Building an Economy for the Earth
by Lester R. Brown
Earth Policy Institute
WW Norton and Company
Eco-economics, also referred to as environmental-economics is the theory that our economy needs to work in concert with our natural resources if we are to sustain our natural environment and continue to live on natural resources. More simply defined, eco-economics calls for the structuring of a profitable economy that will not deplete our environment — including forests, arable land, oil, farmland, topsoil, water, atmosphere, and species — beyond a sustainable level. The current model for our economy, Brown says, cannot be sustained by the means we are using. As we rapidly deplete our resources, we are unconsciously deprivie future generations not only work opportunities, but a safe and unpolluted environment. Short-sighted desire to profit in the here and now, - will in the long-term backfire. History tells that indeed our present model proves to be a very real threat to our civilization. Brown uses the Sumerians as an example: by overworking the land and abuse of their land, the water they depended on eventually dried up.
Ideally, the economy would satisfy our needs without depleting our resources to the point we have reached at present. A good example is forestry. As the author explains, forests secure land and store water, acting in effect as natural dams. Logging, which puts a paycheck in a family’s hands does not factor in the flood damage that will occur without the natural dam of trees. An eco-economist then, would say that the family and the town, while temporarily profiting, in the end pay more in rising insurance costs, repairing damage to homes and towns due to flooding, increased taxes, and disaster relief funds which cost society as a whole. Those companies and people who profit in the short-term suffer greater financial losses in the long-term and deny future generations the opportunity to profit from the same industry. Resources depleted faster than they can regenerate. As a consequence, the resource is made extinct or obsolete.
The goal , as presented here in convincing detail, is to design a sustainable and profitable economy that accurately reflects the cost to society as a whole for abuse of resources. Taxation, he says should be shifted and the emphasis shifted from income tax to “environmentally destructive activities, such as carbon emissions and the wasteful use of water.” (82) Tax break incentives should be offered to individuals or towns turning instead to solar and wind generated power. If this sounds impractical consider the following, “Over the last half-century , the sevenfold exmpasion of the global economy has pushed the demand on local ecosystems beyond the sustainable yield in country after country.” (p.71)
“While economists see booming economic indiactors, ecologists see an economy that is altering the (Earth’s) climate with consequences no one can forsee.” Issues such as ‘inter-generational responsibility’ when it comes to what we pass on to future generations. At present, we are losing much of our ‘natural capital.’ Brown makes many excellent points, giving examples of resource abuse, and presenting consequences thereof. While an excellent theory, for eco-economics to really work, there would need to be global cooperation and agreement between all world leaders concerning practices dangerous to the environment and overuse of resources. Given that so many of us cannot agree on the simplest of principles, it seems naive to expect this will happen. Instead, it is more likely that we will make ourselves extinct before we reach world-agreement about environmental policy.