of Ecological Economics
How can we define ecological economics? Is it a
sub-field of economics, an interdisciplinary area,
or a discipline in its own right? As the field has
developed, it has shown aspects of all three categorizations.
After exploring the expanding literature of ecological
economics, the researchers for this volume have
leaned toward the third proposition: a new field
of study is being defined which is independent of
the standard economic paradigm.
is an ambitious claim, and the reader will have
to make his or her own judgment as to how well it
is supported here. After surveying hundreds of books
and articles, however, the editors of this volume
feel that a strong case exists for the emergence
of ecological economics as a new field of research
and study. Not that the discipline lacks historical
roots - but it is only within the past decade that
it has emerged from marginality to play a significant
role in shaping serious thought about glob al economic
and environmental issues.
field of "environmental economics," as distinct
from ecological economics, already exists in mainstream
economics. However, that mainstream approach is
felt by many theorists and practitioners to be inadequate
to deal with the contemporary crises of environment/human
interactions. The "environmental" area within the
existing discipline of economics is too constrained
by its requirement of market valuation to respond
adequately to the complexities of issues such as
global warming, species loss, ecosystem degradation,
inter-generational equity, and non-human values.
Ecological economics, by contrast, starts from a
recognition of the biophysical realities underlying
the operations of the economic system. Economic
issues are then viewed in this context, rather than
attempting to monetary price valuation to all aspects
of the environment.
issues which ecological economics brings to the
fore are especially important in a long-term perspective
and on a planetary scale. Much of human economic
activity has been directed toward stretching ecological
, and institutional issues round out t he volume.
Several hundred articles and books were surveyed
in the search for those which would best represent
the field. Our selection principle has favored those
articles which we believe best express a key concept
or argument. Rather than reprinting full articles,
we have chosen to summarize articles or book chapters.
In this way, the reader will get the benefit of
the essential content of an article - which would
not emerge from a shorter abstract - but a faspecies.
The inexorable buildup of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere has no immediate effect on economic activity,
but eventually threatens the climatic stability
of the entire planet.
Such issues are by now well known, but often fail
to register on the monetary scale of standard economic
analysis. Attempts to reflect these ecological developments
in economic cost terms inevitably fail to capture
the full scope of the problems. For some time, however,
writers in the ecological economics tradition have
warned of just such problems, basing their analysis
on such concepts as energy flows and ecological
system stability. The steady drumbeat of news on
growing global ecological problems signal's a need
to treat the field of ecological economics much
more seriously than it has been treated hitherto
by most economists.
The reason why this paradigm shift is particularly
important now has to do with the issue of scale,
a concept much emphasized by ecological economists.
In standard economic analysis, there are no inherent
barriers to the scale of the macroeconomy. This
vision of unlimited growth is in fundamental conflict
with the ecological perspective, which sees scale
and carrying capacity limits as central to the analysis
of any biophysical process. It is precisely this
issue which undergirds almost all of our current
environmental problems. The human race has doubled
in numbers in less than forty years, and may well
double again in the next forty. Economic activity
has at least quadruped over the same period, and
according to World Bank forecasts will nearly quadruple
again by 2030. Whether
we are thinking of the loss of open space in the
United States, water limits in India, over-harvesting
of fisheries worldwide, or the enormous potential
coal use of China in the coming decades, environmental
problems are driven by the pressures of growth.
Scale issues can be ignored up to a point, as they
are in mainstream macroeconomics, but we are now
well past that point.
If we accept the case for a more careful consideration
of ecological economics, what do we find? this is
the question which motivated our research for this
volume. The organization of the volume is intended
to present the full scope of the field, starting
with its historical roots and the definition of
the field. We then move to general and specific
theoretical concepts, then to energy and resource
flow analysis and national income accounting techniques.
Applications to North-South/international relations
and to social, ethical, and institution issues round
out the volume. Several hundred articles and books
were surveyed in the search for those which would
best represent the field. Our selection principle
has favored those articles which we believe best
express a key concept or argument. Rather than reprinting
full articles, we have chosen to summarize articles
or book chapters. In this way, the reader will get
the benefit of the essential content of the article
-- which would not emerge from shorter abstracts
--but a far larger number of authors can be included
than would be possible if the full text was reproduced.
In every case, the authors have reviewed the summaries
to check that their work is adequately and clearly
presented. These summaries, however, are in no way
meant to substitute for the original articles. We
strongly recommend that readers seek out the full
texts in their areas of interest.
overview essays at the head of each section attempt
to synthesize the diverse selections to give a sense
of the nature of the field. Despite the varied views
and theoretical perspectives represented, we feel
that a certain Gestalt emerges, a sense of a viable
field of analysis with its own parameters and techniques.
There is certainly some overlap with standard economics
as well as with ecological, political, historical,
and ethical analysis. But we feel, and have some
confidence that the reader will also feel, this
emergence of a new and essential discipline.
Such a far-reaching enterprise has necessarily involved
the contributions of many people. Rajaram Krishnan,
an economist specializing in agricultural and labor
issues in development, has coordinated the selection
and preparation of summaries, as well as providing
a summary essay for Part VI. Jonathan Harris, who
has published work on the economics of agriculture,
trade, and global institutions, has written most
of the overview essays that introduce the parts
of the book. Neva R. Goodwin , the originator of
the project and author of Social Economics: An
Alternative Theory, has contributed the section
VII overview. The research team for this volume
included Andrew Morrison, Daniel Von Moltke, Daniele
Guidi and Kevin Gallagher. For tireless editing
work we are indebted to Carolyn Logan. Associates
of the Global Development and Environment Institute
including Jeffrey Zabel and Elliott Morss contributed
to the shaping of volume in its early stages. The
final responsibility for the selection and content
rests with the three editors. We hope that we have
done justice to the field of ecological economics,
and perhaps helped to define this emerging discipline.
of the funding for the research and writing of this
volume was provided by the John D. and Catherine
T. MacArthur Foundation, as part of a grant to the
Program for the Study of Sustainable Change and
Development. Tufts University administrative staff
have provided essential support throughout. We are
very grateful for the active support of these institutions,
without which the project would not have been possible.
1. World Bank, 1992 World Development Report: Development
and the Environment (Oxford, New York, Toronto:
Oxford University Press, 1992), 9.