Is Decoupling GDP Growth from Environmental Impact Possible?

James Ward, Paul Sutton, Adrian Werner, Robert Costanza, Steve Mohr, Craig Simmons

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    103 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    The argument that human society can decouple economic growth-defined as growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP)-from growth in environmental impacts is appealing. If such decoupling is possible, it means that GDP growth is a sustainable societal goal. Here we show that the decoupling concept can be interpreted using an easily understood model of economic growth and environmental impact. The simple model is compared to historical data and modelled projections to demonstrate that growth in GDP ultimately cannot be decoupled from growth in material and energy use. It is therefore misleading to develop growth-oriented policy around the expectation that decoupling is possible. We also note that GDP is increasingly seen as a poor proxy for societal wellbeing. GDP growth is therefore a questionable societal goal. Society can sustainably improve wellbeing, including the wellbeing of its natural assets, but only by discarding GDP growth as the goal in favor of more comprehensive measures of societal wellbeing.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number0164733
    Pages (from-to)Art: e0164733
    Number of pages14
    JournalPLoS One
    Volume11
    Issue number10
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

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