Abstract: Recent contributions to ecological economics and related social sciences indicate that issues such as climate change, resource depletion and environmental degradation cannot be effectively addressed under conditions of continued economic growth. This paper aims at empirically identifying structural potentials and policy challenges for prosperity at scales where economic development remains within ecological carrying capacities. Building on the growing literature that interprets prosperity ‘beyond’ economic growth, the paper presents a three-dimensional concept to operationalise prosperity in terms of ecological sustainability, social inclusion, and the quality of life. These dimensions are measured using data from sources such as The World Bank, the Global Footprint Network and the OECD. The results of cluster and correspondence analyses indicate the existence of five ‘prosperity regimes’ and demonstrate that all aspects of prosperity – including (unsatisfactory) ecological performance – are linked to economic development. However, our findings also indicate that in order to achieve a decent minimum of prosperity moderate levels of the material living standard are sufficient. Further increases in the material living standard do not lead to significant additional prosperity; instead they cause greater environmental harms. The paper concludes by highlighting potentials for prosperity for each of the ‘prosperity regimes’ and corresponding policy challenges.
Ecological Economics 108 (2014) 191–199