Category Archives: Ecological Economics

The economy is part of the environment, not vice versa.

Degrowth & Strategy — (review)

Degrowth & Strategy: How to Bring About Social-Ecological Transformation. Nathan Barlow, Livia Regen, Noémie Cadiou, Ekaterina Chertkovskaya, Max Hollweg, Christina Plank, Merle Schulken and Verena Wolf, editors. MayFly Books, 2022. https://mayflybooks.org/.

Degrowth & Strategy is an impressive collection of essays by a variety of people on strategies to implement degrowth. (The price is right, too—get an e-copy for free on the publisher’s website!) Continue reading

Herman Daly (1938 – 2022)

Herman Daly passed away on October 28. He was one of the founders of the “ecological economics” school of thought. The big contribution of Herman Daly to our knowledge is his explanation of a simple idea: the economy is part of the environment, not vice versa.

To most non-economists, the idea that the human economy is part of our larger world (atmosphere, sun, soil, water, minerals, plants, animals, and people) is common sense. Of course the economy is part of the environment, how could it be otherwise? But sometimes, as Herman Daly remarked, it’s the simplest things that are hardest to understand. If you understand that the economy is part of the environment, then congratulations: you know more about the basis of economics than most economists, including the ones to whom our political leaders look for advice. Continue reading

Debate: Degrowth or Green Growth?

To save the planet, should we seek more economic growth, but just make sure that it respects planetary boundaries (“green growth”)? Or is there no alternative except to decrease total economic activity (“degrowth”)? About two weeks ago there was a fascinating debate on this critical and controversial topic now available on YouTube, which I recommend to everyone interested in what it’s actually going to take to deal with climate change. This is certainly an all-star cast—Jason Hickel, Sam Fankhauser, and Kate Raworth are all committed environmentalists and knowledgeable economists.

What do you think? Please feel free to make comments below. I have a few random thoughts but this isn’t a comprehensive analysis of the debate.

Continue reading

Why divestiture?

One of the more interesting ideas for climate action is the idea of divesting in fossil fuels. If investing in fossil fuels stops or declines, fossil fuel industries will lose money and go out of business, and fewer fossil fuels will be burned. A number of groups and individuals have suggested this strategy.

This is actually an interesting idea because it represents something concrete that we can do. But how is this strategy supposed to work? If we are successful, what does this look like? Continue reading

“Code red for humanity” — what does this even mean?

The High Park Wildfire burns on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland on June 10, 2012. U. S. Forest Service photo (public domain).

The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, says that the latest IPCC report is “a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable.” Of course, this is not news for many of us. How should we react to this?

Climate is a well-discussed problem, with a variety of “climate action plans” and a variety of climate groups to choose from. You’d think that we’d have action by now! Why is climate, despite all the attention it has gotten, such a difficult subject? Continue reading

Life After Fossil Fuels — review

Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy. Alice J. Friedemann. Lecture Notes in Energy 81. Springer Nature Switzerland AG, 2021.

Most people assume that when fossil fuel use ends, we will probably be living with different types of renewable energy, mostly wind turbines and solar power. Allow Alice Friedemann (engineer, architect, and creator of EnergySkeptic.com), to puncture a few of your illusions.

I loved this book. Probably not everyone will be as nerdy about energy issues as I am, but for me it was just what the doctor ordered. Realistic, humorous, objective, this book is oddly hopeful in an apocalyptic sort of way. Alice Friedemann shows us that there is life after fossil fuels, even after the failure of all our dreams about alternative energy, and as industrial civilization crashes down around us. Continue reading

Less is More — review

Less is More. How Degrowth Will Save the World. Jason Hickel. Windmill Books, 2020.

Less is More is an important book that seeks to popularize the idea of economic “degrowth,” though it is somewhat flawed in significant details. Degrowth is a deliberate attempt to reduce the physical size of the economy — for example, we should prefer bicycles to cars, and plant foods to animal foods. Degrowth is widely discussed in Europe, where the idea originated. In America, the “heart” of the capitalist beast, it is still a relatively unknown idea.

Jason Hickel is right on his key point in this book. Our economy is already massively unsustainable. If human civilization is to have a future, we cannot continue with the growth economy. This should be the starting point of any discussion about the environment. Continue reading

“Livestock and Climate Change” – part 4 (video)

Here are three concluding thoughts (strictly my own opinions) about the reception and impact of “Livestock and Climate Change,” by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang. It’s my opinion that the FAO is now dominated by the livestock industry, that “Livestock and Climate Change” represents only a minimum estimate of greenhouse gases due to livestock agriculture, and that we shouldn’t get distracted by the 51% figure.

“Livestock and Climate Change” – part 1 (video)

“Livestock and Climate Change,” by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, was published in WorldWatch in 2009, and stated that 51% of all anthropogenic greenhouse emissions come from livestock. This is one of the most significant articles written on global warming, even though at this point it’s over a decade old. Many people, including me, have found the article a bit dense to understand, even though as vegans we have an obvious interest in its conclusions. Goodland and Anhang make five points in their article, and this video explains points 1 and 2: overlooked respiration by livestock and overlooked land use.

In defense of drastic moves to curb CO2

This letter to the editor of The Denver Post appeared in today’s paper (February 5, 2021).

Re: “Moves on energy, climate need to be smart,” Jan. 31 letters

Flooding in the US Midwest, 2008. Don Becker, USGS (public domain).

In a recent letter to the editor, someone said that the President’s suspension of oil and gas leases had put him out of business and had failed to stop one CO2 molecule from being released. Good points! To be consistent, we need a “cap-auction-trade” system restricting both the production and consumption of oil. Continue reading

Why isn’t “limits to growth” obvious? (video)

Why isn’t “limits to growth” obvious? We live on a finite planet, with finite resources. The economy depends on these resources. This shouldn’t be that complicated, but somehow it is. If we’re going to deal with the environmental crisis, and get to a vegan world, we need to figure out these questions.

This is my second video on “limits to growth and veganism,” based on the ideas for the talk I gave last fall on “Limits to growth and veganism” via Zoom. Please comment below on questions that you have or things that you’d like to hear more about.