On Economics and Ecosystems: Gaia

Economics and ecosystems? The.Earth.Is.Warming.

Four words. So much volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

So much vitriol. Fire at will if you must.

What Do You Know About It?

First, let’s get over “what do you know about it?” I’m a physical geographer by education and completed an honours dissertation in climatology. Now that was a few years back, but the basics haven’t changed that much. I can read the science. I am familiar with the rigorous funding and peer-review processes that the scientists go through.

Herding Cats

I’m also familiar with working with academic colleagues, who, with genuine and (mostly) affectionate respect, tend to fierce individualism. “Herding cats” is an apt metaphor for attempting to manage most academics. Equally, “a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over car parking,” is similarly appropriate. However, there is a view that there is a worldwide conspiracy amongst climate scientists to somehow pervert the science system, because of a universally held ideological position on global warming. Based on my experience as an academic, this is about as likely as my being the next Pope.

Gaia: Economics in Ecosystems

So what is it about economics and ecosystems? It seems that for many, it’s one or the other, rather than as it is: both. On climate, I agree with Sir James Lovelock: the world is a self-regulating system known by Lovelock as Gaia. That includes its economic sub-systems. Trying to make out that economy and climate are not linked is illogical.

Industrial production builds off natural capital (planetary resources), human capital, social capital, and manufactured capital. These factors combine to produce goods and services, which enable community and individual wellbeing, which positively affect human capital. Hence, the utilisation of natural capital enriches a subgroup of humans and society. However, unfortunately, industrial production and the consumption of goods and services also generate wastes, which science demonstrates over and again lead to an increasingly heated Gaia. Snd yes there are non-human sources of global warming.

Gaia Won’t Go Where We Want It To

One unlikely scenario captures the Gaia hypothesis: that the planet will self-regulate back to the historical norms that better suit us. Unfortunately, it’s only partially correct. Gaia will return to historical patterns, just not the ones that suit us.

I’m going to state it again. The.Earth.Is.Warming.

Now, we cannot revert to a ‘golden age’ where we don’t impact the planet. The industrial revolutions transformed and will continue to change how we integrate with Gaia. What we need is a breakthrough in industrial production, because this is where the key to genuine sustainability lies; it’s where economy, society and ecology meet: economics and ecosystems.