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Decoupling: People Assume It Will Work

David Cubine

In a recent Huffington Post article, Steven Cohen outlines his views on economic and environmental sustainability with a basic action plan for improving conditions. His ideas are positive but for the most part unsurprising (regulation, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, etc)

However, one paragraph in particular is of greater interest:

The idea of reducing consumption is a popular idea with some in the environmental community, but on a world-wide basis has no real relevance. People with few possessions and little food are not interested in reducing consumption. In nations with a growing middle class there is also the problem of the connection of wealth and consumption to political power and political stability. Once achieved, people fear the loss of material security and well-being. Look at the public opinion polls in America when the economy is in decline. Every elected leader in the country stops talking about everything except for job creation. Reducing consumption and reducing economic growth are politically infeasible prescriptions for environmental sustainability. We need to protect the planet, but we will not get very far if our method of protection is to slow down the economy.

Cohen outright rejects the concept that consumption/growth reduction is necessary to promote more sustainable economic and environmental conditions. He has no argument against growth reduction outside of its poor political connotations. Instead, he attempts to argue for decoupling, falling back on the idea that production technology will continue to improve, change, and hopefully solve the problem for us.

I’m mostly surprised that I stumbled across talk of these ideas without really looking for them. I knew that decoupling was the “mainstream” solution to the growth problem, but I had never seen an example of someone outwardly supporting it in the wild before. It’s going to be an uphill battle.

1 Comment

  1. ccceprosperity

    I really enjoyed this article. His honesty about actually being able to have people reduce consumption was well articulated. We think that if we can get get people to consume less and slow down economic growth we can start to fix our problems. This is a valid argument but in our culture is extremely hard to achieve. His paragraph talking about the computer hardware that would last for decades and then be recycled for remanufacture is a great alternative model and that all software updates are sent over the internet. My only concern, is that Americans love having the newest model of technology how can we convince or coerce them into keeping sustainable products longer?

    –Millie

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