On the use of the word “decoupling”

I’ve been using the word “decoupling” to describe what is happening in the relationship between water use and population/economic growth. The phenomenon is common, and I blog about it a lot – water use going down even as population and agricultural productivity go up.

Now comes Robert Stavins, a prominent environmental economist, to argue that the word is not quite right. He’s talking about carbon emissions, but his argument generalizes to the way I’ve been using the word:

Decoupling is the wrong word to describe what has been happening.  It is simply the wrong metaphor.  When a caboose is decoupled from a train, it stops moving altogether.  A better metaphor, although less linguistically appealing, would be a “slipping clutch.”  The engine continues to transmit power, and as a result the driveshaft continues to rotate, but less than when the clutch was new.


One Comment

  1. i still think this is an illusion as it is impossible to live without
    water. sooner or later the trends will merge again (as long as
    there are public water systems).

    in a more localized and sustainable water setup there is also only so much water available for life. that we don’t measure it in some locales is only because there is so much that we don’t usually affect the amount available for the lakes/rivers/wells, but that could also be a temporary thing. as times change and more people want fresh water more and more pipelines and water diversions may get put into place…

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