Why We Must Learn From The Biosphere To Build Green Economies


photo: Nogwater/Creative Commons

Interested in ecological economics? (And if you call yourself an environmentalist or are even minimally concerned about green issues, you should be.) Then here are two important pieces you should be paying attention to from the past couple of days: Some good new from the National Wildlife Federation on abandoning GDP as the most important measure of our economy; and some excellent (as always) words from David Korten on learning from the biosphere in structuring our economy.As reported by the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, the National Wildlife Federation recently pass a resolution calling on the President, Congress, as well as governors and state legislators to adopt broader economic measurements in judging economic health, and abandoning GDP "as the economic indicator that economic policymakers seek to maximize."

The original CASSE piece goes into the reasoning behind why GDP is actually a supremely poor statistic in judging the health of economies, societies, development, or the environment--and here on TreeHugger we've covered the same ground.

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for any of those people and organizations mentioned in the resolution to actually adopt NWF's advice, but it's nevertheless good to read that another national-level organization sees the folly and illogic of trying to achieve never-ending economic growth.

And CASSE really sums it up well:

The root cause of our environmental problems--our ecological crisis--is infinite planet economic theory, the rules and axioms of a discipline that tells us that it is possible to have infinite economic growth on a finite planet. It sounds crazy, doesn't it? But neoclassical economists continue to believe this is possible because human ingenuity is a factor of production and, supposedly, it is infinitely powerful. You can get to that conclusion only if you ignore the laws of thermodynamics. Economic production is, at bottom and unalterably, a process that relies on physical inputs. No amount of human ingenuity will ever let us make something from nothing or nothing from something. No amount of ingenuity will let us create energy out of nothing or recycle it to use it again.

In the real world outside of infinite planet theory, our acts and works are constrained by physical law. Those laws tell us that increasing our matter-and-energy throughput has unavoidable consequences in the world. It damages ecosystems, leading to the loss of (sometimes irreplaceable) ecosystem services.

All of which links directly into what David Korten writes about in YES! Magazine: Namely that we have to relearn how "our individual and collective well-being depends on the well-being of the whole" and that we need to restructure our economies to "mimic the structure and dynamics of the biosphere."

Korten suggests we must develop more cooperative self-organization, self-reliant local adaptation, and manage our boundaries better.

Because of the way life manages energy, each living entity must maintain an active flow of energy within itself and in continuous exchange with its neighbors. Life requires permeable managed membranes at every level of organization--the cell, the organ, the multi-celled organism, and the multi-species ecosystem--to manage these flows and as a defense against parasitic predators.

Read more: YES! Magazine
More on Economics
Are the Benefits of Future Economic Growth Worth More Ecological Destruction?: Herman Daly
What If the Global Economy Was a Giant Hamster? or Infinite Growth on a Finite Planet (Video)

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