The essay starts with a profound growth critique and then goes over to explain three approaches to integrate economy into the ecosystem. The first one the author calls economic imperialism. It is the concept of integrating the whole ecosphere into the economy by financialization, the second is an ecological reductionism and the 3rd is to create a steady state economy. The author is in favour of such a steady state economy and provides 10 policy proposals. He finishes with discussing the ends of an economy.
From the article: . . . That the economy is a subsystem of the ecosphere seems perhaps too obvious to emphasize. Yet the opposite view is common in high places. For example, a recent study by the British government’s Natural Capital Committee asserted, “The environment is part of the economy and needs to be properly integrated into it so that growth opportunities will not be missed.” To the contrary, it is the economy that is the part and needs to be integrated into the whole of the finite ecosphere so that growth limits will not be missed. . . .
. . . What ultimately limits the production of cut timber? Is it the number of chainsaws, sawmills, and lumberjacks, or the remaining forests and the growth rate of new trees? What limits the crops from irrigated agriculture? Is it the number of pipes, sprinklers, and pumps, or the stock of water in aquifers, their recharge rate, and the flow of surface water in rivers? What limits the number of barrels of pumped crude oil: the number of drilling rigs or the remaining accessible deposits of petroleum? What limits the use of all fossil fuels: our mining equipment and combustion engines, or the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb the resulting greenhouse gases without causing drastic climate change? In all cases, it is the latter, the natural capital (whether source or sink), rather than the man-made capital. . . .
. . . While improved technologies can certainly reduce waste and facilitate recycling, agents of transformation (capital and labor) cannot serve as direct substitutes for the material and energy being transformed (natural resources). Can we produce a ten-pound cake with only one pound of ingredients, simply by using more cooks and ovens? And further, how could we make more capital (or labor) without also using more natural resources? . . .
The essay has been adapted from a speech delivered on the occasion of the Blue Planet Prize, Tokyo, November 2014.