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Clive L. Spash

Ecological Economics at the Cross-roads

by many as a revitalised environmental economics, while those avoiding it see the subject as at best a poor substitute for environmental economics and at worst bad economics by self-promot- ing natural scientists.

However, the aspirations of ecological economics are far greater than merely providing a new lease of life for established disciplines and lie in the development of new ideas and an interdisciplinary research agenda to explore alternative paradigms. This paper tries to throw light on developments relating to ecological economics in the latter part of the 20th century. Those seeking detail about the ecological critique of economics between the 1860s and the 1940s should refer to Martinez-Alier (1990).

T e Relations ip wit Environmental Economics In general, the literature by economists on the environment in the first part of this century re- flected concerns about conservation issues (as wise use not preservation) related to agriculture and forestry and established a theoretical approach to non-renewable resource depletion which is still fundamental to resource economics. Specialists in sub-disciplines addressed these topics while mainstream economics developed theories which by assumption implied economies could operate independently of either natural resource constraints or assimilative capacity and so further marginalised environmental issues.

Ciriacy-Wantrup (1952) can be seen as stimulating the development of environmental economics. His work in the 1950’s inspired many who would establish environmental econom- ics as a distinct sub-discipline in the 1960’s and 1970’s (e.g., Krutilla, 1967). Among his contri- butions is the concept of a safe minimum standard which is now often cited as a rejection of the conventional treatment of risk under cost-benefit analysis and a recognition of the importance of uncertainty as a distinct type of unpredictability. Some argue the safe minimum standard pro- vides a bridge between economists and ecologist (e.g., Tisdell, 1993 p.148).

While Kapp (1950) was an early critic, for man , the formal spread of an apparent environ- mental concern within mainstream economics was progressive. This was and continues to be regarded as an opportunity to get the message across to politicians and fellow economists that the environment and economy interact in fundamental ways. However, neither have seemed particu- lar moved by what environmental economists have been saying. The main response to this


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