Is the UK decoupling?

Interesting new report from Chris Goodall out recently (hat tip to Reg Platt) suggesting that the UK may have reached “peak stuff” – i.e. consumption of  physcial resources, including energy – in the early/mid 2000s. Goodall’s paper is a bit of a mix – some measures are per head, others total, some flows are final consumption, others are intermediary inputs, but the patterns are nevertheless quite striking. The paper is also quite good at picking up on the obvious counterarguments (e.g. we may be eating less food but are we simply buying and wasting more? Seems the answer is no) and dispensing with them. George Monbiot is a convert to the argument, although he wonders why UK carbon emissions have risen if primary energy demand has gone down (it’s because coal use in power stations has gone up, replacing gas as prices rose from 2003, George). Tim Jackson remains sceptical, not surprisingly. However, he does raise a good point. Some of the data are available only since 2001, so it’s hard to know whether this is peak stuff, a pause in our rising consumption of stuff before a rise reasserts itself, or indeed just plateau stuff. Certainly, real decoupling will take further big falls in resource use, rather than just a levelling out at high levels. And the recession really complicates things, since we don’t know what will happen when (if?) it ends.

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2 Comments

Filed under Decoupling, Growth

2 responses to “Is the UK decoupling?

  1. One of the ‘new difficulties’ in all this is that we are now asking China [with accelerating upward growth of its carbon footprint] to buy a large part of our financial debt . . . . this isn’t even ‘swings and roundabouts’, . . . climate-related damages globally [our current account environmental debt] are growing on average at 6% while economic-growth on a good day, is going at just 3% . . . this is the hare and tortoise . . . .

  2. Tim

    Isn’t CG’s finding what Bjorn Lomborg predicted in “the Skeptical Environmentalist”. iirc, he had a plot of technology innovation against time, which showed that market pricing would make renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels by 2050.

    In contradiction to TJ, BJ claimed that markets would encourage more efficient technologies if input prices rose.

    Two cheers for GM, although I do think that his point 1 is spurious: once up and running a new technology would continue to be used to produce goods, rather than going back to the less efficient technology.

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