Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Rise and Fall of Ecological Economics

Mark Sagoff has written an article with this title in the Breakthrough Journal. This is a new publication of the Breakthrough Institute which is a contrarian but self-described "progressive" think tank that has a large focus on environmental issues.

In the article Sagoff mainly claims that ecological economics started promisingly but got sidetracked by adopting environmental valuation and cost-benefit analysis and is now ignored by everyone. There are lots of other discussions about the history of ecology etc. along the way. Sagoff has been a consistent opponent of cost-benefit analysis. I think the essay is very polemical and overemphasizes some trends while ignoring others. Some ecological economists have adopted mainstream approaches to non-market valuation of the environment for largely pragmatic reasons as described. But this is by no means all or even the majority of ecological economists, especially in Europe. Ecological Economics does publish quite a few papers on valuation but also on all kinds of other topics and approaches. We have always taken a very open-minded and eclectic approach. There has been convergence between ecological and mainstream environmental economics over time, but it hasn't been a one way street.

Personally, I have always been opposed to non-market environmental valuation for both practical and philosophical reasons. I don't believe that it is possible to come up with at all credible prices through these approaches and especially not sustainability-relevant prices. And I don't think CBA should be used for making large societal decisions as they are more about distribution than efficiency. I am all for efficiency though in implementing goals once society has decided on them.

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