What is Ecological Economics

Ecological Economics is a multidisciplinary field which combines the study of the environment with the study of economic endeavors and human social systems. It answers the questions that are never answered with a pure economics approach: but what happens to people?

The operative concept is to combine examination of human economic activity with examination of ways in which those activities interrelate with the environment. The problem is that, while human understandings of economic behavior are sophisticated and well known by the few who understand them, human constructs for natural and social environments is still relatively primitive.

There needs to be a way to relate physical, biological and social structures and interactions with understanding of and attention toward their effect on the ecosystems. The word “sustainable” is used frequently. In other words, if humans continue to advance in technology that greatly alters the landscape, there must be advancement in ways that ensure the minimal damage to the life sustaining qualities of that landscape.

One example of micro environmental economics can be the idea of indigenous knowledge and lifestyles. This is traditionally disrespected as being “too primitive” for more developed countries, yet is one of the least damaging and most sustainable ways of human endeavor. Micro businesses, micro loans, and micro economics as opposed to massive global conglomerates is now getting attention as a viable prospect in human economic activity.

But something must be done, when the most developed nations have unsustainable demands for goods, resources and activity that supports unsustainable ideas about human actualization, living standards and satisfaction. The developed nations are responsible for the world’s damage, for using the worlds resources, and should also be financially and socially responsible for fixing the damage and for developing sustainable growth.

The student of economic/ecology programs will find it impossible to find a masters degree or PhD level program. Yet educational institutions recognize the need to develop those degree programs and soon! The University of Edinburgh offers a programme for Ecological Economics, as do some other institutionsthroughout the world. Most of these programs attempt to offer a cohesive mix of mostly science and economics courses, supplemented with social science courses that focus on the human and societal relationship with economy and environment.

The career field is booming, with certificate bearing or degree bearing individuals in big demand. There has been a big increase in demand for the specific title in government, business, policy and other agencies. An example is in the Michigan job site for the title of environmental economist.

In summary, the rigors of understanding the complexities of economics, environmental science and technology and social science as well make the environmental economist a very special breed of multidisciplinary specialist. As educational programs at the baccalaureate, masters and PhD level are developed, then there will be more than special courses and certificates to cement the stature of the field. Job opportunities and demand is growing and salaries are commensurate with the additional and specialized education.

Stephen Farber and Dennis Bradley, “Ecological Economics”

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