Category Archives: Education & Publications

New Program “Economics for the Anthropocene” Recruiting PhD Students

The Gund Institute at the University of Vermont (UVM), McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and York University in Toronto, Ontario seek up to nine PhD students to join a new international research initiative, “Economics for the Anthropocene” in Fall 2014.   This first cohort of students will focus broadly on applying approaches based on ecological economics to water security and watershed management issues.  The Lake Champlain Basin and lower St. Lawrence watershed provide an ideal model for this theme, but students will have considerable latitude and assistance in developing the direction of their work. In addition to the initial focus on transboundary water management, the full scope of research will include work on applying ecological economics theory and methods to regional energy management and climate justice.

BACKGROUND: McGill University, York University, UVM, and 25 other partners will launch the Economics for the Anthropocene in 2014. The partnership will (1) Create a vibrant international research network in ecological economics; (2) Train future leaders capable of analyzing and managing the unique challenges of the Anthropocene; (3) Actively link academic and non-academic partners in solving transnational problems that exemplify these new challenges; and (4) Integrate the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities to improve education, train new leaders, and enhance life’s prospects in the Anthropocene.

The partnership will train up to 60 graduate students in three cohorts over six years. Students will enroll at any of the three universities, and cohorts will take core courses together through web-enabled classrooms that link our campuses. Joint field courses will engage non-academic partners in providing hands-on experience in transdisciplinary problems and their ecological, social, and economic dimensions.  The partnership consists of 25 academic and non-academic partners and 60 collaborators who will help guide research questions, mentor students, provide internship opportunities and serve on graduate committees.  Through this network students will work on policy-relevant research grounded in solving real-world issues. This will include extending core ideas of ecological economics to finance, law, governance, ethics and philosophy.  The partnership will focus on three daunting regional challenges: water security, energy resources, and climate justice.

***********PENDING FUNDING***********

OFFER: The PhD students at UVM, McGill, and York will receive a generous 12-month research stipend.  The majority of tuition for this program will be covered via scholarships and teaching assistantships. Travel and research funds are also available. Funding (once approved) is guaranteed for three years. The partnership has applied for a grant for this program that will be announced in late April 2014.  If the grant is not awarded, funding cannot be guaranteed.

QUALIFICATIONS: Master’s degree preferred, but all highly qualified candidates will be considered.  Students must have a strong interest in ecological economics, sustainability science, transdisciplinary research, and practical application of scholarship.

APPLICATION: Interested students should contact one of the following:

McGill University:

Peter Brown: peter.g.brown@mcgill.ca
Nicolas Kosoy: nicolas.kosoy@mcgill.ca

Applicants must apply to the Department of Natural Resource Sciences by February 15.

University of Vermont:

Jon Erickson: Jon.Erickson@uvm.edu
Joshua Farley: Joshua.Farley@uvm.edu
Taylor Ricketts: Taylor.Ricketts@uvm.edu
Asim Zia: Asim.Zia@uvm.edu (on Sabbatical FY 14)

Applicants must apply to the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources PhD program at UVM by February 1st and meet all of the admissions requirements.

York University:

Peter Victor: pvictor@yorku.ca
Ellie Perkins: esperk@yorku.ca
Christina Hoicka: cehoicka@yorku.ca
Graduate admissions: Gwen Gringhuis: gweng@yorku.ca

Applicants must apply to the Faculty of Environmental Studies PhD program by January 8, or the Masters in Environmental Studies (MES) program by February 5 (international applicants) or March 12 (Canadian applicants), and must meet all of the admissions requirements.

Applications from women and people from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds are encouraged.

Call for Authors: SAGE Encyclopedia of World Poverty, 2nd Edition

SAGE’s Encyclopedia of World Poverty, 2nd Edition is now under development (1st Edition: Library Journal Best Reference, Booklist Editor’s Choice). This completely updated five-volume reference will provide extensive and current information on the changing world of poverty, as well as insight into the contemporary debates. Over 850 signed articles will explore poverty in various regions of the world, and examine the difficulties associated with the definition and measurement of poverty, along with its causes and effects. Pedagogical elements include a new Reader’s Guide, updated Chronology of World Poverty, updated Resource Guide, updated Glossary, and new index. The following topics are currently available for assignment which may be of particular interest to you:

  • American Radical Environmentalism
  • Civic Environmentalism and Environmental NGOs
  • Corporate Environmentalism
  • Environmental economics
  • Environmental Federalism
  • Environmental Health
  • Environmental refugees
  • Environmentalism of the Poor and Economic Justice
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • International Environmentalism
  • Measurement of sustainable development
  • Modern Environmentalism
  • Natural Resource Management
  • Pollution Solar energy

The complete list of available articles is already prepared, and upon request SAGE will e-mail you the Article List (Excel file) from which you can select additional topics that may fit your expertise and interests. Additionally, Submission Guidelines will be provided that detail article specifications. SAGE is currently making assignments with a deadline of January 31, 2014.

SAGE Publications offers an honorarium ranging from SAGE book credits for smaller articles up to a free set of the printed product for contributions totaling 10,000 words or more. Please send your CV or a brief summary of your academic/publishing credentials in related disciplines to poverty@golsonmedia.com.

New book: Building a Green Economy

An edited volume of selected papers from the 6th biennial conference of the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics was recently published by Michigan State University Press (September 2013). The book is entitled, Building a Green Economy: Perspectives from Ecological Economics, and it is edited by Robert Richardson (Michigan State University). The volume includes contributions from conference plenary speakers Dave Dempsey, David Korten, Bobbi Low, and Kristen Sheeran, along with contributions from numerous other prominent ecological economists. In this timely volume, leading ecological economics scholars offer a variety of perspectives on building a green economy. A rich resource in its own right, Building a Green Economy contains the most innovative thinking in ecological economics at a critical time in the reexamination of the human relationship with the natural world.

USSEE President Valerie A. Luzadis (SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry) wrote that “this collection of innovative papers showcases how ecological economics, the science of sustainability, contributes to solving today’s pressing environmental and social issues.” Barry Solomon (Michigan Technological University) wrote that “this volume advances our understanding of a green economy and sustainable society by taking a constructively critical view from the perspective of ecological economics and its relationship to the failures of neoclassical economics in twenty-first century society.”

 

Authors needed for new encylopedia on sustainability

The editorial board for Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices (a new encyclopedia from Macmillan Reference USA, part of Cengage Learning) is looking for authors for the remaining twelve entries. The Google Drive link below gives details about each remaining entry (title, scope, word count):

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AsksYoF_ZGtOdGI4R0FfVktuLXZjTVUteDQ3b1l1T1E#gid=0

The due date is Monday, July 22, 2013 by midnight. Interested authors (especially graduate students) should a) view the Google Drive link and enter their full names & email addresses next to the entries for which they are volunteering; and, b) email a resume and writing sample (minimum of 5 pages). [Multiple authors may volunteer for the same entry.]  As entries are placed with authors, they will be taken off of the Google Drive link. Authors will be notified via email if assigned.

For more information, please contact:

Laurie Malashanko
Content Project Editor, Reference Production
Gale | Cengage Learning
27500 Drake Rd., Farmington Hills, MI 48331-3535
(p) 248-699-8353 | (f) 248-699-8069
(e) laurie.malashanko@cengage.com

More information on the project is copied below.

Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices
a new encyclopedia from Macmillan Reference USA, part of Cengage Learning

Editor in Chief: Debra Rowe

Board Editors: Susan Gentile and Terry Link

Sustainable development creation is essential to a future of reduced human suffering, higher quality of life, and ongoing sustenance from the planet’s ecosystems. Achieving Sustainability is designed to increase understanding, inform actions, enrich academic assignments, and enhance research. Aimed at readers who are not experts in the field, the material will be relevant to courses in natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities; indeed, this title will present and analyze the underpinnings of the multi-disciplinary concept of sustainability. A two-volume encyclopedia containing more than 130 signed entries, Achieving Sustainability will cover economic and environmental ideas, as well as governance, demographic, and socio-cultural aspects of the concept.

The articles should reflect all viewpoints currently defended in academia as well as in more accessible discussion environments, and substantiated accordingly. While complete objectivity is unattainable, honesty must permeate all writing on what ideas are circulating and who their champions are. This reference work is intended to meet the needs of students and educators in high schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges, as well as the interested layperson.

Harvard Sustainability Science Fellowships

Sustainability Science Fellowships at Harvard University – Doctoral, Post-doctoral, and Mid-career Fellowships
Due date for applications: January 15, 2013

The Sustainability Science Program at Harvard University invites applications for resident fellowships in sustainability science for the academic year beginning in September 2013. The fellowship competition is open to advanced doctoral and post-doctoral students, and to mid-career professionals engaged in research or practice to facilitate the design, implementation, and evaluation of effective interventions that promote sustainable development. Some of the most serious constraints to sustainable development lie in the interconnections among sectors: energy’s growing need for water; the impacts of water use on human health; the competition for land among food, energy and conservation initiatives; and the cumulative impact of all sectoral initiatives on climate and other key environmental services.  A central challenge is to develop an integrated understanding of how sectoral initiatives for sustainability can compete with and complement one another in particular regional contexts. The 2013-14 fellowship competition therefore focuses on regional initiatives pursing an integrated perspective on sustainable development in India, China and Brazil. It also includes a cross-cutting research initiative to integrate work focused on the theme of Innovation for Sustainable Development. Preference in this year’s competition will be given to applicants whose proposals complement one or more of these four initiatives.  The Initiatives (see below), are led by Professors William Clark, Henry Lee, Paul Moorcroft, and Rohini Pande. The Program is also open, however, to strong proposals in any area of sustainability science.  In addition to general funds available to support this fellowship offering, special funding for the Giorgio Ruffolo Fellowships in Sustainability Science is available to support citizens of Italy, Brazil, China, India or developing countries who are therefore especially encouraged to apply. For more information on the fellowships application process see http://www.hks.harvard.edu/centers/mrcbg/programs/sustsci/fellowships. Applications are due January 15, 2013 and decisions will be announced by March 2013.

Governance Innovations for Sustainable Development: Building Public-Private Partnerships in India
Faculty leader: Rohini Pande, Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy
Project director: Michael Greenstone

Sustainable development, by its nature, requires government and private actors to work together. Externalities from rapid growth, such as the depletion of subsidized resources, widespread air and water pollution or unsustainable energy use, arise from a joint failure of government and industry to create an economy where the most profitable action is also best socially. The India Initiative will address sustainability problems in India of both national and global import. The motivation for this research program is to work with governments to channel the enterprising potential of the private sector to correct such externalities. The research will address questions in sustainable environmental regulation and provide evidence on how public-private partnerships can contribute to solving existing challenges. We focus on three research areas. First, existing environmental regulations are weakly enforced by possibly under-resourced regulators, leading to poor environmental quality. Second, traditional regulations, even if strengthened, are not the right tools to address many of India’s pollution problems. Third, from the perspective of sustainability of resource use, India’s inefficient and rapidly growing energy consumption threatens to undermine its own development by contributing to global climate change. The research team is partnering with government and private institutions in order to conduct field trials of innovative environmental policies to provide rigorous evidence on the impact of these policies for sustainable development. Doctoral, post-doctoral, and mid-career candidates are encouraged to apply.

Sustainable Development of the Energy Sector in China: Challenges and Options
Faculty leader: Henry Lee, Jassim M. Jaidah Director, Environment and Natural Resources Program
Project directors: Edward Cunningham, Laura Diaz Anadon, Venkatesh Narayanamurti

The China Initiative addresses the environmental implications of energy policies in China and explores how China can manage these implications. Fellows work to identify and promote policies that will contribute to the  thoughtful use of China’s natural resources (e.g., water, land) and/or the adoption of cleaner and less carbon-intensive industrial and energy technologies. Research areas include, but are not limited to: analyzing the impact of energy and industrial policies on water scarcity; the technical, environmental, and economic implications of greater electrification of urban areas generally, and  commercial and transportation systems specifically; and the environmental and structural impact of policies and programs affecting the electric utility and coal industries. Post-doctoral and mid-career candidates, especially those who speak Chinese, are particularly encouraged to apply.

Sustainable Development of the Amazon and its Surrounding Regions: The Interplay of Changing Climate, Hydrology, and Land Use
Faculty leader: Paul Moorcroft, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Project director: John Briscoe

Ongoing agricultural expansion and other land use changes in Amazonia and the surrounding regions are expected to continue over the next several decades as global demand for food and biofuel increases and regional economies expand. The conversion of natural forest and cerrado ecosystems to pastureland and agricultural crops creates warmer and drier atmospheric conditions than the native vegetation. In addition, human induced climate change arising from increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is also expected to push the Amazon region towards a warmer and drier state. In a number of recent climate modeling studies, the Amazon has been shown to exhibit two contrasting states for the water cycle and ecosystems of the region: a moist forested state, and an alternate drier and warmer state with sparser vegetation. This has raised the question of whether deforestation and conversion to agricultural land cause the atmosphere-vegetation-hydrologic system of the Amazon to switch from its current moist state to the warmer and drier one? And if so, will this new state have sufficient precipitation to sustain the native forest and productivity of adjacent agricultural areas? In this study we propose to answer these questions by developing a coupled vegetation-atmosphere model to investigate the stability of the Amazonian hydrologic system (sometimes referred to as “rivers in the sky”, as well as accompanying river flows on the ground) to scenarios of land use and climate change. By doing so we will be able to answer the question: How much deforestation is too much? Post-doctoral candidates who have experience with integrated land-water-climate models and/or experience analyzing patterns and trends of land use and land use change are particularly encouraged to apply.

Innovation and Access to Technologies for Sustainable Development
Faculty leader: William Clark, Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development
Project directors: Laura Diaz Anadon, Kira Matus, Suerie Moon

Meeting sustainable development goals will require harnessing and maximizing the potential of technological innovation. Examples of such technologies include carbon capture and storage systems, more efficient irrigation methods, essential medicines, household water purification devices, and manufacturing processes that minimize waste and pollution. While some needed innovations can be fostered through existing public and private mechanisms at the national level, such efforts have proven inadequate to meet global sustainability goals, particularly with regard to meeting the needs of the world’s poorest, most vulnerable or marginalized in current and future generations. Too often, technologies are either not developed at all for lack of a sufficiently profitable market, or if developed, are not accessible or well-adapted to end-user needs. This initiative seeks to advance knowledge and understanding of how to equitably improve the functioning of the “global innovation system” for sustainable development technologies. We are conducting a comparative study of how well the system functions to meet five sustainable development needs (food, energy, health, manufactured goods, and water), with a special focus on equity and access.  The initiative examines specific cases of “system interventions” (e.g., policy interventions, institutional innovations, new approaches to shaping the innovation process) intended to strengthen the global innovation system, with the broader aim of developing policy recommendations that draw from, and are generalizable across, multiple sectors. The findings will contribute to realizing the potential of science and technology to meet the most pressing sustainable development challenges. Doctoral, post-doctoral, and mid-career candidates are encouraged to apply.

Social Values for Ecosystem Services, Version 2.0

The Rocky Mountain Geographic Science Center has just released Social Values for Ecosystem Services, Version 2.0 (SolVES 2.0). SolVES 2.0 is a custom toolbar for ArcGIS 9.3 designed to allow users to assess, map, and quantify social values attributed to ecosystem services by various stakeholder groups. Please visit solves.cr.usgs.gov to download and learn more about SolVES 2.0.

ABSTRACT. In response to the need for incorporating quantified and spatially explicit measures of social values into ecosystem services assessments, the Rocky Mountain Geographic Science Center (RMGSC), in collaboration with Colorado State University, developed a geographic information system (GIS) application, Social Values for Ecosystem Services (SolVES). SolVES is designed to assess, map, and quantify the perceived social values for ecosystems, such as aesthetics, biodiversity, and recreation.  These values, often equating to cultural ecosystem services, can be analyzed for various stakeholder groups as distinguished by their attitudes and preferences regarding public uses, such as motorized recreation or logging.  SolVES derives a quantitative, 10-point, social-values metric, the Value Index, from a combination of spatial and nonspatial responses to public attitude and preference surveys and calculates metrics characterizing the underlying environment, such as average distance to water and dominant landcover.

With version 2.0 (SolVES 2.0), RMGSC has improved and extended the functionality of SolVES, most notably via integrating the Maxent maximum entropy modeling software to generate more complete social-value maps and to produce robust statistical models describing the relationship between social values and explanatory environmental variables. The addition of Maxent more readily permits the transfer of social-value models to areas where primary survey data are not available. SolVES 2.0 also introduces the flexibility for users to define their own social values and public uses, model any number and type of environmental variables, and modify the spatial resolution of analysis. With these enhancements, SolVES 2.0 provides an improved public-domain tool for decision-makers and researchers to evaluate the social value of ecosystems and to facilitate discussions among diverse stakeholders regarding the tradeoffs among different management options in a variety of physical and social contexts, ranging from forest and rangeland to coastal and marine.

Juliet Schor narrates “Visualizing a Plentitude Economy”

Dr. Juliet Schor, Professor of Sociology at Boston College, and recipient of the USSEE 2011 Herman Daly Award narrates “Visualizing a Plentitude Economy“, a fun animation that provides a vision of what a post-consumer society could look like, with people working fewer hours and pursuing re-skilling, homesteading, and small-scale enterprises that can help reduce the overall size and impact of the consumer economy. Produced by the Center for a New American Dream. Narrated by economist and best-selling author Juliet Schor.

The New Austerity and the EROI Squeeze

by Eric Zencey
[Cross-posted from the Daly News, blog of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy]

The government of Minnesota has shut down thanks to a $5 billion budget gap. Wisconsin public employees have been de-unionized so their salaries and benefits can be cut to close a budget gap. New Jersey just missed shutting down as a Democratic legislature and a Republican governor agreed that austerity cuts are needed (though there’s still going to be some wrangling over how the pain will be distributed). Last week the Italian cabinet signed off on $68 billion in austerity cuts. Demonstrations in Britain and riots in Athens, prompted by government cuts in pensions and social security, suggest what may lie in Italy’s future. In the U.S., we’ve got gridlock-and-extortion in Congress over raising the federal debt limit, even as both sides are generally agreed that the era of ever-rising deficits is over.

Though not a single politician or mainstream economic analyst has ever made the connection, the new worldwide austerity in public spending traces to a physical cause, as measured by change in EROI — energy return on energy invested. This is the ratio between the energy that comes into the global economy and the energy it takes to produce that energy. Worldwide, the average EROI of oil is down to 20:1 from its original value of 100:1 eighty years ago. This means that our oil-fueled economy simply has less capacity to generate wealth than it did back then, because an increasing share of the energy that used to be dedicated to producing goods and services is being plowed back into securing energy.

Even more troubling than oil’s 20:1 global average is the figure for new oil, just 5 to 1. It takes a lot of energy to drill five miles under the ocean and pump crude back to a refinery, or to cook tar sands to extract a usable fuel. The energy wellspring at the heart of our economy no longer gushes a torrent of wealth; it’s a smaller, much-diminished stream.

Wind and other renewable energy sources offer returns in the seventeen-to-one range — still a nice income flow, but nothing like the flood we once got from oil. Everything our economy accomplishes, including health care, government, schools, roads, defense, repairing our aging infrastructure and re-engineering our built environment to handle the changed weather that oil use has given us, is going to have to be financed from a much-diminished EROI. And private largess, such as the oil-fueled philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie that built libraries and established foundations and grants for worthy public causes, will fare no better. (The conservative notion that private philanthropy will increase if government takes a smaller bite of the total economy is mostly wishful thinking; the rising overhead costs of energy — the increasing energy cost of energy — will shrink the economic pie as a whole, no matter where we make our slice between the public and private sectors).

Conservatives in Washington and elsewhere insist that we can no longer afford the level of governmental services we’ve become accustomed to. Their call for austerity in public spending is partially right, but for reasons that are wholly wrong: they think that by busting public unions, by reneging on pension agreements for teachers and public employees, by privatizing the production of public goods (streets, schools, even national defense), by cutting regulations and in general shrinking the government, they’ll release the pent-up entrepreneurial energies of business, which will put things back the way they were a few decades ago, when oil was returning a respectable 40:1. That’s simply not going to happen.

Beyond the wrangling between the deficit reducers and the Keynesians, like Paul Krugman, who warn (correctly) that deficit reduction during a recession will only make the recession worse, there lies another deficit, one that no one is talking about: the deficit we’re currently running in our country’s environmental account. We’re drawing down natural capital to cash it out as wealth, which means we’re spending a capital stock — healthy ecosystems — as if it were income. Worse, we borrow money against the prospect of being able to do this forever. That, too, simply isn’t going to happen.

We’ve begun to recognize that we can’t borrow infinitely against our financial future. At some point we have to recognize that we can’t borrow infinitely against our environmental future, either. We’ve got to learn to budget ourselves to the level of economic activity that can be supported and maintained by current solar income instead of running that account in the red. We’ve got to stop counting on continued drawdown of finite stocks of fossil fuel and stop counting on paying our current expenses by borrowing against the continual expansion of our economy’s ecological footprint.

The partisans of Infinite Planet Theory who are managing our (supposedly) infinite growth economy don’t recognize this. They don’t see the shape of the emergent reality: the energy overhead of our economy is increasing at precisely the moment we need even greater investment to build a sustainable, renewable energy society and re-engineer our civil infrastructures to handle the world as we have made it. It’s a very difficult squeeze: needed expenses are rising as income flow declines.

There is some room for hope. It is possible to have a decent civilization founded on the rates of return that renewable energy offers — and unlike the EROI of oil, those rates can be expected to increase with time and technological development. Solving the EROI squeeze means committing ourselves to building the infrastructure we need to capture current solar income and run our economy on renewable, non-carbon-based energy. Every unit of fossil energy we use to do anything else commits the United States and the planet as a whole to a lower, more straitened standard of living in the future. If we want to see an America of crumbling concrete and weed-filled vacant lots, an America too poor to repair its buildings and bridges, too poor to educate its young to the highest standards, an America that has become a fallen, impoverished power, we need only continue as we are: burning fossil fuel, ignoring climate change, and refusing to invest in the renewable energy infrastructure we need for a sane, rational, steady state economy.

Call for Papers for next issue of Reviews in Ecological Economics

After two years of co-sponsoring the publication of Ecological Economics Reviews (EER) as a special issue of the ‘Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences’, the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics is pleased to announce a move to Springer and a slightly different name: Reviews in Ecological Economics (REE). We are confident that this move will strengthen the new REE and increase our exposure and recognition.

As an editorial board member of REE, I would like to invite you to contribute an article to the upcoming issue.  Deadline for the contributions is November 1st.  Author guidelines can be found at http://www.springer.com/authors/book+authors?SGWID=0-154102-12-417900-0.

The mission of REE is to provide authoritative reviews of key topics in Ecological Economics. REE will be published once per year, with most contributions invited and peer reviewed.

For any questions, please email the REE managing editor, Ida Kubiszewski (ida.kub@gmail.com).

Jon D. Erickson
President, U.S. Society for Ecological Economics

Fitting the Name to the Named

Cross-posted from The Daly News

by Herman Daly

There may well be a be a better name than “steady-state economy”, (SSE) but both the classical economists (especially John Stuart Mill) and the past few decades of discussion, not to mention CASSE’s good work, have given considerable currency to “steady-state economy” both as concept and name. Also both the name and concept of  a “steady state” are independently familiar to demographers, population biologists, and physicists. The classical economists used the term “stationary state” but meant by it exactly what we mean by steady-state economy—briefly, a constant population and stock of physical wealth. We have added the condition that these stocks should be maintained constant by a low rate entropic throughput, one that is well within the regenerative and assimilative capacities of the ecosystem. Any new name for this idea should be sufficiently better to compensate for losing the advantages of historical continuity and interdisciplinary familiarity. Also, SSE conveys the recognition of biophysical constraints and the intention to live within them economically—which is exactly why it can’t help evoking some initial negative reaction in a growth-dominated world. There is an honesty and forthright clarity about the term “steady-state economy” that should not be sacrificed to the short-term political appeal of vagueness.

A confusion arises with neoclassical growth economists’ use of the term “steady-state growth” to refer to the case where labor and capital grow at the same rate, thus maintaining a constant labor to capital ratio, even though both absolute magnitudes are growing. This should have been called “proportional growth”, or perhaps “steady growth”. The term “steady-state growth” is inept because growth is a process, not a state, not even a state of dynamic equilibrium.

Having made my terminological preference clear, I should add that there is nothing wrong with other people using various preferred synonyms, as long as we all mean basically the same thing. Steady state, stationary state, dynamic equilibrium, microdynamic-macrostatic economy, development without growth, degrowthpost-growth economy, economy of permanence, “new” economy, “mature” economy. These are all in use already, including by me at times. I have learned that English usage evolves quite independently of me, although like others I keep trying to “improve” it for both clarity and rhetorical advantage. If some other term catches on and becomes dominant then so be it, as long as it denotes the reality we agree on. Let a thousand synonyms bloom and linguistic natural selection will go to work. Also it is good to remind sister organizations that their favorite term, when actually defined, is usually a close synonym to SSE. If it is not then we have a difference of substance rather than of terminology.

Out of France now comes the “degrowth” (decroissance) movement. This arises from the recognition that the present scale of the economy is too large to be maintained in a steady state—its required throughput exceeds the regenerative and assimilative capacities of the ecosystem of which it is a part. This is almost certainly true. Nevertheless “degrowth”, just like growth, is a temporary process for reaching an optimal or at least sustainable scale that we then should strive to maintain in a steady state.

Some say it is senseless to advocate a steady state unless we first have attained, or can at least specify, the optimal level at which to remain stationary. On the contrary, it is useless to know the optimum unless we first know how to live in a steady state. Otherwise knowing the optimum level will just allow us to wave goodbye to it as we grow beyond it—or as we “degrow” below it.  Optimal level is one thing; optimal growth rate is something else. Once we have reached the optimal level then the optimal growth rate is zero; if we are below that level the temporary optimal growth rate is at least known to be positive; if we are above the optimal level we at least know that the temporary growth rate should be negative. But the first order of business is to recognize the long run necessity of the steady state, and to stop positive growth. Once we have done that, then we can worry about how to “degrow” to a more sustainable level, and how fast.

There is really no conflict between the SSE and “degrowth” since no one advocates negative growth as a permanent process; and no one advocates trying to maintain a steady state at the unsustainable present scale of population and consumption. But many people do advocate continuing positive growth beyond the present excessive scale, and they are the ones in control, and who need to be confronted by a united opposition!

Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, adopted by the “degrowth” movement as its posthumous founder, indeed recognized that the very long run growth rate must be negative given the entropy law and the final dissolution of the universe. But he did not advocate speeding up that cosmic result by negative growth as an economic policy, nor for that matter did he in the least advocate a steady-state economy! In fact he speculated that the destiny of mankind might be to have a short, fiery, and exciting life rather than a long and uneventful one. He did, however, tentatively suggest a “minimal bio-economic program”[1] that would surely reduce growth. In general he was interested in what is possible more than in what is desirable. The question—given the limits of the possible, what is the most desirable policy for mankind?—was not his main focus, although he did not entirely ignore it. The closest he came to explicitly dealing with that question was in the following footnote[2]:

Is it not true that mankind’s problem is to economize S (a stock) for as large an amount of life as possible, which implies to minimize sj (a flow) for some “good life?

In other words, should we not strive to maximize cumulative lives ever to be lived over time by depleting S (terrestrial low-entropy stocks) at an annual rate sj that is low, but sufficient for a “good life”? There is no point in maximizing years lived in misery, so the qualification “for a good life” is important. I have always thought that Georgescu-Roegen should have put that question in bold in the text, rather than hiding it in a footnote. True enough, eventually S will be gone and mankind will revert to what he called “a berry-picking economy” until the sun burns out, if not driven to extinction sooner by some other event. But in the meantime, striving for a steady state at a resource use rate sufficient for a good (but not luxurious) life, seems to me a worthy goal, a goal of maximizing the cumulative life satisfaction possible under limited total resource constraints. This puts at the very center of economics the questions:

Needless to say these questions have not been central to modern economics—indeed, not even peripheral!

Georgescu-Roegen did not like the idea of “sustainability” any more than that of a steady-state economy because he interpreted both to mean “ecological salvation” or perpetual life for our species on earth—which of course flies in the teeth of the entropy law. And he was right about that. So sustainability should be understood as longevity, not eternal species-life in the sense of perpetuity. Clear scientific thinking about “forever” seems, interestingly, to lead to the religious model of death and resurrection, new creation, not perpetual continuation of this creation. Perpetuity in this world is just a glorified perpetual motion machine! To think about forever we must cross from science into theology. But longevity (a long and good life for both individual and species), even if it falls short of forever, or “ecological salvation”, is still a worthy goal both for scientists and theologians, not to mention economists. A steady-state economy is arguably the best strategy for achieving longevity—regardless of what we call it.


[1] N. Georgescu-Roegen, “Energy and Economic Myths”, reprinted in H. Daly and K. Townsend, Valuing the Earth, MIT Press, 1993, p. 103-4.

[2] Ibid. p. 107, fn 11.