Mainstream economists are trying to kill us. They don’t think of it that way, but they should. The standard policies promoting endless economic growth of the conventional sort are destroying the ecosystem. And ecocide, should we follow through with it sufficiently, could easily mean the loss of many millions of human lives. When those economists promoting and shaping policy continue to push ecocidal policies when they could instead play a central role in protecting the ecosystem, how is that not homicide? 
Cue the white hats
A ray of hope, though, comes from that transdisciplinary group of economists, ecologists, and others whose work falls under the heading, “ecological economics.” The blogosphere has seen some thoughtful posts recently comparing this group to their neoclassical counterparts who, oddly enough, include “environmental economists.” Many of those in the ecological camp push for a fundamental revamp of economic theory to account for the ecosystem and the economy’s being a part of it, as dependent upon it as any other aspect of human culture. They want an acknowledgment that economic growth, as it’s typically understood, cannot continue indefinitely in a finite ecosystem. They want it understood that such growth is unsustainable and destructive to our natural life support system. 
Environmental economists retain neoclassical theory which fails to acknowledge the limits of the ecosystem. They attempt, however, to apply minor tweaks to the present theory in an effort to account for environmental impacts, ultimately trusting the market to wield its “invisible hand” to make everything right.  The bulk of the rest of the mainstream, the plain neoclassical economists, do essentially nothing to to account realistically for the ecosystem.
Locked door on the clubhouse
Ecological economics has not yet found great acceptance among mainstream economists. This may be attributable, in part, to their respective views of science. (pdf, see final paragraph) But I think there’s more to it.
Obviously, most mainstream economists will say they simply disagree with the ideas of ecological economics to such an extent that they refuse to incorporate them. I suspect, though, that on some level many mainstreamers don’t believe their own arguments, that they recognize the strength of the ideas of ecological economics. The fundamental differences between the two camps seem to boil down to a very few issues on which the ecological camps’ arguments are essentially irrefutable or, at worst, eminently more reasonable than those of the mainstreamers: The ecosystem is finite. All human activities and cultural entities, including our economy, are a part of it, are dependent on it, and are subject to its limits. And the physical throughput associated with ongoing economic growth is degrading it.
What then are the mainstreamers’ other motives in holding fast to their position? It could be they simply feel most comfortable with economic theory as they’ve learned it, that change is unsettling. Yet I suspect there’s still more. Having witnessed a few other theoretical turf wars, I suspect some have come to appreciate the power and logic of neoclassical economic theory, have invested their professional identities in it, and see ecological economics as damaging to the theory and thus their identities. Do they fear fundamental changes to their theory will threaten their abilities to function as the economists they are? They may envision little role for themselves in a radically changed system. Mark Montgomery, economics professor at Grinell College seems to express such fear when he writes, “There is plenty of evidence that environmentalists under the ecology banner want to get rid of us economists.” Are mainstream economists simply working, then, to preserve their profession as they’ve come to know it?
Shutting out their own rescuers
The irony is that if mainstream economists have their way, and economic policy continues on its present course, the outcome will be exactly what they likely fear — the crumbling of their profession (as well as many others). Conventional economic growth is destroying the ecosystem. If allowed to go too far, then without a viable ecosystem what sort of economy will there be? And how will conventional economists function? In an apocalyptic future they’re history. In the context of a more intact but still highly eroded ecosystem, they will, at best, no longer have the same role they do today.
The irony only increases as we recognize that the ecological economists the mainstreamers resist are fighting to preserve the ecosystem, which includes the very profession the mainstreamers fear losing. Ecological economists are trying to save their mainstream counterparts from their own professional (and possibly biological) self-destruction.
So this is my plea to mainstream economists, including you “environmental” folks: Please, if you’re going to quibble over the theoretic minutiae separating you and your “ecological” counterparts, don’t let it distract you from what’s important. You know they’re right about the relationship between the ecosystem and the economy. And that’s the part on which our future rests. Debate the rest if you wish, but please act on that part and save the world.
 One could question whether it’s homicide or suicide, the latter implying that all humans are collectively responsible for the lack of corrective action. It depends on your point of view. Given that only a tiny percentage of human beings have the power to do anything about it, and are, in the end, at the mercy of the policy makers, it seems appropriate to apply the term, “homicide.”
 My distinction between ecological and environmental economists is an oversimplification, but it will do for now. Note, though, that the two groups are not always warring. There is, in fact, a fair bit of constructive discussion going on between groups. They even show up in one another’s blogrolls. Still, let’s hope the environmental economists give up their homicidal tendencies. 🙂
Image source: Wikimedia Commons, posted as a public domain image