Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Neoclassical versus Ecological economics (again)

The debate continues between the two schools of thought. This article is of interest to those who care about this debate. The MSc in Environmental Economics and Natural Resources at the University of Birmingham is strongly rooted in the Neoclassical economics camp for those interested.

MSc Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

One observation is that this paper was submitted to Ecological Economics in September 2005 and revised in August 2008. That reminds me, I have an EE paper to referee (as usual).

A matter of opinion—How ecological and neoclassical environmental economists and think about sustainability and economics - Lydia Illgea and Reimund Schwarze

The differing paradigms of ecological and neoclassical environmental economics have been described in various articles and books and are also embedded in different professional associations. However, we cannot take for granted that the paradigm debates described in the literature are actually mirrored in exactly the same way in the perceptions and opinions of researchers looking at sustainability from an economic perspective. This paper presents empirical results from a German case study on how economists and others involved in sustainability research from different schools of thought think about the issues of sustainability and economics, how they group around these issues, how they feel about the current scientific divide, and what they expect to be future topics of sustainability research.

We analyze the data using cluster analysis. Based on a literature survey, we generated forty sustainability economics-related statements and asked 196 sustainability researchers about their degree of agreement or disagreement with these statements. In evaluating our survey results, we discuss to what extent the clusters that we identified do—or do not—represent the two schools of thought of ecological and neoclassical environmental economics. We also propose some fields of research that can help to bridge the gaps amongst sustainability economics researchers while clearly marking others that are more suitable for a scientific ‘competition of ideas’. Key results of the study are: We identify two primary scientific clusters, one clearly confirming the existence of the ecological-economics school of thought, and the other largely capturing the neoclassical environmental view. Yet, there are some surprising exceptions: Both schools of thought share a conceptual definition of sustainability that is integrative in considering ecological, societal and economic dimensions (‘three pillar concept’) and is geared at preserving the development potentials of society. We also find a shared critique of ‘pure economic growth’ strategies in our sample. These shared opinions may provide bridging concepts between the schools of thought. Also both clusters agree with respect to a wide range of future fields of sustainability economics research. Yet, the research agenda of the ecological-economics cluster contains a large number of additional topics, primarily related to social, distributional and evolutionary aspects of sustainable development. Strong divides between the clusters that seem to be more suitable for a scientific competition of ideas are primarily related to the question of how to achieve sustainability, including appropriate environmental policies.


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