Stopping economic growth for the sake of the climate

A United States and Spanish research team has conducted a study into the most likely causes of climate change and came to a rather surprising conclusion. The most feasible manner of stopping climate change is halting economic growth. Or changing the economy drastically.

Climate change versus economic growth

Annual growth of the world economic output (green line, trillions of 2000 US dollars) and annual change of estimated CO2 emissions (red line, millions of Kt) (Credit: University of Michigan).

The researchers came to this conclusion by pitting two natural CO2 affecting phenomena and two anthrogenic phenomena. What sets their research apart from that of others is their use of measured CO2 fluctuations in stead of the usual far less accurate CO2 emissions estimates. They published their findings in the journal Environmental Science and Policy.

Population growth and volcanoes

In their research into the climatic effects of population growth, the world economy, volcanic eruptions and the ENSO, it became readily evident that short-term population growth has no perceivable impact on CO2 concentrations.

Concerning volcanoes the team stumbled upon a bit of  trouble. Since all major volcanic activity coincided with global recessions, volcanic effects on CO2 were confounded by the strong downward CO2 trend related to times of recession.

ENSO and economic growth

The effects of the ENSO on climate change was evident but since regulating El Niño is out of our control, the researchers were left with only one feasible option for decreasing CO2 emissions: stopping economic growth or changing the world’s economics.

They based this on their findings that over the last 52 years periods of above-trend world GDP were accompanied by increased CO2 concentrations. For every 7.5 trillion euros (10 trillion U.S. dollars) of GDP deviation from trend, atmospheric CO2 concentrations deviate about 0.5 ppm from trend.

The solution

To tackle climate change on an economic level the scientists leave us with two options. We either need economic contractions the size of the Great Recession or bigger or we have to break the economic habits contributing to rising CO2 levels.

According the the researchers one solution that has promise is the introduction of a carbon tax. With levies on all CO2 producing activities and the resulting funds used to fashion emission reducing incentives.

© Jorn van Dooren |

Comments are closed.