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Clive L. Spash

Ecological Economics at the Cross-roads

joining ‘ecology & economics’ without substantially reforming either. Rather confusingly for the external observer, this has encouraged neo-classical economists to present their work under the title of ecological economics as if it were something new. However, ecological economics is moving beyond these disciplines; for example, by placing importance upon the open discussion of ethical issues, rather than assuming resource and environmental problems can be meaningfully analysed from the ethically neutral perspective of an objective science. Ecological economics is synthesising different perspectives and is raising issues which environmental economics has been unable to address.

A central part of defining ecological economics as a distinct new subject rotates around the importance of incorporating moral values and being prepared to openly debate difficult issues, such as the set of morally considerable entities, the rights of future generations and treat- ment of the poor. The socio-economic aspect of ecological economics recognises a failure to account for issues of equity and culture and rejects the dominance of efficiency in economics. Some consensus exists around the key aspects of any new paradigm, which will need to include the recognition of ecosystems constraints, a concern for equit , fairness, effectiveness and effi- ciency in economic systems, and a regard for the moral standing of others both within current and across future generations of humans. The independent value of non-human entities remains more controversial.

As ecological economics moves away from the engineering approach to the ethical side of economics there will be a transition in which some of the methods, if not the methodolog , of environmental and resource economics remain of practical use. However, ecological economics as the study of well-being in society is open to influences from several disciplines as well as attracting economists of various persuasions (e.g. socialist, institutional, environmental). The distinctive role of ecological economics is to reveal the environment as a complex collection of ethical and evaluative considerations. While many environmental economists would accept the relevance of considerations outside their analysis, they claim to leave these to the mythical ‘decision-maker’. The essence of ecological economics is to reject such convenient assumptions and require the explicit inclusion of social, political and economic aspects in the analysis of the environment while being more realistic about the physical characteristics of ecosystems.


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