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Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature

Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature

Robert Costanza
Gar Alperovitz
Herman Daly
Joshua Farley
Carol Franco
Tim Jackson
Ida Kubiszewski
Juliet Schor
Peter Victor
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Building a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature
    Book Description:

    The world has changed dramatically. We no longer live in a world relatively empty of humans and their artifacts. We now live in the “Anthropocene,” era in a full world where humans are dramatically altering our ecological life-support system. Our traditional economic concepts and models were developed in an empty world. If we are to create sustainable prosperity, if we seek “improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities,” we are going to need a new vision of the economy and its relationship to the rest of the world that is better adapted to the new conditions we face. We are going to need an economics that respects planetary boundaries, that recognizes the dependence of human well-being on social relations and fairness, and that recognizes that the ultimate goal is real, sustainable human well-being, not merely growth of material consumption. This new economics recognizes that the economy is embedded in a society and culture that are themselves embedded in an ecological life-support system, and that the economy cannot grow forever on this finite planet. In this report, we discuss the need to focus more directly on the goal of sustainable human well-being rather than merely GDP growth. This includes protecting and restoring nature, achieving social and intergenerational fairness (including poverty alleviation), stabilizing population, and recognizing the significant nonmarket contributions to human well-being from natural and social capital. To do this, we need to develop better measures of progress that go well beyond GDP and begin to measure human well-being and its sustainability more directly.

    eISBN: 978-1-921862-05-2
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Executive Summary
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. 1. Rationale and Objectives
    (pp. 1-16)

    Growth in material consumption is unsustainable: there are fundamental planetary boundaries.

    Growth in material consumption beyond a threshold already reached by many is undesirable: it has negative effects on social and natural capital and in overdeveloped economies does not increase well-being.

    Viable alternatives exist that are both sustainable and desirable, but they require a fundamental redesign of the entire “regime.”

    The current mainstream model of the economy is based on a number of assumptions about the way the world works, what the economy is, and what the economy is for (Table 1). These assumptions arose in an earlier period. In...

  6. 2. What Would a Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature Look Like?
    (pp. 17-28)

    To better articulate and communicate the goal, we need to envision the resulting society and how the pieces might fit together.

    The most critical task facing humanity today is the creation of a shared vision of a sustainable and desirable society, one that can provide permanent prosperity within the biophysical constraints of the real world in a way that is fair and equitable to all of humanity, to other species, and to future generations. Recent work with businesses and communities indicates that creating a shared vision is the most effective engine for change in the desired direction [37].

    In the...

  7. 3. A Redesign of “the Economy” Recognizing Its Embeddedness in Society and Nature
    (pp. 29-50)

    To achieve the vision outlined in the previous section will require some fundamental changes. As Meadows has pointed out, there is a spectrum of ways we can intervene in systems [38]. She lists 12 leverage points (shown on the right) for changing systems, ranging from changing parameters all the way to changing basic worldviews. We believe that the transition to a sustainable and desirable society will require a fundamental redesign of our system utilizing all of the leverage points. But most fundamentally, it will require changing worldviews, as outlined in the vision section above. Below, we outline some of the...

  8. 4. Example Policy Reforms
    (pp. 51-62)

    Economic policy has focused almost entirely on promoting continuous growth in GDP. Economic growth often translates into more, instead of better consumption, excessive material and fossil fuel use, and increased waste. The culture of consumerism has developed, in part at least, as a means of enhancing consumption-driven economic growth. But it has had damaging psychological and social impacts on people’s well-being. There is a need to systematically dismantle incentives for excessive material consumption and unproductive status competition [11, 16].

    Excess consumption is driven in part by artificially low prices that fail to reflect full social and environmental costs. Natural resource...

  9. 5. Are These Policies Consistent and Feasible?
    (pp. 63-72)

    We have so far presented a brief vision of what a sustainable and desirable “ecological economy” would look like, and a summary list of some of the policies we think would be required in order to get there. This begs the important question of whether these policies taken together are consistent and whether they are sufficient to achieve the goals we have articulated. Can we have a global economy that is not growing in material terms but that is sustainable and provides a high quality of life for most (if not all) people? While we can never really know the...

  10. 6. Conclusions
    (pp. 73-74)

    The world is at a critical turning point. This turning will not come overnight, however. In fact we are probably already in the middle of it. It will take decades. But it is a time of real choices: (1) we can attempt to continue business as usual, pursuing the conventional economic growth paradigm that has dominated economic policy since the end of World War II; (2) we can pursue an environmentally sensitive version of this model and attempt to achieve “green growth”; or (3) we can pursue a more radical departure from the mainstream that does not consider growth to...

  11. 7. References
    (pp. 75-84)