‘Decoupling’ is green capitalism’s cunning plan: break the link between ecological degradation and economic growth, and voila! The ecological crisis of capitalism is overcome.
If decoupling is achieved, growth can continue, profits can be taken, standards of living can be raised, and there will be no discernable ecological consequences.
In their recently published article “The emperor’s green clothes”, urban planning academics Petter Naess and Karl Georg Hoyer have reported on their search for signs of decoupling. Their conclusion is that the possibility of decoupling is “not valid.”
Like many another cunning plan, decoupling is simply an empty promise.
The advocates of ‘more markets’ and ‘minimal government’ would like us to think they know the secret to efficient and effective regulation of human behaviour. But can we really apply such neoliberal thinking to the climate change crisis? Can the application of more markets possibly fix what Nicholas Stern (2006) describes as “the greatest market failure in history”?
In 2008, Robert Baldwin, professor of law at the London School of Economics, published a working paper that examines the case for and against emissions trading as effective regulation.
What I want to look at here is Baldwin’s analysis of the regulatory philosophy which underpins the current trading approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Disturbingly, he finds an erosion of democratic accountability and reduced expectations of legitimacy; this is what he calls “regulation lite.”