Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How to become an Ecological Economist

The title of this post raises as many questions as it answers and harks back to the fundamental differences between "environmental economists" and "ecological economists". Malte Faber (Heidelberg) is the author.

It is great to be able to read a paper designed to tell me how I can make the conversion and to at least understand the differences as perceived by an Ecological Economist.

This is interesting reading for those wanting to know the difference if only to discount the idea as academic madness. Does the abstract sound tempting?

How to be an Ecological Economist [PDF]

To answer the question “How to be an Ecological Economist”, we must start by defining the field of Ecological Economics. Mainstream Economics altogether lacks the concepts required to deal adequately with nature, justice and time. It was the absence of these three concepts in this otherwise great social science that led to the establishment of Ecological Economics. The interest in nature, justice and time is its defining characteristic. The main thesis of this paper is that our field is a fragile institution and that the professional existence of an ecological economist is no less fragile. However, this very fragility also represents freedom, scope for free thinking, conceptualising and research. Nevertheless, to be able to really use and in turn enjoy the full scope of this freedom, an ecological economist needs certain specific characteristics, in particular what is termed in the German philosophical tradition “Urteilskraft” and in English “power of judgement”. A description of these characteristics is developed in this paper, providing an answer to the question “How to be an ecological economist?”

The paper concludes with the following short paragraph (my bold):

To sum up: Interdisciplinary studies broaden our horizon, time further expands our perspective. However, we must be aware that this broadening involves a risk of arbitrariness. Here, the power of judgement protects ecological economists. While it is an important aspect of judgement, professionalism alone runs the risk of fostering narrowness. Sensitivity to time not only expands our perspective, it also reinforces humility, by forcing us to face up to our own ignorance. Attentiveness to the Gestalt of Ecological Economics problems leads to openness, safeguarding against narrowness. If all these qualities are truly cultivated by ecological economists, then the two fragilities of the institutional structure and the excessive demands of the task of an ecological economist can be turned into strengths: Ecological economists will blossom and Ecological Economics will flourish.


1 comment:

Robert D Feinman said...

From my following of both schools of thought the main difference I've seen is that "ecological" economists see a problem caused by the finiteness of the earth's resources which can only be addressed by lowering total demand to a "sustainable" level.

Environmental economists agree that there are real constraints on resources but think that technology will find a solution, as it always has done in the past.

One group are pessimists and the other optimists. This also seems to be a generational division, the ecological group tends to be older and have been exposed to more examples of human folly than the younger group of environmentalists.

I can't make a neutral judgment since I fit the ecological group temperamentally, but I think it is better to err on the side of caution and constrain consumption now rather than pin the future well being of humankind on hope.

The practical difficulties with constraining consumption are that the wealthy see no reason to sacrifice or scale back, especially while some of the restraint would get redirected to the "bottom billion".

There is no good argument offered to the current selfish generation. Ideas that appeal to fairness or altruism or leaving a better world for one's descendants have yet to get any traction. Just look at the degree of foreign aid supplied by the US (about 0.4% of GDP). Most Americans think this is too high, especially since they think the number is more like 20%.

We can't even help our own, such as the refugees from Katrina. If the environmentalists are going to make claims they need to provide some evidence, and historical analogy is not an adequate defense.