Sweden has ‘decoupled’ carbon emissions and economic growth? Why this is a lie

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Posted Dec 7 2015 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
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There was a report on the World Service this morning about how Sweden has decoupled carbon emissions from economic growth. Sweden’s economic growth in the last 25 years totals 60%. Its carbon emissions in the same time period are down 20%. So that’s it, isn’t it – the Holy Grail? Sweden has managed to decouple carbon emissions and economic growth?

No, it hasn’t, because of the way carbon emissions are measured – and this goes for all other indicators of environmental damage.

It’s a lie

These are some of the things that are not measured in a country’s environmental statistics:

  1. Flights. Emissions are not within a country’s borders, so they’re not counted.
  2. Manufacture of consumer goods produced abroad. As European countries have grown, they have steadily exported most manufacturing to poorer countries. Look around your home. Where was your fridge manufactured? And your laptop, phone, cooker, clothes, furniture, light switches, picture frames, waste bin – almost everything? And those factories are much dirtier than European factories would be.
  3. Resource extraction abroad. Imports of raw materials and food involve removal of rainforest – especially in the case of palm oil, soya plantations and cattle ranches, plus the habitat destruction and toxic dumping associated with mining and other resource extraction.
  4. Shipping. Those raw materials and consumer goods then have to be transported around the world, which was not the case when those things were produced in Europe.

When you take those things into consideration, carbon emissions and other types of environmental damage have not at all been de-linked from economic growth. It looks as though poor countries do really badly in terms of environmental damage, when in fact the damage is driven by increasing consumerism in wealthy countries.

Now, do you think that the Swedish government (or any government), the World Bank and the UN don’t know that? Of course they know it.

This is a desperate ploy by the corporate / state alliance to make us believe that business as usual is possible. It’s not.

The switch to nuclear

Sweden has reduced domestic carbon emissions by switching from fossil fuels to renewables and nuclear for domestic energy generation.

Leaving aside the fact that nuclear is such a dangerous technology, with waste that stays radioactive for thousands of years, and that the carbon emissions associated with nuclear are twice that of solar and six times that of onshore wind, the main problem with nuclear for me is that it is not a ‘convivial’ technology, as Ivan Illych would have said. That means that there is no way for individuals or communities to own and control it. Nuclear is a corporate technology, in the same way that GM is a corporate technology. It’s a way for coporations to ensure that they retain control of our energy supply in the same way that GM is a way for corporations to ensure control of our food supply. They’re both unnecessary, expensive and potentially very dangerous technologies.

Renewables produce much lower carbon emissions (none in use but some in their manufacture) and renewable energy technologies are convivial – we can own them. That’s why they will never receive the same level of long-term subsidies as nuclear.

Creating more wealth?

Even if Sweden could create more wealth without burning carbon:

  1. It’s not all about carbon – resource extraction and waste to feed the additional consumption damages ecology in lots of other ways too.
  2. Why does Sweden – per capita, one of the richest countries in the world – want more wealth? What do they need more of, and will that make them happier?
  3. Is life just about seeking more wealth? Most people in the world are religious, but almost all (if not all) religions teach that seeking wealth is not the right thing to do at all.

Sweden is painted as a very environment-conscious country – and I believe that to be the case when it comes to the people. Scandinavians tend to be very conscious of the environment, but they are huge consumers. So why do they want to increase their consumption?

Until the connection between high consumption and ecological damage is admitted, humanity’s slide towards ecological collapse will continue.

A starting point for addressing this is asking a very simple question. What does a country like Sweden hope to gain from more economic growth? Why don’t they stabilise their economy to prevent further ecological damage? It’s a question that the corporate sector and its media do not want us to ask. Above a certain base level, GDP does not reflect prosperity – it starts to damage prosperity, in fact. It’s prosperity that we should be looking to increase, not GDP.