Can countries grow their way out of excessive resource use? Economists for years have posited a “decoupling” between a country’s economic growth and its environmental pressure, in which economic expansion would outpace resource requirements. But new research shows that, when the environmental impacts of international trade are taken into account, decoupling is a fiction. A country’s economic growth may reduce the extraction of natural resources domestically, but not the total worldwide extraction that the economy drives. The extraction does not disappear; it is simply displaced to other countries. The link between domestic demand and international production ought to be considered when assessing countries’ relative responsibilities for addressing global environmental problems. A true reduction of the footprint of affluent countries will require more than just increased efficiency in production: it will require an accounting for trade impacts and, equally importantly, a focus on demand itself through more sustainable lifestyles.
Bodes well for the future