Clive L. Spash
Ecological Economics at the Cross-roads
conform to theoretical expectations. Examples of such problems are Georgescu-Roegen’s work on entropy, Ciriacy-Wantrup’s concerns about the epistemology of uncertaint , Kapp’s critiques of valuation, and the general inadequacies of the underlying behavioural model as noted, for example, by Knetsch (1994). Furthermore, while environmental and resource economics has been restricted to micro-economics, ecological economics has been progressive at both micro- economic (e.g., household consumption level) and macro-economic (economic growth and sustainability) levels.
Consideration of ecology also presents fundamental insights into economics rather than a few extra constraints. Holling et al. (1995) suspect many economists ignore ecological informa- tion despite the accumulated body of evidence from natural, disturbed and managed ecosystems. In particular, they identify four key features common to the function and structure of many ecosystems which economists should bring into their subject. A précis of their points is as fol- lows: (i) Ecosystem change is episodic rather than continuous and gradual. (ii) Scaling up from small to large is a non-linear process. (iii) Ecosystems exhibit multiple equilibria, an absence of equilibria and are destabilised by forces far from equilibria. The movement between such states maintains structure and diversity. (iv) Recognising that ecosystems have multiple features, which are uncertain and unpredictable, requires management and policies to be flexible, adaptive and experimental at scales compatible with those of critical ecosystem functions.
Besides learning from ecology the movement has begun to look across other divides such as ethics, psychology and politics, and to recognise the importance of methodological and value issues. For example, debates over the motives behind natural capital maintenance are poorly reflected by reduction purely to the degree to which people believe inputs are substitutable, a very mechanistic reductionism; driving issues concern ignorance being epistemologically di fer- ent from risk (Faber, Manstetten and Proops, 1996) and the recognition of non-human values (Spash and Clayton, 1997). Other ethical considerations relate to the moral standing of unborn future generations and the inadequacy of debates upon appropriate interest rate derivation to even address the issue (Spash, 1993). A defining aspect of commitment to ecological economics is then the extent to which concepts, such as discounting, are seen as problematic in themselves, the issues they raise are debated and the search initiated for alternative approaches. For some economists even questioning the orthodoxy is heretical, and values and information which it