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Clive L. Spash

Ecological Economics at the Cross-roads

proaches to the same issue are compared and contrasted rather than subsumed under a new overarching structure. More importantly, excessive concentration on the ‘improved linkage’ approach can been seen to have detracted from the search for and adoption of a new paradigm.

In this latter regard, the methodology of ecological economics is still refreshingly open. For example, at the risk of generalising, the European branch tends more to socio-economics and political economy while the Americans lean towards a scientific approach. The European Soci- ety for Ecological Economics (ESEE) encourages analysis of the social aspects of environmental policy and wider consideration of the place of humans within the environment. This implies a different methodology from mainstream economics while allowing for a discourse on the devel- opment of a socio-economic and ecological discipline. A distinguishing feature of the European movement is the search for co-operation with philosophers, sociologists and psychologists to explore ethical, social and behavioural fundamentals of human well-being.

While the pluralism expounded by this approach is refreshing, the apparent expansion of economics may worry some that colonisation of ideas is all that is intended. Previous extensions of neo-classical economics (e.g. crime, health, environment) seem to have reassured the econom- ics profession of the universality of their approach while allowing outside critiques to be re- garded as largely irrelevant. For example, the concept of total economic value has been used by some to claim all environmental values can be adequately addressed in cost-benefit analysis. Unfortunately, some research along these lines has indeed appeared under the guise of ecological economics and, despite being technically deficient even within the neo-classical paradigm, has been widely publicised, e.g., attempting to value the world’s ecosystems in monetary terms. However, such work clearly deviates from what is progressive in ecological economics and also corrupts the meaning and content of concepts in both ecology (e.g. ecosystems functions) and economics (e.g. marginal valuation under ceteris paribus).

Others more critical of established approaches have been attracted to ecological econom- ics by the potential to develop new paradigms. The unifying theme being the belief that effective environmental policy formation means the separate study of environmental problems without regard to economics is as misguided as the economic approach excluding the natural science perspective. This allows for the recognition that the work of environmental economists has had much to commend it in terms of identifying problems in the efficient allocation of resources and


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