments could be used to store vast amounts of hydrogen in a low-pressure para-liquid state in/on/among all those micropores in the carbon.

      2. Fiver

        ‘I don’t think there is any reason to doubt that the prime target of the Saudi’s was oil shale.’

        Really? The Saudi target was US shale only with the agreement of the Obama Admin, as it’s simply obtuse to believe the Saudis would make such a huge decision on their own, let alone in direct opposition to US ‘interests’. Now, I have more than once here speculated that Obama just might go along with such a move given fracking is an environmental nightmare, and given the suspicion that shale oil production at its pace at peak could not be maintained, meaning it was a relatively short-term bubble (which Yves and others argued here many times). But I have to point out that tar sands production has just kept rising, and the increasing production from Iraq and Iran together will almost entirely offset the (now) too-expensive shale. That’s one very expensive non-victory for the Saudis – and of course fracking technology can and will be deployed throughout the globe in response to price.

        On the other hand, if the Saudis, with US direction or approval, were aiming at Russia, they have certainly inflicted real damage, and indeed it is precisely speculation re a Russian/Saudi production ‘freeze’ that has WTI oil back above $40 – a price where the most efficient frackers can make money.

        So, barring a new war (Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia) and given most producers as nations have invested so much in their oil dreams, relatively cheap oil for an extended period of years would very seriously undercut the entire ‘green’ program. Just the other day we were greeted with the disturbing news in the US that giant SUV’s were back and sales booming. With the re-financialization of oil held somewhat in check by continuing ample supply, the key players in the global oil industry could well have come to the conclusion that a managed, ‘affordable’ price that keeps them in business is preferable to higher, short-term profits that drive business and consumers to seek alternatives.

        Market forces are not going to resolve this in favour of the environment: high prices drive ruinously dirtier oil, low prices drive greater consumption/emissions. It is going to take a massive, positive program actually aimed at achieving results – and if Obama intends to spend a quarter-trillion dollars for ‘infrastructure’ there would be no better bang for the buck than to allocate a substantial chunk of that money for taking the most promising alternatives forward in a serious way for the first time.

        1. different clue


          We’ll just have petro-carbon skydumping as far as the eye can see, then.

          Well! . . . . Isn’t that special.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    It is nice to see some potentially good news, but I would have an issue with the assumptions about the transition from coal to gas. He states that methane emissions in the US have dropped while gas use has gone up – I’m not sure where that fact comes from – from my knowledge of the issue there is a real lack of data about methane emissions, and strong concerns that they may in fact be much higher than present figures assume. I’ve seen research that indicates that gas generated electricity is in fact worse that coal if you take the ‘worst case’ scenario assumptions on gas leakage from gas rig to power plant. And it is a very long term source of emission as numerous gas fields emit methane from poorly plugged wells long after production has ceased.

    But with that caveat, it is undoubtedly true that a high standard of living can be maintained if a country has a reasonable set of sources of renewables. In most cases (not all), a rapid transition to renewables will lead to higher energy prices which necessarily reduces per person wealth, but it doesn’t necessary have to be unacceptably high, and arguably other factors (such as reduced imports and more jobs) could realistically balance this out. Most countries can generate 30% or more of their power from renewables without any real long term financial cost. Getting to 90% or more is much more difficult, especially for relatively densely populated countries. Many energy saving investments have a very good payback return – they are not implemented more for structural than economic reasons (for example, office and housing developers have little incentive to make buildings energy efficient as it is future tenants and owners who will be paying for energy use).

    When someone brings up the issue of developing countries, the situation is better than is often appreciated. Developing countries have two advantages:

    1. They often have more ‘low lying fruit’ to pluck – for example, old style inefficient industries which can easily be replaced. China has a vast legacy of old industry which can and should be shut down, with very significant benefits.

    2. They lack an overhang of older infrastructure, so can, to an extent ‘start from scratch’. As an obvious example, in African countries with poor electricity infrastructure, investment in decentralised networks using solar and local hydro can make far more economic sense than building big power plants with the necessary power line provision. This is one reason why so many poor countries have such excellent mobile phone networks – they didn’t have to deal with a transition from an old line based network, so they just jumped a technology generation.

    However, one thing the article did not address is the issue of existing investment infrastructure. Had we started back in the 1980’s, we could have carried out a transition using the natural lifecycle of power plants, cars, etc. This would be relatively ‘cheap’. But we’ve run out of time. If we take climate change seriously, this means we have to start shutting down relatively new power plants, replacing perfectly good infrastructure with new systems. This involves waste, significant cost, and ultimately, a financial ‘cost’ to society. It is absolutely necessary, but it can’t be denied that it will result in extra costs.

    1. Paper Mac

      “Most countries can generate 30% or more of their power from renewables without any real long term financial cost. Getting to 90% or more is much more difficult, especially for relatively densely populated countries.”

      I think the lower EROEI associated with renewables is a significant cost (less energy surplus is available for non-energy needs) that is not commonly accounted for in this kind of back-of-the-envelope calculation. We also tend to ignore the implicit fossil subsidies associated with mining, transport, production, etc needed to build and operate reneweable installations.

  5. Paper Mac

    The response to the question about decoupling being an artefact of the unit of analysis (nation-state) is evasive and difficult to reconcile with recent data. Aden acknowledges that outsourcing of industrial production is, in fact, how all but two of the countries on the list (Uzbekistan and Bulgaria) achieved their relative “decoupling”, and then goes on to insist that even when you account for embodied emissions in trade, the observed national decouplings are still occuring. I find this assertion really difficult to believe given that rigorous analysis of material consumption associated with trade ( has found that the supposed dematerialisation of Western economies is bunk when you account for trade/outsourced production and that fully “two-fifths of all global raw materials were extracted and used just to enable exports of goods and services to other countries”. Aden is also apparently relying on EPA figures for methane emissions associated with fracking, which are probably wrong (

    Overall, I think the value in this kind of analysis is pretty limited. There are definitely problems with the unit of analysis that can’t be handwaved away (“yes decarbonisation is partially a function of outsourcing production but its a complex multivariable problem”- ok so do your analysis on global datasets..). It’s also not clear that GDP per se measures anything that we care about from a biophysical/environmental economics perspective. Yes, ponzi finance makes “growth” look less carbon intensive- but why lump this in with actual physical production?

    The basic questions of what material and energy flows are required to maintain particular levels of social consumption in a sustainable fashion (which is what we actually care about, in general- can we keep people fed, housed, etc given some set of constraints) are answerable. The utility of constructs like national GDP is extremely limited in these contexts. The fixation with these measurements seems to be an artefact of the unwillingness to deal seriously with the fact that the system which prioritises them is visibly failing, in part because the actual problems are rendered illegible by their use.

    1. Paper Mac

      I’m also a little surprised RN interviewed this guy and didn’t bother talking to Minqi Li, who they’ve had on before and who recently published China and the 21st Cenutry Crisis, which did a quite rigorous analysis of Chinese growth and found that it was extremely tightly coupled to fossil fuel use and that renewables cannot plausibly replace FFs in maintaining Chinese growth. If that’s true of China, the supposed future engine of growth, how can there be global decoupling more generally?

    2. financial matters

      “”The basic questions of what material and energy flows are required to maintain particular levels of social consumption in a sustainable fashion (which is what we actually care about, in general- can we keep people fed, housed, etc given some set of constraints)””

      I think this is a key point and brings up the subject of unconditional social provisioning. (keeping in mind that we currently don’t have a ‘living’ minimum wage). Alyssa Battistoni discusses this in ‘The Green and the Red’ in “The Future We Want”.

      “It (payment for ecosystem services) gestures toward an economy that recognizes the value of care given to ecosystems, and the value of the work necessary to sustain life. It can also recognize the value of not working in the name of sustainability, as in programs that pay people not to cut down trees – compensating them for income forgone in the name of global sustainability.”

      “Done right, a reevaluation of work undertaken from an ecological perspective could elevate the unpaid work of making a social world.”

      “In short, we need to divorce income from conventional notions of production, and institute a social wage – perhaps most obviously in the form of a universal basic income.”

      “The dream of freedom from waged labor and self-realization beyond work suddenly looks less like utopia than necessity; divorcing individual consumption from production is looking more and more like the only way to live in the face of resource constraints.”

    3. different clue

      Paper Mac,

      Has anyone tried guesstimating how much of the fossil carbon burned is burned strictly to enable exports of goods and services to and from countries? If carbon burned just to enable such trade is the same “two fifths” of all global carbon burned in proportion to all the raw materials used to enable that same export . . . . then Free Trade itself is directly responsible in the very narrowest terms for 40% of all the fossil carbon skydumping there is.

      So shrinking this inter-country trade in goods and services to the very lowest feasibly tolerable level would shrink the carbon skydumping down to a size perhaps solvable country by country as well.

      Free Trade is the new Global Atmospheric AuschwitzSauna Heat Death.
      Protectionism is the new Last Chance for Human Survival.

      1. Paper Mac

        The figure depends on how you draw the boundaries- do you include port operations, logistics chains associated with intermediate products, etc, or just shipping? Part of the elegance of the PNAS paper that I linked is that they look at overall resource intensiveness of particular industries globally, rather than segmenting the analysis in this way. If you’re just talking about shipping the IMO estimates it’s around 3% of global carbon emissions. I suspect the actual figure is a bit higher. If you include all of the various fossil-powered activities that would not otherwise be happening in some kind of idealised autarchic world, I don’t know what the number would be, but I suspect something like 20-40%.

  6. Cry Shop

    One of the things I have admired about how a large swath of the Japanese have dealt with their long recession is they have questioned an underlying assumption of modern life: First, is economic growth a good thing?.

    Growth in consumerism isn’t just profligate with materials, it’s profligate with lives. In the attempt to excuse and justify more and more consumption, tricks like creating a recycling industry (instead of a recycling lifestyle). It’s not just creating hell on earth in China. Now our deadly consumer waste pollution is joining the dioxins that we sprayed all over South East Asia. Our attempts to ameliorate our concious over the distruction wrought by consumerismis even taking lives inside the USA,

    1. divadab

      They are also managing their population decline much more sensibly than other advanced societies – with robotics. They allow no immigration – why should the people of the sun allow dilution with what they consider lesser breeds? Compare and contrast with the utter stupidity of the German approach – to import willy nilly the surplus population of the most irresponsible breeders on the planet.

      The human population of the planet has to be reduced – and more importantly, its wasteful and destructive energy impact eliminated. We have to change our way of life and its underlying false ideology of growth (the ethos of a cancer). Conventional measures of GDP and growth
      are simply not relevent to a planetary systems approach that respects the living planet and the complex and wonderful processes that sustain life on earth.

    2. different clue

      I wonder if we need a new word for “consumerism”. The word “consumerism” still has favorable connotations from when Ralph Nader and other “consumer activists” coined it to mean “consumers demanding safety and quality of their consumables”.

      Perhaps the new word for mindless burning of mass quantities of energy into waste heat in order to turn mass quantities of matter into waste crap should be . . . “consumptionism”. From “consumption” . . . you know?

  7. Kulantan

    I’m bored so here is a transcript:

    Gregory Wilpert: Welcome to the Real News Network. My name is Gregory Willpert and I’m coming to you from Quito Ecuador.

    Some rare good news on climate change; 21 countries have managed to reduce carbon emissions while growing their gross domestic product or GDP which is one of primary indicators used to gauge the health of a county’s economy. This is according to a new report form the World Resources Institute, a non-governmental global research organization focused on sustainable natural resource management.

    Ecologists and economists have long debated as to whether it is possible to maintain economic growth while at the same time reducing greenhouse gases. A large part of the debate stems from the fact that, historically speaking, ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution economic growth took place together with growth in emissions of greenhouses gases, particularly carbon dioxide. If that trend were to continue it would mean that we cannot prevent global warming or that we would have to dramatically reduce the size and scope of our economy.

    So the big question is, is de-linking of economic growth and carbon emissions possible? Can we avoid a dilemma between ecological versus economic crisis? Also can we meet the goals set up in the Paris climate agreement that was signed last December in order to avoid catastrophic climate change?

    With us to discuss this new report “The Roads to Decoupling: 21 Countries are Reducing Carbon Emissions while Growing GDP” is its author Nate Aden, research fellow with WRI’s global climate program and also with the Energy and Resources group at the University of California Berkeley and has been working on researching energy issuses for over ten years. He is joining us from Washington DC. Welcome to the Real News Network Nate.

    Nate Aden: Thanks Greg

    Gregory Wilpert: So this is exactly what the aim of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been all about; de-linking GDP from greenhouse gas emissions. I should also add that there was another report recently that came out from the Global Carbon Project that says 2015 was the first year where global economic growth increase but global carbon emissions decrease, so would you say that, are we seeing a shift from the last 150 years where economic growth and global economy have been linked to gas emissions? Is this de-linking really occurring, what do you say?

    Nate Aden: Yes, we’ve had brief periods, maybe a couple of years, one or two years previously, where countries diverged in terms of the GDP growth and greenhouse gas emissions. But this is the first sustained large scale decoupling that we’ve seen among multiple countries. What I’ve found in my research is that more than 20 countries globally have increased their real GDP, so that’s accounting for inflation, at the same time that they’ve reduced greenhouse gas emissions over the fourteen year period from 2002 to 2014.

    2014 is the year with the most recent data so what’s notable about this is that it’s a new unhinging of this previously strong relationship that really developed during the Industrial Revolution in term of our mode of economic growth. Which has been very resource and carbon intensive and now these countries, this growing group of countries is indicating that there’s a new mode of growth that’s emerging as an alternative to the emissions intensive growth that we had during the 20th century.

    Gregory Wilpert: Let’s take a look at the list of countries. I mean one of the notable things is that most of the countries seem to be basically based in Europe and the United States. So what some critics would say if looking at this list is that richer nations, such as Europe and the USA are merely exporting climate change by moving their corporations and manufacturing to other countries such as China or other countries where emissions continue to increase. So is there an export perhaps going on of the greenhouse emissions. So in other words, how did they actually decouple? What did your research find? Can the decoupling be replicated in poorer countries?

    Nate Aden: Great, yeah so the list is actually diverse than I expected when I started this research. I had initially observed it in the richer countries including the USA and the UK. But as I started to look at the data there is a large range of countries including many post-soviet republics and former communist countries such as Uzbekistan, Bulgaria, the Ukraine.

    There are several mechanisms that countries are using to achieve the decoupling of greenhouse gases and GDP. One of the large mechanisms they’re using is reducing the industrial share of GDP and importing those goods that would otherwise be produced in domestic manufacturing. However there are two countries within this group that successfully de-carbonised that actually increased their industry share of GDP and that would be Uzbekistan and Bulgaria. So those are sort of exceptional post soviet, post communist countries where there’s a unique story of really terribly inefficient capacity around 2000, much of which was replaced in the subsequent 15 years.

    However there is no single route which all of these countries are using for decoupling. So many countries did reduced the industry share of GDP, but other countries really achieved these changes through increases in renewable energy use and cleaner energy consumption overall. In the case of the US switching predominantly coal use to natural gas use. That’s a big improvement in terms of carbon emissions.

    There are a few different point here. One is that there;s no single route for decoupling in all countries. The other is that this de-industrialisation that has been observed in many countries is itself a complex phenomenon where it’s driven primarily by higher productivity growth in industry and services so that means that the industrial sector requires less input in terms of energy and labour. So that’s been part of the large job impacts that some countries have seen but it also mean that there’s fewer carbon emissions associated with that industrial production. Efficiency improvements and process shifts within industry, so for example for steel production in many of these countries there’s an accumulated stock of steel so that we can do more recycled steel in our economies which is much less energy intensive than virgin steel production, so that’s one example.

    The third big trend, which is what a lot of people focus on, is globalization. Particularly the fragmentation of supply chains in the rise of trade. That is a significant issue here, however analysis that’s looked at the embodiment of trade, that is the emissions associated with imports, has found that you still have more than 20 countries that are decoupling even if you account for the emissions that are embodied in their increasing trade. So that’s not the only factor here. Its a complex picture with several causal variables.

    Gregory Wilpert: Now let me just get back to a couple of them. We don’t have much time left, but one of the issues that you mentioned us the increased natural gas use in the United States, but would that perhaps mean that there’s an increase of methane emissions and wouldn’t you also have to factor in the ways in which that natural gas use is achieved. For example through fracking, which instead perhaps contaminating the water supply instead of the air. Wouldn’t that be a factor, lets say in the United States ?

    Nate Aden: Its a great question and the short answer is that methane emissions have dropped in the United States at the same time that we have increased fracking, total methane emissions have declined. That’s not to say that the methane emissions and other contaminants and pollutants form fracking are not a problem but this assessment is really sort of the tip of the iceberg.

    Its looking at two very simple variables; carbon emissions and GDP. There’s much more to economics and human development and prosperity than GDP, there’s jobs and other variables. Those are equally important and I’m not saying that GDP is that only thing. Its just that that’s where the data are available right now for looking across countries for this period.

    On the greenhouse gas side; carbon is the largest greenhouse gas that we’re responsible for but of course methane, nitrous oxide, there is a slew of other gases that are equally important. The issue again is just one of data availability. What I focused on in this analysis is energy related CO2 because that is where the data are available internationally through 2014 and generally there is a covariance between energy related CO2 and total greenhouse gas emissions. Certainly that is what we’ve found in the US but this is an area that needs further research in term of both economic and greenhouse gas side of the ledger here.

    Gregory Wilpert: We’re basically out of time, but let me just add another reflection quickly. I mean one of the things that one could say is that you mentioned for example the countries of Eastern Europe, that they stated from a very high point of emissions because they had very inefficient industries and were able to become more efficient. But then the question is, well wouldn’t that level off at some point? Is there point at which the efficiency gains level off and where we really need to be aiming for is a complete transition away from carbon based fuels?

    Nate Aden: Its a great question and I would say that the inclusion of Switzerland in this group indicates that we haven’t gotten there yet in terms of exhausting all of the game. Because Switzerland is a very efficient clean economy and they’re still improving, they’re still going in the right direction.

    So we still have a ways to go before we exhaust all of our options but certainly in the long run we do have to move to a carbon neutral non-fossil fuel economy. That is clear if we want to limit warming this century to 2 degrees and that will be part of the discussion with the Paris agreement signing later this month by many countries.

    But this is an encouraging development in terms of existing, observed, emperical decoupling that’s already happening. So it’s showing that there are new modes of growth that are emerging for these countries to focus on as they implement the Paris agreements.

    Gregory Wilpert: Ok, its a really interesting topic and we’re definitely going to continue to track it. Thanks so much for agreeing to talk to us about this today.

    Nate Aden: Great, thank you so much Greg, I look forward to following up

    Gregory Wilpert: And thank you for watching the Real News Network

    1. HotFlash

      Ditto Steve, thanks Kulantan! An object lesson in the good things that can grow out of a leisure society — and you will notice that this good thing will not appear in any country’s GDP.

    2. fjwhite

      1. For more about the author’s qualifications, go to
      2. What is the level of Aden’s expertise in climate science?
      3. What peer-reviewed papers has he published in climate science?
      4. For the WRI article by Nate, go to

      More Questions/Comments:
      1. Was this study published in any reputable scientific, peer-reviewed journals?
      2. The discussion alone is not enough to assess the reliability and validity of the study — we need to see the scientific paper with full details about the methodology, findings, further research, implications, etc.
      3. Given fossil fuel funding of “research” and think tanks, it would be helpful to know the sources of funding for this study and for the WRI.
      4. What implications, if any, does Aden’s study have for climate science research by climate scientists such as James Hansen, Kevin Anderson, Michael Mann? For example, they have issued warnings about the dire consequences if we don’t cut the level of CO2 in the atmosphere back to 350ppm? (Right now CO2 is over 400 ppm).
      5. Have any climate scientists commented on Nate’s findings?

      1. fjwhite

        Further to my comments above, see this Oct. 12, 2015 article published by degrowth — “The decoupling debate: can economic growth really continue without emission increases? By Mark Burton

  8. Hendrik Gideonse

    The Pope, in Laudato Si (with a single exception), offers a far more compelling analysis than Wilpert or Aden. (That exception is Francis’ understandable inability, given his context, to address runaway population growth.) Simply put, in the closed system of Planet Earth, our common home, the pursuit of personal and corporate wealth, assuming that inordinate material consumption is an OK driving force (which the Holy Father emphatically does not assume), can be undertaken and continued without regard to the over-all well-being of the earth’s billions is simply unsustainable. GDP genuflection is the apparent “wafer and wine” for the current system; unfortunately, transubstantiation is not in economists’ vocabulary. Growth cannot be the end-all and be-all; in an individual human being, for example, it can be cancer. Applied to the entire earth, it is called fouling the nest. In the emergent context of the bare handful of wealth accumulators, be they individual or corporate, it is the triumph of oligarchy over the demos.

    1. different clue

      James Hansen in his book Storms Of My Grandchildren suggested just such a way. He advocates a straight-up fee tacked on to the price of fossil carbon as it is brought to light at the mine or wellhead. The extracter and would-be seller of the coal, gas and/or oil would have to pay that fossil carbon fee to a trustworthy collecting and disbursing authority which would gather up all the money. The fee taking entity would then divide up the money into exactly as many equal shares as there are Americans, and send each American their exact share of that money. Those Americans could then spend that money howsoever they like.

      Since the merchants of carbon would raise the price of their carbon by exactly the size of the fee they had to pay to be allowed to sell it, fossil carbon fuels would go up in price by exactly one fee-load per unit of carbon in the fuel. Americans who wanted to see their carbon fee-bate go “farther” would spend it on things made with less emitted carbon, therefor not bearing the carbon-fee-imposed price-rise. If enough Americans responded that way ( and Hansen thinks enough will), the fossil carbon fee-burdened industries will lose bussiness and jobs while industries and bussinesses less burdened by fossil carbon fees will lose less bussiness and jobs. And bussinesses which are emissions-low enough will gain bussiness and jobs. Hansen calls his plan “Fee and Dividend”. And he suggests that the government keep its g*d d*mned government hands off that money or no part of the public will ever accept the plan. it is meant to purely punish the use of fossil carbon. It is not meant to be a source of embezzleable funds for government or any other purpose except to brute-force move the marketplace away from fossil carbon by a steady forcefield-matrix of punitive anti-use pricing.

  9. John Wright

    The beginning of the piece encapsulates the core issue: “Some rare good news on climate change”

    That the news is “rare” is significant, particularly as the world has been warned about climate change for many years.

    “rare” could be indicating there is a problem applying the results to the world at large, and there is a problem with scaling to other economies.

    Here is a comment from one reader at the original posting site:

    ” by Jay on Apr 06, 2016 : This article commits a classic mistake in data analysis: only showing the results that support your theory. If you want to know about the link between CO2 emissions and GDP, you have to examine the data for all the major economies in the world, not just the ones where CO2 was stable or went down.”

    It is also important to highlight that “2015 was the first year where global economic growth increased but global carbon emissions decreased” does not imply large incremental quantities of CO2 were NOT added to the atmosphere.

    If one believes in the science behind climate change we have to truly achieve no net CO2 addition to the world’s atmosphere ( plant more CO2 capturing trees?, hydrogen fusion breakthrough?)

    We are not close to this goal as we continue to burn fossil fuels.

    And after the world economy achieves, somehow, no net CO2 addition to the atmosphere, the world might then need to actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere

    Planting more trees is a way of capturing CO2, but from

    “Deforestation is clearing Earth’s forests on a massive scale, often resulting in damage to the quality of the land. Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area, but swaths the size of Panama are lost each and every year.”

    “The world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation”

    1. Gaylord

      It’s not just harvesting of forests, but also intentional burning and unintentional wildfires that are causing deforestation. “Carbon Neutral” is a big lie, like so much of the jargon used by apologists for the exploiters. There is no such thing as carbon neutral energy because every energy source requires infrastructure, materials, transportation, refining, storage, and other functions requiring the use of fossil fuels. “Renewables” include the multi-billion-$$ Biomass industry, which they call “carbon neutral”; where they cut down forests releasing massive amounts of CO2 that are not accounted for, supposedly because they replant new trees — but that’s completely misleading and false because it takes many years for the trees to grow again, and in the meantime all that added CO2 is doing great damage.

    2. Fiver

      Agree completely with first point.

      The threat to forests is much greater than a simple percentage can convey:

      A great deal of land designated ‘forested’ actually isn’t – look at any maps depicting forest cover and you will see a huge band encircling the globe in northern latitudes termed ‘boreal forest’. The plain fact is an enormous amount of said ‘forest’ consists of stunted, very slow-growing trees mixed with bog, marsh, rock etc. In Canada the real forests that remain are being mowed down as fast as ever, while private sector forest re-generation has been one big flop as compared with the original living systems. That is doubtless true in much of Europe/Russia as well.

      The great tropical forests aren’t just being decimated by logging, agriculture etc. but have also become badly broken up, so what were once giant, contiguous systems are now patchwork quilts, the remaining pockets, even the few remaining large ones, much more susceptible to damage from a variety of sources – not least the feedback engendered by these forests’ increasing inability to maintain their own climate.

      Forests, fresh water, soils, oceans – love them or lose us.

  10. HotFlash

    OK, so why do we need ‘growth’, setting aside for the moment the question of whether or not “GDP” in fact measures growth.

    1, to get richer. Not in itself an admirable goal, I would say.

    2, to provide the same amount, or at least ‘value’ of “stuff” (whatever and however it is that GDP measures) to a growing population. Hmmm, should we at least consider that population should stabilize, or even reduce? Umm, resources are finite, need energy to extract and the more down-peak they are, the more energy required to extract and refine … not the most direct path to sustainablilty, let alone reduction in fossil fuel use.

    3, to provide the interest on investment, ROI. Now we are talking capitalism. Would ‘growth’ be unquestioningly ‘needed’ if there was no interest on debt?

    I am pretty sure that in a capitalist world, #3 is going to be the hardest one to tackle, although 1 and 2 are far from trivial.

    Me, I am learning how to have a nice-ish life using local-ish stuff (homemade vinegar, jams using foraged fruit and maple syrup, re-usable toilet paper, yada — none of which, btw, will ever show up in any GDP, let alone “grow” it. Whereas, if I were to purchase a $229 Chinese-made electronic, four spigot, WiFi controlled “ecological” lawn-sprinkler controller it would grow GDP. Amazing…

    As other posters have pointed out, ‘growth’ and ‘GDP’ do not reflect actual life quality. Fixating on maintaining the former, esp as measured by the latter, are fools errands, serving only to distract us from the real pursuit which should be elimination of anthropogenic GHG’s to the greatest extent possible (and yes, I know, clathrates in Siberia, under Canadian permafrost, deep in the oceans, but no reason not to try …).

    In fact, I would suggest that GDP and growth, esp by current measures, are huge obstacles to actually addressing climate change in any effective way and therefore threats to life on the planet. They should be abolished and replaced with more useful goals and measures.

  11. Cassiodorus

    What a crock. The world economy is INTEGRATED, not divided up into separate countries.

    And the fossil-fuel extraction business hasn’t stopped at all, and won’t stop as long as the idea is “cutting emissions” while the pumpers and miners go about their business.

    “Instead of changing our economic system to make it fit within the natural limits of the planet, we are redefining nature so that it fits within the economic system.”

  12. Peter Dorman

    The data say exactly what they say: we can have very modest reductions in carbon emissions accompanied by modest increases in GDP. The number to bear in mind is 4%, the average annual reduction in emissions at the global level if the IPCC 2-degree carbon budget is met. (This gives us a two-thirds chance of avoiding more warming than that.) Being a global average, it combines lower reductions or even some increases for poorer countries and larger ones for richer countries. We have no historical experience at all to draw on for the economic consequences of such a trajectory. Personally, I strongly doubt that the crash decarbonization called for by the IPCC can be achieved without enormous economic dislocation, and I think economists’ time could be usefully spent figuring out ways to minimize it.

  13. UnhingedBecauseLucid

    [“Can GDP Growth and Carbon Emissions be Delinked?”]

    He was deliberately tactful yet his unequivocal answer still was :
    When push comes to shoveNo

    Asset price inflation and financial “engineering” are the fumes that lead to false readings…
    Materially speaking, the average Joe will, slowly [or not so slowly] but surely command less purchasing power. There is a case to be made for qualitative improvements, no doubt, but when all is said and done, constraints are constraints.

  14. Gaylord

    There is no “good news” regarding climate change and the destruction of earth systems and habitat by human activity. The IPCC’s Paris Agreements are absurd — just ask James Hansen. The damage cannot be undone because the carbon already emitted has a delayed forcing effect, and any recent or future reductions won’t have any significant effect. The unacknowledged factor of “global dimming” — the cooling effect of aerosols that are emitted into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, particularly (no pun intended) coal — is a feedback mechanism: when reductions in fossil fuel burning are implemented thereby reducing aerosol emissions, there may be little or no change in the trajectory and severity of radiative forcing.

    It is high time the obviously deficient measure of economic activity known as GDP were replaced with a system that takes long-term negative externalities into account — everything from wars, to habitat destruction, to species extinction, to health impacts generally, to destabilization of earth’s temperature moderating ability. But that would require the obliteration of capitalism and a quantum leap in human consciousness which ain’t gonna happen.

  15. Russell

    The GDP as a measure is right to see as useless when Financial stock buy backs to increase value are the engineering of it,while workers are squeezed for concessions and fired so CEOs and top manager’s stock options rise.
    In fact Finance as a parasite is more the reality than would justify any respect for GDP including finance to the exclusion of the rape of the commons, and screwing of US and all other working classes of people.
    The Steel industry in the advanced nations where gains in ecological stewardship were spit on by lowest price producers whose dictators got the gifts of the corporations and their leadership that love strong men of their ilk as either in pocket, or of pockets.
    Meantime the waste of the world is ensured when a UN is hamstrung by the Bangkok Declaration of 1993 that put National Economic Rights before individual rights.
    Nod to Chris Hedges interview with Michael Hudson.

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