Note: This article was written by Miguel A. Rozo on the online magazine IdeasXChange following a panel discussion he moderated on ecological economics in Vancouver, BC. To see the full article and recap of the panel discussion and collaborative workshop click here.

As the discussion around the environment increases, some economists and scholars are challenging the very foundations of economic models created to distribute resources. They are doing this through a new discipline called ecological economics.

What is Ecological Economics?

Ecological economics aims to improve and expand economic theory – the distribution of resources in an efficient way – to include the earth’s natural systems, human values and human well-being. These are factors that some say are often times excluded from traditional economic models. Most economists refer to these costs as “externalities.” Ecological economists want to change that model.

The concept of ecological economics encompasses topics including, but not limited to:

Interdisciplinary thinking – the environment (e.g. earth, biosphere), social issues (e.g. poverty, inequality), time (e.g. long term impact of human activities) and sustainable development all form part of ecological economics. It is a model that challenges the focus on human-made capital (money).

Planetary boundaries – economies should respect biophysical limits. Economic growth is not sustainable because the Earth and its resources has limits.

Sustainability – ecological economists generally reject that all natural capital (e.g. water, arable land, species) can be substituted or purchased by human-made capital. There is a focus to preserve and protect resources instead of depleting them.

Environmental economics is not the same as ecological economics.

Environmental economics is the mainstream model that essentially puts a price on natural capital (e.g. resources). Ecological economics instead has a strong emphasis on sustainability and sees the economy as a subsystem of the environment.