USSEE President Jon Erickson discusses ecological economics with Michigan State University’s Dr. Kirk Heinze on WJR Radio’s Greening of the Great Lakes

Ecological economists seek quality of life over quantity

by Russ White for Greening the Great Lakes

Jon Erickson is a professor and managing director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.  And he’s president of the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics.

“Ecological economics has a different vision of the economy than traditional economics,” Erickson says.  “We fundamentally feel like the economy is supported, sustained and contained by ecosystems.

“We see a healthy economy and a healthy ecosystem going hand in hand; you can’t have one without the other.”

Erickson says there’s a real lack of a connection between the health and wealth of the economy and the maintenance of the ecosystem in traditional economics.

“Economics as it’s taught in many places is really devoid of a sense that there’s an environment that we extract resources and inputs and energy from and there’s an environment that we put waste back in to.

“It really is taught in most programs that economics is a system in and of itself, and if the environment is anywhere it’s simply a sector of the economy.  We really try to turn that on its head,” says Erickson.

The traditional approach to the economics of the environment is really focused on efficiency – how do we efficiently manage the resource that we’re extracting and using in the economy, according to Erickson.

“Ecological economics certainly pays attention to efficiency, but it’s really a third-tier goal,” says Erickson.  “We first and foremost want to look at the sustainable scale and size of the economy relative to the sustaining and containing ecosystem.”

A second goal of ecological economics is the equity question:  who shares in the benefits and burdens of economic cooperation, says Erickson.

Ecological economics embraces a trans-disciplinary approach to problem solving.

“It’s a blurring of the lines between disciplines,” says Erickson.  “We feel like that at universities there are disciplines, but in the world there are problems.  And the problems don’t fit neatly in these boxes we’ve created on campuses.

“We’re really trying to, more than anything else, engage in a conversation about the problems and to let the problems define the disciplinary perspective that we need to solve them, not the other way around.”

The USSEE’s biennial conference highlighting the latest research and education initiatives in ecological economics will bring together an interdisciplinary group of academics and practitioners to analyze society’s most pressing social and environmental problems and design solutions for a sustainable future.

The conference will be held at MSU June 26 – 29, 2011.

Click here to hear Erickson’s October 22 Greening of the Great Lakes conversation with Kirk Heinze.  Greening of the Great Lakes airs every Friday evening at 7 on News/Talk 760 WJR.