Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

Energy and Economic Output: On the Origins of the Decoupling Debates

Antoine Missemer, CNRS, CIRED Paris

The decoupling debates are at the heart of the challenges of sustainable development for the 21st century: achieving a sustainable mode of production will imply a disconnection between energy consumption (or CO2 emissions) and economic output. The roots of these debates can be historically found in contributions dated in the 1920s and 1930s, when the Brookings Institution launched a research program around F. G. Tryon to measure the energy intensity of economic activity. This episode has scarcely been noticed in the literature, and not examined in details so far. This is the objective of this paper, placing Tryon’s contributions in the context of natural resources and energy economics of the time, and analyzing his research questions, methods and results. This examination may shed new light on the origins of the decoupling debates.

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Keywords: decoupling, energy intensity, Tryon, Brookings Institution, natural resources, history of economic thought

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