Resolving the Environmentalist’s Paradox

7 04 2011

Here’s an extremely thought-provoking guest post by Megan Evans, Research Assistant at the University of Queensland in Kerrie Wilson‘s lab. Megan did her Honours degree with Hugh Possingham and Kerrie, and has already published heaps from that and other work. I met Megan first in 2009 and have been extremely impressed with her insights, broad range of interests and knowledge, and her finely honed grasp of social media in science. Smarter than your average PhD student, without a doubt (and she has even done one yet). Take it away, Megan.

© T. Toles

Resolving the ‘Environmentalist’s Paradox’, and the role of ecologists in advancing economic thinking

Aldo Leopold famously described the curse of an ecological education as “to be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise”. Ecologists do have a tendency for making dire warnings for the future, but for anyone concerned about the myriad of problems currently facing the Earth – climate change, an ongoing wave of species extinctions and impending peak oil, phosphate, water , (everything?) crises – the continued ignorance or ridicule of such warnings can be a frustrating experience. Environmental degradation and ecological overshoot isn’t just about losing cute plants and animals, given the widespread acceptance that long-term human well-being ultimately rests on the ability for the Earth to supply us with ecosystem services.

In light of this doom and gloom, things were shaken up a bit late last year when an article1 published in Bioscience pointed out that in spite of declines in the majority of ecosystem services considered essential to human well-being by The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), aggregate human well-being (as measured by the Human Development Index) has risen continuously over the last 50 years. Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne and the co-authors of the study suggested that these conflicting trends presented an ‘environmentalist’s paradox’ of sorts – do we really depend on nature to the extent that ecologists have led everyone to believe? Read the rest of this entry »

Unbounded economic growth destroying biodiversity

16 08 2010

…we can’t have more of everything instantaneously

…increasing takeover of the ecosystem is the necessary consequence of the physical growth of the macroeconomy

…consider telling the economist to go to hell

Herman Daly

© M. Leunig

Last month I had the privilege of listening to Rob Dietz of the Centre for Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) when attending the 2010 International Congress for Conservation Biology. He introduced the CASSE and their mandate – to promote stable or mildly fluctuating levels in population and consumption of energy and materials. This is the steady-state economy.

I’ve hinted before that our essentially linear economy (natural resource exploitation -> transport -> manufacturer -> redistribution -> sale -> consumption/use -> disposal (discussed in a very easy-to-understand way in the Story of Stuff) is not sustainable in the long term because of the finite resource base of the planet (think trees, coal, oil, arable land). My colleagues and I have even shown analyses based on hard data demonstrating that total wealth is the ultimate driver of environmental degradation at the country scale.

So, it is my opinion (and a growing number of others‘) that we need a new way of measuring economic prosperity, or the world will enter a state of permanent financial crisis. The mantra of constant economic growth is simply unrealistic as our human populations continue to expand. This is a very simplistic statement and on the surface an apparently impossible goal; however, people who put together the CASSE believe it is achievable.

It is for this reason that I have been communicating with Rob Dietz and others at CASSE about reposting some of their excellent essays on Please feel free to comment here on the subject matter because the CASSE people will be monitoring. I hope we can expand the readership and support base, and eventually start to convince politicians that growth will eventually kill us and a good slice of the planet’s biodiversity.

So with that, here’s the first repost by Professor Herman Daly entitled “Opportunity Cost of Growth“: Read the rest of this entry »