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Clive L. Spash

Ecological Economics at the Cross-roads

excludes must therefore be irrelevant to economics. The socio-economic approach to ecological economics accepts the need for future generations of humans to have a voice and that both intra- and inter-generational distribution are issues the current economic and political system fails to adequately address.

This concern for disenfranchised humans and the importance given to distributional issues is common amongst ecological economists. Social and community values are recognised as key to improving human well-being and therefore part of the consideration in addressing environmental problems. Appealing to a theory of human motivation based solely upon indi- vidual preferences, even when altruistic, is then somewhat contradictory. Much of environmen- talism is concerned with a sense of community across space and time. An opinion shared with socialist critiques is that free market systems educate individuals to act as selfish hedonists and create self perpetuating power structures which reinforce inequity. Thus, ecological economics is also interested in exploring alternative institutions and processes. Such an institutional ap- proach needs to consider how a variety of values can be expressed and how to prevent the loss of values which occurs when they are squeezed to fit within the free market paradigm. The aim for ecological economics must be to develop new ways of thinking about the world around us and approaches for resolving (not necessarily solving) environmental conflicts.

More controversial is the extent to which ecological economists accept that moral stand- ing be given to non-human entities. Proops (1989 pp62, 72) has identified questions over rights for animal species, plants and depletable resources as part of the research agenda on ethical values required in ecological economics. While Costanza and Daly (1987 p.4) have noted the ability of humans to misperceive the value of natural resources which leads them to state that: “Some notion of intrinsic value must therefore be introduced as a check on human perceptions and to allow us to study the economies of nature which do not include humans”. Unfortunatel , they fail to expand upon their conception of intrinsic value. One possible expression of this concern might be in the development by ecologists and social scientists of the concept of ecosys- tem health which seems to equate ecosystems to people in that ecosystems are more than an aggregation of component species and the implication is that as entities they can be harmed, i.e., be given poor health (Costanza, 1992 pp.240-241). There also seems to be a key underlying concern in the concept of natural capital maintenance that goes beyond preservation of useful


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