Here’s a new article from Ecological Economics on the idea of decoupling human progress from energy use. In other words, the idea that we can continue to improve the quality of our lives and society without continuing to produce and consume ever more energy, materials, and stuff. To do this requires distinguishing needs from wants, which goes against the grain of mainstream economics.
Climate change poses great challenges to modern societies, central amongst which is to decouple human need satisfaction from energy use. Energy systems are the main source of greenhouse gas emissions, and the services provided by energy (such as heating, power, transport and lighting) are vital to support human development. To address this challenge, we advocate for a eudaimonic need-centred understanding of human well-being, as opposed to hedonic subjective views of well-being. We also argue for a shift in the way we analyse energy demand, from energy throughput to energy services. By adopting these perspectives on either end of the wellbeing-energy spectrum, a “double decoupling” potential can be uncovered. We present a novel analytic framework and showcase several methodological approaches for analysing the relationship between, and decoupling of, energy services and human needs. We conclude by proposing future directions of research in this area based on the analytic framework.