Can ecological economists save us from the mainstreamers?

Killing the earthMainstream 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? [1]

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. [2]

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. [3] 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.
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[1] 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.”

[2] Ecological economics overlaps closely with “green economics,” and is often seen as a part of the “Post-Autistic Economics” movement.

[3] 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. 🙂
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Image source: Wikimedia Commons, posted as a public domain image

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37 responses to “Can ecological economists save us from the mainstreamers?

  1. This was an extremely well researched, well written and sensitive post. It’s mind boggling how many people are chanting the “growth is progress” mantra. It’s even more disturbing that the faulty 3 legged stool economic model is accepted. What utter nonsense. The environment is not a leg of the mythical stool. It is the foundation on which all “sits”. Without a healthy environment we have nothing; we’re simply depleting dwindling natural resources and over populating the planet.

  2. Howdy timethief,

    Good to see you here. Thanks for the nice comments. 🙂 Yeah, the three-legged stool model does seem biased in favor of the economy in that it puts it on an equal footing with the environment. Of course, in practice, you know which one generally wins out. So “equal footing” doesn’t even describe it. And I think that model came about as a way of illustrating sustainability! I agree, it’s a broken stool.

  3. Hi,

    While a well-written piece, you make too many statements like “Conventional economic growth is destroying the ecosystem” which do not go to the core of the arguemnt. You can look at (as you do) the Daly-style arguement as to whether the ecosystem is super- or sub-ordinate of the economy, but the crux of the arguement is whether the environment or ecosystems etc are substitutable will other forms of the economy, such as human capital or social capital. This however is something not science can refute, it is based on ethical or moral obligations.

    What neoclassical economics does well is to determine how we should allocate our scarce resources. It also makes the trade-offs that ecological economics and environmentalists find it very difficult to do, such as the environment vs poverty vs development trade-off (where economic growth is crucial) which many people fail to fully comprehend.

    I suspect that this blog aligns itself very well with the Growth Fetish book, which is worth reading. However, you should be made more aware of the arguements that neoclassical economists make (see for example, Beckerman, Neumayer, Stavins, Solow, Nordhaus etc).

    Another area that neoclassical economics does very well is in terms of indicators of sustainable development (SD). The Genuine Savings indicator is a very good indicator of SD, which the World Bank currently holds possession of, and is based on the theory provided by Pearce and Atkinson – i.e. we should not have a depreciating capital stock which includes negative externalities, such as CO2. Ecological economics on the other hand has produced the Ecological Footprint and the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare. Both of these are methodologically flawed which render them erronous indicators of SD and do not offer any particular good policy prescriptions.

    On the whole, this debate between the two camps is good and healthy, but please do not underestimate the contribution that neoclassical economists have had on thinking about the environment.

  4. This was one of your better written articles. I don’t have much of a comment, as I don’t want to pollute the blogosphere with transdisciplinary theoretic minutae.

    Ross

  5. Rob Metcalfe: “What neoclassical economics does well is to determine how we should allocate our scarce resources.”

    How does neoclassical economics do this well? Particularly when so much is assumed away? Provide us some concrete examples.

    I disagree, of course as evidenced here:
    http://forestpolicy.typepad.com/ecoecon/costbenefit_analysis/index.html

    And more generally with evidence on my two blogs about economics.

    RM: “Another area that neoclassical economics does very well is in terms of indicators of sustainable development (SD). The Genuine Savings indicator is a very good indicator of SD, … Ecological economics on the other hand has produced the Ecological Footprint and the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare. Both of these are methodologically flawed.”

    I don’t disagree with the presumption that there are “issues” with the methodology in the latter two, and although I like the idea of thinking about an Ecological Footprint, I am not yet convinced that the folks who are pitching such have found their bliss yet, or that they will indeed find it on the path they are now following. This even though I support their “vision/method quest.”

    I will look further into the “Genuine Savings” indicator. And will reserve judgement on that one for a bit. And we’ll also wait to see what folks from the other “indicator camps” have to say about this one.

  6. BYW, John: Did I miss a “preview” window? I apologize for some poor editing in my earlier comment. I’ll have to be a bit more careful from now on if indeed there is no “preview window.”

  7. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for the comment.

    you make too many statements like “Conventional economic growth is destroying the ecosystem” which do not go to the core of the arguemnt.

    I think that depends on what argument’s core you’re talking about. In my view, the platform on which the whole discussion rests is the matter of conventional economic growth destroying the ecosystem. Perhaps we agree on that? The next question is how to address that.

    How is neoclassical economics going to address the question above as long as it fails to see the economy as nothing more than the cultural entity it is, a product of a species living within and totally dependent on the ecosystem? In other words, I think it almost sounds too weak even to say the economy is “subordinate to the ecosystem.” Along with all the other species, we and everything we do, including the economy, depend on the ecosystem for our survival. Unfortunately, though, human activities have reached a scale where they’re damaging the system on which their survival depends. So far, economic policy, dominated by the neoclassical school, has done little to acknowledge that and make the changes it would necessitate. The system, largely a product of the neoclassical school, has done tremendous damage. Clearly, it’s a deeply flawed system.

    Now, I freely admit I’m not well read in neoclassical economics, but I don’t see anyone from that camp stepping forward to say the things I just said. And it’s hard to see anything short of such acknowledgements doing enough to get us out of this ecological mess. (begin speculation —>) Would any of the suggestions coming from the environmental (neoclassical) economics camp be enough to do it? If they would, why aren’t they being embraced by those neoclassicists outside the env-econ camp? Do they see them as involving fundamental structural changes to theory which they can’t accept? If so, then maybe there are some env-econ folks who really aren’t so neoclassical. They should join the eco-econ camp. 🙂

    You can look at (as you do) the Daly-style arguement as to whether the ecosystem is super- or sub-ordinate of the economy, but the crux of the arguement is whether the environment or ecosystems etc are substitutable will other forms of the economy, such as human capital or social capital.

    Robert, look at how you worded that. You used the phrasing, “whether the environment or ecosystems etc are substitutable will other forms of the economy…” (emphasis added) Whoa, the environment, the ecosystem is not a form of the economy! If you disagree, then we really disagree on what the crux is. I think getting our heads around the economy-ecosystem relationship is the crux.

    Again, once we act from a basis of recognizing that the economy and every other activity of living beings on earth depends on the ecosystem for its health and survival, we’ll be on the right track. And honestly, I don’t care if we do that by embracing eco-econ or some ideas arising from env-econ. And I would doubt the eco-econ folks would care either. If any of the env-econ people have ideas which truly reflect that acknowledgement, I see nothing preventing a merger of env-econ and eco-econ. Let’s just get this thing fixed.

    How is the Ecological Footprint flawed? Certainly it requires estimates, as do examinations of carrying capacity. So do all sort of important measures. Population figures, for instance, are nothing more than estimates. Yet they influence policy decisions. I think we need to take measures grounded in the natural sciences and apply them to economic activity since it is nature upon which economic activity is impinging. Sure, Ecological Footprint may need refining. It may even need to be replaced by something better. But it appears to be on the right track. It’s an effort, anyway, to measure the kind of thing we need to measure.

    I’ll look into the Genuine Savings Indicator. (But has it been integrated into policy? Why are we still growing ourselves to death?) Hmmm, just reading a bit about it right now, I’m wondering if it really addresses the crux as I see it. Criticisms like this (pdf) worry me:

    Weishang Qu, head of modelling at the Millennium Institute, Washington DC, has examined the World Bank’s new sustainability indicators, including genuine savings, and found that they “are very much GDP dependent”. As genuine savings calculations start with GDP figures before adding and subtracting certain values, they will tend to justify increasing real GDP/economic growth as the central measure of development/progress.

    But that’s just one source. I’ll look further into it.

  8. Hi Dave,

    I didn’t notice any poor editing 🙂 , but no, unfortunately there’s no preview window. I’m pretty sure some of the WordPress themes have them, but not this one. It should though, so I’m going to put in a request to the admin people to see if they could build it in. For now, when you want to be careful the best way is probably to write the comment locally on your computer, then copy-paste it. Also, if you really mess up and need an edit or want me to delete a comment so you can just redo it, just email me and I can do it from my end.

    Thanks for commenting here. 🙂

    _______

    Ross,

    Thanks for not polluting here. Very green of you.

  9. I did a quick and dirty Google look at “Genuine Savings Indicator” this AM and found some things that may or may not help..

    “A Critical Apprasal of Genuine Savings as an Indicator of Sustainability.” Simon Dietz and Eric Neumayer.
    (2005) [PDF]:
    http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/geographyAndEnvironment/whosWho/profiles/neumayer/pdf/Sustainabilityindicators2.pdf

    “How useful is Genuine Savings Rate as a Macroeconomic Sustainability Indicator… ?” R.C.B Brown, J. Asafu-Adjaye, M. Draca, A. Straton. (2003): [PDF]: http://www.uq.edu.au/economics/abstract/331.pdf

    “The World Bank’s Genuine Saving’s Indicator: A Useful Measure of Sustainability?” Glyn Everett and Alex Wilks. (1999) [PDF]:
    http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/topic/environment/gensavings.pdf

    I see that John F. found the last one too. Like John says, there appear to be no perfect indicators, and most conprehensive indicators have some guesses built in, hence will be criticized. I am against single-indicators for the same reason I (and others) criticize “single equation economists,” those who put too much emphasis on any ONE thing.

    Garrett Hardin may have said it best in his restatement of the second law of ecology: You can never do just one thing. I regularly chide our own Federal Reserve Board (on another blog) for doing just that…

    Still we do need some indicators, whether qualitative or quantitative. So I’ll try not to be too critical of ALL indicators. Let’s hope some others join in this discussion.

    PS. Herman Daly used to work for the World Bank (likely as a lone voice in the Wilderness, much of the time) so I assume he could add much to this discussion were we able to draw him in…

  10. Dave — Thanks for those links. I’ve been perusing them a bit, and will read more as I can. One thing mentioned in the first link is that “Whether one believes in the policy-guiding value of GS depends at the outset on whether one subscribes to the weak sustainability paradigm.” Now, when I look at descriptions of “weak sustainability” vs “strong sustainability,” it looks more or less like is sounds – like the former is a weakened version of sustainability, while the latter is true sustainability. (Ecological Footprint is considered a “strong sustainability” indicator.) These two links provide simple descriptions:

    http://www.sustainablemeasures.com/Training/Indicators/WeakStrg.html

    http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/geographyAndEnvironment/whosWho/profiles/neumayer/weakVersusStrongSustainabilityExploringTheLimitsOfTwoOpposingParadigms.htm

    This one goes into more depth, but just skimming it I think it makes some key points:

    http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/articles/2000_discounting.htm

    I agree about the problem of single indicators. I would think ultimately we’ll need not only some good indicators, but things like society-wide educational programs and other things to effect a kind of new mindset.

    Along that line I was amazed and pleased when my 11 year old came home with an assignment to go online and take the Ecological Footprint quiz:

    http://ecofoot.org/

    Yeah, it would be great to get Herman Daly involved in this discussion. I did send him an email about the launching of the bl0g, but I doubt he’s checking in everyday. :-/ Hmmm, I’ll think about sending him a note.

  11. I’ll try to respond to some of the main points above.

    Dave: Now I know you are against cost-benefit analysis (CBA) from the outset and I remember briefly looking at your research in to how you base your decision. But let’s start from the top – I believe CBA is the most efficient way to distribute scarce resources and environmental economists use this tool all around the world in practical settings. An example which started the whole thing rolling, especially for contingent valuation, is the Exxon Valdez disaster. Without CBA, the residents in Alaska would have got peanuts from Exxon if it wasn’t for using CBA in the judicial system. CBA even used non-use values which incorporate the cultural value from ecosystems such as intrinsic value etc.

    You also seem totally out of touch with current research in env eco which is attempting to integrate revealed and stated preference methods, and integrating behavioural economics in to the methods.

    CBA has no superior alternative. While there may be problems such as the discounting issue, it is the best thing out there, and it enables us to look more in to Integrated assessment models (IAMs) which are much more advanced than the simplistic Stern review used.

    Furthermore, on the indicators, esp the ecological footprint, of course it methodologically flawed, but I haven’t got time to write them all down. For a quick and dirty critique see: http://imv.net.dynamicweb.dk/Default.aspx?ID=110&Printerfriendly=2

    The Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare mixes well-being with sustainable development which is very problematic within one indicator, and the way it treats natural capital is incorrect, i.e. it double counts CO2 emissions and assumes renewable energy should totally negate non-renewable energy (see the work of Neumayer on this).

    John: The wording I used in that paragraph is not new for a range of ecol econ, and that is how one should see the debate. Weak sustainability (neoclassical) believes that you can substitute up to a point but strong sustainability (SS) (ecological) believes we cannot substitute critical natural capital. So even SS would say that we can continue to grow and use the Earth’s resources but we should not deplete critical natural capital. So far, ecol econ has not properly distinguished between what is critical and what is not.

    Please answer me this, should we forsake economic growth now, both in developing and developed countries for the sake that we are changing our environment? If your answer is yes, how do you give the environment the moral high-ground over human life? If you want the pure essence of how economists see the env, see Robert Solow’s (1991) perspective on sustainability.

    Don’t get me wrong, pluralism is good between eco and env econ, but just do not go think that ecol economics has all the answers.

  12. RM: “CBA has no superior alternative. While there may be problems such as the discounting issue, it is the best thing out there, and it enables us to look more in to Integrated assessment models (IAMs) which are much more advanced than the simplistic Stern review used.”

    I agree with Robert that when it comes down to “damage claim assessment” most likely some form of CBA will be used, and probably should be used a a first cut to allow attorneys to fight over, and allow judges/jurors to derive a settlment from.

    I disagree that CBA ought to serve as a basis for many other more broadly framed political/economic policy and program development exercises. I am not alone in sounding alarms.

    Also consider Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling’s Pricing the Priceless (overview and hyperlinks) from the The Center for Progressive Reform.

    Also, or instead, take a look at The Costs and Benefits of Cost-Benefit Analysis, Public Interest, Fall 2001 to gain a bit more perspective as to why “conservatives” like it and “liberals” hate it.

  13. Rob,

    I’ll use a few topic headings for clarity.

    Wording: I’m not completely clear on what you mean by, “The wording I used in that paragraph is not new for a range of ecol econ, and that is how one should see the debate.” The wording I questioned was, “[T]he crux of the argument is whether the environment or ecosystems etc are substitutable will other forms of the economy, such as human capital or social capital.” As written, that seems to see the ecosystem as just one more “form of the economy.”

    Perhaps you didn’t mean it that way? Were you actually saying, “[T]he crux of the argument is whether the environment or ecosystems etc are substitutable will [aspects] of the economy, such as human capital or social capital”? That I have no problem with. In other words, there’s a question of whether we can substitute things like human capital for portions of the ecosystem (natural capital…). And yes, I agree that’s one key question. But I don’t think it’s the most fundamental question, or more than one part of “how one should see the debate.” (more on that below)

    The question of substitution: My answer to that question would be something like this: “No, we can’t substitute things like human capital or social capital for portions of the ecosystem. They are two completely different things.” Daly argues they are compliments, not substitutes. pointing out that you “cannot build the same wooden house with half the timber no matter how many saws and carpenters one tries to substitute.” (p. 76)

    My personal view is that when we consume some nonrenewable portion of the ecosystem it should be considered a sacrifice, pure and simple. When we consume something renewable, it should be held to a minimum with every effort made to ensure that consumption levels do not exceed the earth’s capacity to absorb, renew, etc. That would help to make sustainable the consumption of renewables. Clearly, we have to work hard to get away from nonrenewables. When we think in terms of “substituting,” it only gives us license to go on depleting nonrenewable resources, so they won’t be there for future generations. That’s opposite of sustainability.

    Weak and strong sustainabilty: You said, [S]trong sustainability (SS) (ecological) believes we cannot substitute critical natural capital. So even SS would say that we can continue to grow and use the Earth’s resources but we should not deplete critical natural capital. So far, ecol econ has not properly distinguished between what is critical and what is not.

    As I read it, SS says we can use the earth’s resources only within limits such that we maintain a constant level of natural capital. It doesn’t say, “Well, some aspects of natural capital are expendable.” Now, clearly this is hard to measure precisely. But if we get far enough under the limits, we won’t have to know the precise measurements. And I should add that a weak sustainability approach suffers from imprecision as well.

    Also, the definitions I’ve seen for weak sustainability do not place any limit on the amount of natural capital that can be substituted for with human capital etc. It seems to suggest we could pretty much level the earth and feel okay about it as long as we’ve balanced out the losses with other forms of capital.

    Economic growth: You asked: [S]hould we forsake economic growth now, both in developing and developed countries for the sake that we are changing our environment? If your answer is yes, how do you give the environment the moral high-ground over human life?

    If we continue, business as usual, with economic growth, given it’s physical dimension, we risk killing a whole lot more people than would stopping it cold, even without implementing any alternatives. Continuing it is clearly unsustainable.

    But there are alternatives. We can begin looking seriously at the steady state economy idea. We can learn to push “development” in the sense of improvement rather than increased physical throughput. We could even start from scratch and simply seek answers to the questions, “How can we meet our needs without further degrading the ecosystem? How can we meet our needs without the physical growth which causes that damage?”

    Since we’ve talked about indicators, I’ll add that we can begin looking more seriously at those such the Genuine Progress Indicator, and even Gross National Happiness. As I mentioned before, I also think it’s important that we look at things like Ecological Footprint. We need indicators coming out of the natural sciences as it is nature on which economic growth impinges.

    All of this will require addressing population size/growth as well. That’s why that is my other big focus here.

    Misc.: You said: just do not go think that ecol economics has all the answers. I agree with you there. I think eco-econ is struggling to find answers, but has a lot of work to do. And I don’t doubt answers will come out of environ-econ as well.

    But I think the question of the ecomomy-ecosytem relationship is fundamental. Without the right perspective there, it’s hard to imagine coming to any truly sustainable answers. And there, ecological ecological economics seems to have a big edge right now. They put the economy in the proper perspective within the ecosystem.

    Your reference for criticism of the Ecological Footprint is problematic. It comes from the Environmental Assessment Institute, which is closely associated with Bjørn Lomborg. He was, in fact, its director at the time the piece was written.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_Assessment_Institute

    As a leading climate change “skeptic,” Lomborg has pretty much zero credibility in my opinion. It doesn’t surprise me that criticism of the Ecological Footprint measure has come from an anti-environmental guy. Not only that, but the page referenced says basically nothing other than a few comments to the effect that “it’s a bad indicator.” There is virtually no support provided. On the whole, from what I’ve seen, the Ecological Footprint measure seems to be viewed favorably by both natural scientists and environmental groups.

    Final note: Well, that was way too long. I want to spread a message here to a wide cross section of people, many of whom aren’t going to sift through a lot of theory. With that in mind, I want to try, even harder than I did here, to keep nudging these discussions back to the most basal level (Business as usual is destroying the ecosystem, major changes are needed, etc.). Though I’m absolutely fine with any commenter getting as theoretical as they want (and in fact, encourage it in a way because it encourages me to learn more theory), I just want it known that I’m going to remind myself to keep pulling it back to the root issues. In other words, I think I’m a bit guilty of getting distracted from what’s important, the very thing I implored mainstream economists not to do at the end of the article above. :-/

  14. In my last comment I should have noted that what I most wanted folks to look at, when I said “I am not alone in sounding alarms” re: CBA, was am embedded citation to “Critiques of Cost Benefit Analysis.” Here is the link: http://www.fs.fed.us/eco/eco-watch/econcritiques.html

  15. Can any of you mumbo-jumbo economists address Dr. Suzuki’s comments in Dr. Feeney’s newest article? Without acrononyms, nonsense equations or appeals to other economists. Sorry if this elmiminates all of you.

    I would appreciate if others with geniune scientific backgrounds would respond as well.

    Ross

  16. Ross,

    To be fair, I want to point out that some economists are not the devil (even if they do enjoy a good dose of mumbo-jumbo now and then), and Dave is one of the good guys. See his bio in the link he provided with his name. Now, Rob is one of the bad guys ;-), but I think he’s one of the good bad guys, ya know? I mean there are some truly demented bad guys, but I think Rob is just a little misguided. :^/ But he’s young, and I hope still a little malleable, so that I might play a role in nudging him out of the enviro-econ camp and into the warm embrace of the eco-econ camp where he can put his energies to the most productive, world-saving use possible.

    I did get a kick out of your post though. 🙂 I do want to keep sight of the fundamentals, and to put things in plain English so as to appeal to a wide readership.

  17. My own take on the notion of substitution is that it is an arrogant anthropocentric fancy. I think it taints how we might view the world, even to the point where one human being is completely substitutable for another, and extinction of species (with a loss of genetic diversity and biodiversity) is of no consequence.

    It is a mechanistic and utilitarian point of faith among economists and, in my opinion, that sort of belief is one of the root causes of our current ecological mess.

    On a finite planet, there are no “externalities” and each extinction is a loss for all of us.

  18. “It is a mechanistic and utilitarian point of faith among economists and, in my opinion, that sort of belief is one of the root causes of our current ecological mess.

    On a finite planet, there are no “externalities” and each extinction is a loss for all of us.”

    Very well said.

  19. Magne Karlsen

    Hello.

    I just found an article on the subject of ecology and economy. There’s not much new here, but still. – Interesting.

    http://www.inclusivedemocracy.org/journal/ss/ch7.htm

  20. Magne,

    Takk skal du ha! That looks good.

    Now if I could only get this journal article online :

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/g55t115mu4545043/

    I want it for a post I’m working on, but it looks locked up and unavailable for free on the Web. Ah well, looks like it will take a trip to the library.

  21. Magne Karlsen

    What? Who’s teaching you Norwegian?

    😮

  22. Magne, I read the article you linked to — apparently it’s a chapter from an on-line book. “Chapter 7. The ecological failure of the growth economy” Some good ideas in what for me was rather opaque writing — only some high level thoughts about econ and ecology. I could see no way to find out who wrote it or when.

  23. Magne, I was just having a little … moro with an online translator. I guess it works for … liketil words. :^)

  24. Trinafar,

    Here’s the link to the whole journal (in which Chapter 7 appears) – published in 2005. 😉

    http://www.inclusivedemocracy.org/journal/

    John,

    These online translators are getting better and better, aren’t they?

  25. Hmmm? Whatever happened to that link?

    Making use of the link above, – if you click on “Back Issues”, you’ll find: “Special Issue August 2005: The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy (entire book)”.

    Okay?

  26. Magne,

    Does your question about a link mean you posted a link which disappeared or something? I ask because I notice in my blog statistics today, under links which people have clicked, a link which doesn’t exist on the blog as far as I know. But I have no idea how a link would have been there, then evaporated.

  27. No, I only tried to create a link directly to the 2005 issue mentioned above, but that failed. 🙂

  28. Well I’m not too sure to make out of being called a good bad guy 🙂 I’m all for plurality, i.e. bringing env econ and ecol econ closer together. Indeed that is a important aspect of my research, notably bringing behavioural economics to bridge the divide between the two.

    But neoclassical economics still has a lot to offer in terms of CBA, IAMs, indicators – essentially to include the environment in to decision making.

    I noticed a few posts on population issues recently – you should read John Broome’s Weighting Lives book, its an excellent read from a philosopher – not an economist. See we do branch out.

  29. Rob,

    Well, “good bad” may actually be better than “bad good” in this case, I think. 🙂 Turn eco-econ and you’ll be “good good”!

    I’ve actually been seeing a bit about behavioral economics lately. Looks like it’s responsible for some fairly significant findings. Hmmm, in fact I think Magne, a regular commenter here posted a link a couple of days ago to an article about willingness to gamble on certain size wins versus losses, and the finding that people tend to be more sensitive to anticipated losses than wins. Interesting stuff. I’ll be interested to read more about it.

    I read through a pretty detailed review of the Broome book. I’ll put it on the list. 🙂

    You know, the real bad guys are the non-enviro-neoclassical-economists. When they’re not even really trying to take the environment into account, well, that’s really is bad.

  30. Magne Karlsen

    John: “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?”

    John: “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.”

    – —

    Blimey. – I woke up this morning with these words of yours, about “ecological homicide” ringing in my ears. It’s been a while since you wrote this, of course. And I don’t know what, at this point, would be the most intelligent question to ask.

    Like .. ?

    How did we come to allow less than 5% of the world’s population to control more than 90% of the property mass of this world?

    Hmm.

  31. Good question, Magne. They control 90% of the wealth, and a certain portion of them are doing their level best to destroy the ecosystem, which means they’re doing their best to kill a huge number of people.

    Just how appreciative their descendants will be to inherit a ruined earth remains to be seen.

  32. In my lifetime two events brought people into the streets with such frequency and in such large numbers the police response killed some of them: civil rights and the Viet Nam war. I wonder if the stresses of over population and global warming will be the third and why we can not be more civilized and find a better solution?

  33. Unfortunately, our current war cost me much of my hope that we were more civilized than we used to be. I remember shaking my head at our rush to war long before we’d exhausted many other possible avenues.

    We go a decade or so without war and it starts to feel like we’re “beyond” it. But then we’re back at it, no more civilized than one early human smashing a rock into the head of another. In fact, some tribal cultures developed ritual warfare in which no one really got hurt. We can’t even do that, it seems. I fear for our chances of tackling something as pervasive as this growth imperative in any civilized way.

  34. ‘We go a decade or so without war and it starts to feel like we’re “beyond” it.’

    Yep. I was one of those who felt that way. I really never imagined that any US administration would ever again do something as foolish like the Iraqi war.

  35. Magne Karlsen

    Well, I’m a European. The 1990s was – at least to a certain degree – a decade of war around these parts. What happened in former Yugoslavia was just incredible. The Russian war in Chechnya is a notable tragedy as well. As for the Americans; well. The NATO doctrine of out-of-area attacks and operations was the starting point, really, of what was to come in the aftermath of 9/11.

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