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What does the notion of “decoupling” mean

Decoupling means a drop in primary resource use and pollution as economic growth proceeds. It is achieved through a combination of new technologies (e.g. photovoltaic electricity and wind power substituting for fossil fuels), investments in energy efficiency (e.g. reduced losses on the power grid, improved insulation for homes), the dematerialization of production (e.g. the shift from vinyl albums to online music and from books to e-books), and proper economic incentives for individuals, businesses, and governments.

Resource efficiency (more output per unit of resource input) is a necessary but not sufficient condition. Greater efficiency in oil and gas extraction (e.g. hydrofracking) can expand rather than reduce CO2 emissions. Greater efficiency in internal combustion engines can lead to larger cars rather than fuel savings. Thus, technological changes need to be combined with appropriate policy incentives.

There are many pessimists regarding decoupling who feel that the only way to limit resource use is to limit overall economic growth. We disagree. Decoupling has not yet been tried as a serious global strategy, and we believe that advances in areas such as information and communications technologies, energy technologies, materials science, advanced manufacturing processes, and agriculture will permit continued economic growth combined with a massive reduction in the use and waste of key primary commodities, a sharp drop in greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution.

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