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Clive L. Spash

Ecological Economics at the Cross-roads

exposing the fallacy of the assumption that economic systems can be meaningfully studied without regard to natural resources or the environment. However, the full implications of these findings, when taken to their logical conclusion, also mean realising that much of neo-classical economics is an impediment to further advancement. Yet, the pluralism preached by ecological economics encourages the continued participation of and reluctance to move beyond the two founding disciplines.

Thus, a tension has remained within ecological economics. A crude characterisation of this situation might be that there are two possible directions for ecological economics: either accept neo-classical theory as basically sound and aim to develop mathematical models linking it with ecology or, learning from past experience, accept that how economic systems interact with Nature means moving away from old approaches and developing new paradigms. The first path has in principle been trodden by resource and then environmental economics for several decades, although without specific emphasis on ecology and with wavering enthusiasm by the late 1980s. While neo-classical economics offers a type of theoretical rigour attractive to scientifically trained academics, this same rigour reduces environmental problems to narrow technical issues and deliberately excludes a range of potential options and an interdisciplinary approach. Given the critique of economics that underlies the historical writings in the area, and that drove the formation of ecological economics, the second approach seems the only sensible alternative.

Whether all those currently subscribing to the movement will follow the developing path is unclear but unlikely. Currently, there are several contending themes which might define the core of ecological economics and pulling these together without alienating certain factions will be difficult. In a past edition of Environmental Values, Giuseppe Munda (1997) outlined his opinion of what form some of the key concepts. These were that ecological economics is con- cerned about the policy consequences of its arguments, openly claims ethical positions rather than neutrality, accepts that values can be disputed and incommensurable, recognises distribu- tional issues as a primary concern and sees the ecological concept of scale as limiting material growth. In addition, he proposed the coevolutionary paradigm as described by Norgaard (1988; 1994) as a potential unifying theme. Evolutionary dynamics are an important aspect of ecologi- cal economics which emphasise that economic and environmental systems are interacting and changing, often unpredictably, rather than static, and this implies analysing non-deterministic


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