Will sustained global economic growth intensify the effects of climate change? A new study from the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research suggests that a transformation of the world's economies or a limit to economic growth may be needed to curb the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.
Published online in the journal Environmental Science & Policy, the study examined the impacts on global CO2 levels caused by the world economy (measured in global GDP), population, volcanic eruptions and the El Niño Southern oscillation. It is the "first analysis to use measurable levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide" rather than only estimates, "which are less accurate," according to a press release.
José Tapia Granados and Edward Ionides, both from Michigan, and Óscar Carpintero of the University of Valladolid, Spain, discovered "no observable relation" between short-term global population growth and CO2 levels, but greater carbon dioxide levels were observed in years of "above-trend world GDP" between 1958 and 2010.
The researchers found that for each trillion in U.S. dollars that global GDP deviates from the trend, there is an accompanying deviation in CO2 levels of about half a part per million (ppm), reported LiveScience.
Noting that the study "more or less" echoes 1972's "The Limits to Growth," author and environmental activist Bill McKibben told HuffPost in an email, "We should change the meaning of 'business-as-usual' to focus on building more resilient, localized, community-focused economies, instead of the sprawling ones that for the last few decades have been awarding their bounty to the 1%."
Study co-author José Tapia Granados offered a remedy, saying in a press release, “One solution that has promise is a carbon tax levied on any activity producing CO2 in order to create incentives to reduce emissions. The money would be returned to the population on a per capita basis so the tax would not mean any extra fiscal burden."
The Michigan study comes at the same time as research from PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, a Dutch national environmental policy institute, which found that annual global equivalent CO2 emissions in 2020 are likely to exceed 2010 estimates by 2.5 billion tons. The projected 50.9 billion ton annual output in 2020 is "some 7-11 billion tones [sic] beyond levels needed to prevent runaway climate change," reports Reuters.