Dr. Robert Costanza, Professor of Ecologcal Economics at the University of Vermont, spoke last month at Yale University about ecological economics, a field that he helped create along with Herman Daly. In 1997, he wrote the seminal article “The Value of the World’s Ecosystems and Natural Capital,” which helped to define the economic worldview encompassed in ecological economics.
At Yale, Constanza spoke of creating a shared vision about a sustainable future:
“A key element in allowing us to do this is to create this vision of what a sustainable and desirable future would look like. A vision communicable enough to a broad enough audience, to make the point that it is not a sacrifice to make this transition, really it’s a sacrifice not to make this transition. I don’t think that choice has adequately been put before the public; I don’t think the public has been adequately involved in creating that vision.”
With ecological economics, Constanza is helping to create that vision. He contrasts the empty worldview, in which growth is limitless, more is always better, and no resource is sacred, with a more realistic view of a full world, which considers the natural capital that is not considered within traditional economic measurements like Gross Domestic Product. The full worldview considers the biophysical and sink services that the Earth provides, and many other assets that we take for granted, like water.
Constanza is onto something with his goal of creating a shared vision. Many people look at the environment as a competitor with the economy; a resource can be protected, but only if it doesn’t constrain growth. Unfortunately, that constraint is inevitable. Finding a way to break through that traditional binary logic is a key to involving people in this discussion.