Decoupling Affluence and Emissions

[From our trip to Sweden, in December of 2008]

In Växjö we were warmly greeted by the local chamber of commerce, prior to a tour of Valle Broar, and the Sandvik district heating and power plant. During the second presentation, I saw this slide – it was one of those “lightbulb” moments. The chart is powerful, and brings to the fore some of the essential differences between Sweden and the US.

Here in the US, we “know” that there is a trade-off between the environment and energy, between maintaining our affluent lifestyle and maintaining functioning ecosystems. We know we have to cut C02 emissions, but like our fixation with dieting, it is framed in terms of “being good” and “sacrifice” … we think it will be uncomfortable to say the least. That this notion of trade-off, of sacrifice, frames the conversation has several consequences that make moving towards a sustainable economy difficult.

In Sweden, this framing was absent. In fact, the opposite is held to be true – that creating a sustainable economy will improve both the environment and economic well-being; that we can reduce emissions and have economic growth. This point was floating just underneath the surface, till the chart below put it right in our faces.

Growth & CO2 Emissions DecoupledGrowth & CO2 Emissions Decoupled


One of the consequences of framing the discussion in terms of sacrifice is that we need much greater justification to move forward. We will not give up something unless it is absolutely necessary. So we wait for certainty on the climate change issue, refusing to act until we are sure. Not so in Sweden.

One of the presenters – a politician driving the process of Fossil Fuel Free Växjö – told us that he was, quite frankly “skeptical about the issue of climate change.” In the US this would have been followed by some comment along the lines of “so why bother.”

But, armed with this slide on decoupling, he finished with “so why not do it anyway? There are plenty of good reasons to reduce C02.”

Sweden is a powerful example for us. We have the notion here in the US that, were we to address the issues of climate change, of sustainability, we would be forced go go backwards economically. We would all have to wear scratchy sweaters, eating roughage and roots while carting our family along some pot-holed dirt road. Sweden proves this wrong. The quality of life, especially when education, health care, and retirement are factored exceeds that of the US. And, They are doing it with less. They are moving forward by building – very consciously – a sustainable economy.

[originally posted at – an E Portfolio]

(For more information about Växjö see

About William Robb

William Robb, AKA OtherWill - no not the Will you are thinking of just now, that other one - is the main contributor to this blog
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