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Clive L. Spash

Ecological Economics at the Cross-roads

Ecological Economics at t e Cross-roads

by Clive L. Spash University of Cambridge

This piece is based upon a more extensive and inclusive article addressing both mainstream and ecological economic approaches. Sections are reproduced here with the permission ofWhite Horse Press, Cambridge, UK. (http://www.erica.demon.co.uk/EV.html). The original article is:

Spash, Clive L. (1999) The development of environmental thinking in economics. Environmental Values 8: 413-435.

Abstract: A group of people can be identified who teach that ecological economics is nothing more than a name for the link between mainstream economics and ecology. A new movement and paradigm are unnecessary for such ends. This viewpoint is argued to be inconsistent with the roots and ideas of the ecological economics movement. There is clearly a divergence between the con- formity to neo-classical economics favoured by resource and environmental economists and the acceptance of more radical critiques apparent in ecological economics. Thus, elements of eco- logical economics are increasingly incompatible with those practising neo-classical environmen- tal economics who try to reduce all concepts to fit within the confines of their models. Ecologi- cal economics is seen here to be synthesising various types of economics (e.g. socialist, institu- tional, environmental) and moving back to explicit inclusion of ethical issues in the mode of classical political economy.

Introduction For many people ecological economics is indistinguishable from agricultural economics, re- source economics, or environmental economics. Yet, there are significant differences amongst which the most obvious is recognition of the need to fundamentally change the current approach to economic analysis. Mainstream economists regard sub-disciplines which question the ortho- doxy as inferior pursuits and have therefore resisted the message that environmental and natural systems are distinctive elements of human production and welfare. Ecological economics has grown, particularly in the last decade, for several reasons, including frustration with the sub- disciplinary status of environmental economics, the apparent failure to impact legislation, and the disregard shown for natural science information on the environment by other economists.

A dominant lead has been preoccupied with linking standard economic and ecological models, rather than looking for a paradigm shift. This has encouraged researchers to subscribe to ecological economics while producing research results which would fit comfortably within neo- classical environmental economics. As a result, confusion has continued over defining what the subject involves. Thus, particularly in the United States, ecological economics has been adopted


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