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Your money or your life? The carbon-development paradox

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Publication details

JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
DateAccepted/In press - 10 Feb 2020
DatePublished (current) - 27 Mar 2020
Issue number4
Number of pages9
Original languageEnglish


The relationship between human health and well-being, energy use and carbon emissions is a foremost concern in sustainable development. If past advances in well-being have been accomplished only through increases in energy use, there may be significant trade-offs between achieving universal human development and mitigating climate change. We test the explanatory power of economic, dietary and modern energy factors in accounting for past improvements in life expectancy, using a simple novel method, functional dynamic decomposition. We elucidate the paradox that a strong correlation between emissions and human development at one point in time does not imply that their dynamics are coupled in the long term. Increases in primary energy and carbon emissions can account for only a quarter of improvements in life expectancy, but are closely tied to growth in income. Facing this carbon-development paradox requires prioritizing human well-being over economic growth.

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© 2020 The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • climate change, well-being, economic growth, energy, food, decoupling, Easterlin paradox

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