|Artigo meu no "Jornal do Brasil", do Rio, o melhor do país à época, em 18/3/1980. Homenagem a Sônia Freyre Pimentel e à Fundação Gilberto Freyre (Gilberto Freyre Neto).|
Cap Fragmentos Mata Atlântica. 1 porta
Mata Atlantica Ingles
Crescimento, ecologia e Celso Furtado 2009
Prof. David Barkin e prof. Clóvis Cavalcanti não
1º Congresso Internacional do Centro Celso Furtado. 2012.
O professor Clóvis Cavalcanti, socio do Centro Celso Furtado, foi eleito presidente da Sociedade Internacional de Economia Ecológica (ISEE - www.isecoeco.org ). Concorreu com David Barkin, faça México, Que em 2012 Participou de SUA mesa sem Congresso Internacional do Centro Celso Furtado.
Leia a carta da ISEE Sobre a eleição de Clóvis Cavalcanti.
Managing Editor - Economia Ecológica
What most impressed me during this period, however, was reading his book Analytical Economics. Issues and Problems (Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press, 1967), in whose preface Paul Samuelson, Georgescu’s colleague at Harvard, classifies him as an “economist's economist.” Nature was not being taken into account in the work of the conventional economist. To realize this and read Georgescu-Roegen only whetted my curiosity about examining the economy from the viewpoint of ecology. It coincided that in my months of Vanderbilt, I read a very good book by Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1956). The reading led me to think about the content of the reflection of Fromm, that is, if love is an art, which requires knowledge and effort, or a pleasant sensation, whose experience is a fluke, something that falls to fortune help. The book shows that love is an art. To love nature is thus an art, therefore, imposing the study of nature itself.
In the 1970s and 1980s, as a regular contributor I wrote articles in the Jornal do Brasil newspaper, of Rio, then the most important in the country. They offered a critical view of economic theory and development. In one of them I spoke about the Entropy Law in relation to economic growth. Herman Daly read it. He then wrote to me and sent some of his works. We stayed in touch ever since (I met Herman for the first time in March 1970, at Yale, where he was a visiting fellow). In 1983, I organized a course at the annual meeting of SBPC (the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science) in Belém (state of Pará), called, for lack of a better title, ‘The Economics of the 80s”. To teach it with me, I invited as lecturers, Herman, and two dissident economists: my former student Cristovam Buarque (a Brazilian senator at present, and former minister of education and rector of the University of Brasília) and Dirceu Pessoa (1937-1987), with whom I wrote a book in the 1960s. It was a success, attended by about 50 students, including Amélia Rodrigues Henríquez, who then studied economics and later turned into an ecological economist, even becoming president of the Brazilian Society for Ecological Economics (ECOECO) in 2010-2013.
In May 1990, invited by the organizers, I participated as a speaker in the First Meeting of the International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE) in Washington, DC (USA). Following the Washington meeting, a workshop took place at Wye Island (Maryland), bringing together around 25 people (Kenneth Boulding, Herman Daly, Joan Martínez Alier, Richard Norgaard, John Proops, Garrett Hardin, Bob Costanza, Enzo Tiezzi, Silvio Funtowicz, among them). I was honored to attend the seminar, which resulted in the book by Costanza and Joyce Bartholomew (eds.) Ecological Economics: the Science and Management of Sustainability, of which I am a co-author. In the 90s, I collaborated in the establishment of ECOECO and ANPPAS (Brazil’s National Association for Research and Graduate Studies on the Environment and Society). I organized two seminars that were basic in this process. The first one, in August 1994, at Engenho Massangana (state of Pernambuco), entitled “The Economics of Sustainability”. It was attended by Peter May, Darrell Posey (1947-2001), Frank Jöst (from Reiner Manstetten’s group), Steve Viederman, Ronaldo Serôa da Motta, Eduardo Viola, Paulo Freire Vieira (a student of Ignacy Sachs), and other people. The other meeting occurred in Olinda (Pernambuco) in April 1996, with Daly, Martínez Alier, Norgaard, Cutler Cleveland, Robert Goodland, Salah El Serafy, Peter May, Posey, Karl-Erik Eriksson and more people. Two books, which I edited, resulted from these events. The second one was translated into English: The Environment, Sustainable Development and Public Policy: Building Sustainability in Brazil (Cheltenham: Elgar, 1997).
I attended all the biennial meetings of ISEE, except those of Montreal (2004) and Nairobi (2008). Of all ECOECO congresses, I missed the third one, of Belém (Pará) in 1997. As to ANPPAS’s conferences, I attended all of them. Also I got involved in the Ibero-American Network of Ecological Economics (Redibec). My desire has always been to challenge the conventional economics I learned at the university, with teachers that include the Nobel laureate James Tobin at Yale. In this, I follow what Georgescu indicates. I understand that Ecological Economics is the ecological view of the economy; it is therefore not a branch of economics. Economics means the economic view of the economy. And environmental economics is the economic vision of the environment. By the way, the first course of environmental economics in Brazil was given by me in the second half of 1975 at the undergraduate level in the Faculty of Economics of the Federal University of Pernambuco, as an elective discipline. At that time I was in the transition from being an economist to becoming an ecological economist.
Publicado da REVISTA ESTUDOS AVANÇADOS 24(68) 2010
Conceptions of Ecological
Economics: its Relationship
with Mainstream and
The purpose of this paper is to offer some considerations for a reflection
about nature-society relationships, with a view to increasing the array of
available theories for socio-environmental discussions in Brazil, and the
world as well. In this sense, it is as much a quick review as a critical evaluation
of traditional economic thinking in the face of the environmental dimension of
the economic process (the task of the second and third sections of the paper,
respectively). The endeavor of incorporating the environment as an appendix to
the dominant economic model is the object of the fourth section, while the fifth
deals with the environmental conditioning of the economic activity, introducing
the perspective of so-called ecological economics, with its transdisciplinary
approach, as the object of the sixth section. The seventh section explores some
implications of the integrated vision of ecological economics. The paper closes
with an appreciation of the tendencies of ecologism and economic-ecological
thinking. Important names connected to the subjects treated are offered in order
to illustrate the various tendencies, with an emphasis on the contribution of
Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1906-1994).
Economic Vision of the Economy
The celebrated Austrian economist Frederick von Hayek, 1974 Nobel
Prize in Economics, argued at the beginning of the 1940s in the journal of the
London School of Economics, Economica, that neither merchandise nor money,
nor even food could be defined by their physical qualities, but only in terms of
the opinions that economic agents have concerning them (Martínez Alier &
Schlüpmann, 1991, p.182). Far from constituting an isolated perspective, this is
the dominant vision among conventional economists. The traditional science of
economics, in effect, does not consider any connections that can exist between
54 estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010
the ecological system and the activities of production and consumption that
represent the kernel of any economic system. The typical economic model does
not contemplate the framework of environmental restrictions. It cares to focus
only on flows and variables in the economic domain, as indicated in Figure 1,
found in any introductory textbook on economics (see, for example, Samuelson,
1967). In the model (Figure 1), money circulates in a closed loop between
families (consumers) and firms (producers), allowing only the movement of
exchange value. Nothing more than this. Money comes and goes between
producers and consumers. Nature, there, is what has become known as an
Figure 1 –The economy as an isolated system (economic vision of the economy).
In this perspective (that I call the economic vision of the economy), the
economic system finds no limits. It can do everything. It is self-containing. Its
expansion involves no opportunity costs. In other words, there are no exchanges
nor any degradation derived from more economy that needs to destroy resources,
whether for extraction, or for dumping the waste to which the economic process
inevitably leads. If perchance, orthodox economics deals with environmental
impact, it is to treat it as a phenomenon external to the economic system, as a
market failure. For it external factors can, with adequate methods, be internalized
within the price system: a means, supposedly, for correcting market failure.
On what reality can the scheme of Figure 1 be based? It is worth recalling
here what the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said,
in his 1944 book The Function of Reason (1985, in Portuguese, p. 5). In
his words: “The higher forms of life are actively engaged in modifying their
estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010 55
environment. In the case of mankind this active attack on theenvironment is the
most prominent fact in its existence.” Such an attack unfolds in three stages: (i)
living (guaranteeing our survival – an “obligation” of every living organism);
(ii) living well (deploying the best environment possible; no one survives in
his own litter); and (iii) living better (conquering new levels of quality of life,
a cultural phenomenon; improving; progressing, prospering). Here then is
Whitehead’s thrust: “The primary function of reason is to direct the attack on
the environment” (ibid), with the corollary that “The function of reason is the
promotion of the art of life.” (ibid, p.3). That is to say: attacking the environment
is something inevitable. There is no living without making a bid for it. The
question is how to do it in an intelligent manner, using reason and the goal of
living better. There is no way to admit to wanting to deal with physical things,
artifacts that combine matter and energy, without considering the implications
derived from them in terms of the environment.
Critical Perception of the Conventional Economic Model
There is a long tradition of scientific thinking attempting to find
arguments to confront the reductionism of science by economists. Martínez Alier
(Martínez Alier & Schlüpmann, 1991, p.9) organized a sufficiently diverse list
of scientists in this tradition, from different fields of knowledge, which includes
Fred Cottrel (1877-1948, physicist-chemist and inventor), the couple Anne
(demographer-ecologist) and Paul Ehrlich (entomologist) – professors at Stanford
University –, Herman Daly (ecological economist and professor at the University
of Maryland), Barry Commoner (biologist and professor at the University of
Washington), the Odum brothers (both ecologists), Howard (1924-2002, notable
for his pioneering studies about energy flows in ecosystems) and Eugene (1913-
2002, zoologist), Gerald Leach (1934-2005, science journalist), David Pimentel
(entomologist and professor at Cornell University), Ivan Illich (1926-2002,
priest, philosopher, and social critic), Kenneth Watt (ecologist and professor
at the University of California-Davis), René Passet (economist and professor
at the Sorbonne), Roy Rappaport (1926-1997, environmental anthropologist
and professor at the University of Michigan), Wolfgang Harich (1923-1995,
philosopher-writer and professor at Humboldt University), Kenneth Boulding
(1910-1993, critical economist and professor at the University of Colorado-
Boulder), Charles Perrings (environmental economist, ex-president of the
International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE ) and professor at Arizona
State University), Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (mathematician and heterodox
To this list I would add the names of Frederick Soddy (1877-1956,
chemist, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1921), E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977,
statistician and economist) and Samuel Murgel Branco (1930-2003,biologist and
professor at US P, who I didn’t know personally, in contrast to the various names
56 estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010
on the Martínez Alier list, including this last). Branco (1999) is author of a book,
which at the same time is simple, unassuming, and penetrating about nature-society
connections. Martínez Alier (2007, p.47) also makes reference to three thinkers
about ecological-economic problems: Ignacy Sachs (heterodox economist and
professor at the Sorbonne), Roefie Hueting (environmental economist and pianist,
proponent of the notion of national sustainable income) and José-Manuel Naredo
(ecological economist and statistician).
What is transparent in the critical vision about the orthodox thinking in
economics in the names cited, is that there should be no question that considering
the economic process within the mark of the environment constitutes an imperious
necessity, perhaps even a banal accomplishment. As recalled by Hueting (1980),
for example, national (ecologically) sustainable income constitutes an indicator of
the level of production that represents no threat to the conditions of life of future
generations. Why does conventional economics not work with a variable of this
significance? For the reason, according to ecological economists, that a mechanistic
view prevails in dominant economics. As Georgescu-Roegen (1971, p.1) explains,
the founders of economics had the only aspiration of framing it within the
parameters of mechanics. In physics, mechanics knows only locomotion and this,
aside from being reversible, does not contemplate quality change, the contrary of
what occurs in nature, in which irreversible phenomena prevail. To admit that the
circular flow of income (Figure 1) is the only aspect that interests economic life
is equivalent to admitting that, in the economy, what is important is the fact that
money continually passes from hand to hand and undergoes no qualitative change
(other than the wearing away of the bills that represent it).
With this what we have is a process that has only a circulatory system and no
digestive tract. The adherence of economists to the mechanistic dogma constitutes a
mystery. It is curious to notice that a revolution occurred in physics at the moment
in which the basis for the foundation of the economic science was being laid. The
revolution consisted in the recognition that heat moves in only one direction, from
the hotter body to the colder, which exemplifies a condition of irreversibility. It is
in this framework that “the fundamentally nonmechanistic nature of the economic
process fully reveals itself” (ibid, p.3). For economic activity consists of producing
and consuming; in other words, transforming raw resources into artifacts and, later,
into trash, in an irreversible manner. This process requires energy – and energy
cannot be recycled – a topic pertaining to the sphere of thermodynamics, and not
Economic Vision of the Environment
In conventional economics, the environment never appears – as an exam
of normally used textbooks suggests (case of Mankiw, 2004, the currently most
listed of them in the entire world). There are moments, however, in which
speaking of the environment is important in the model. An adjustment is then
estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010 57
made considering the environment as an appendix of economic activity, which
continues to be seen as the dominant whole; in this case, the ecosystem ends
up with the essence of a storehouse or dispensary (see Figure 2), and can even
been thought of as a bauble. This is the field of study known as environmental
economics; in my view it could be termed the economic vision of the environment.
Environmental economics is normally considered as a branch of microeconomics.
Its focus is to find correct prices for the optimum allocation of resources
(situations of maximum benefit, minimum cost). It is thus that it is taught and
practiced where the need is manifest. With a central motivation: to internalize
environmental costs so that prices reflect more fully opportunity costs.
Figure 2 - The environment as an appendix to economic activity (economic vision
of the environment).
It can be said that economic theory does not have an environmental
macroeconomics chapter (in opposition to what happens with microeconomics,
the true sense of environmental economics). The predominant vision of the
economic system as the big whole portrayed by the circular flow of wealth (Figure
1) imagines the economy as an isolated system. Thence the preoccupation with
the environment, its natural resources, pollution and depletion, is nonexistent.
An isolated system has no environment; it has no connections with anything that
might constrain it. To admit that the economy does not possess the nature of an
isolated system, without connections with the outside, is bound to bring a change
in perspective putting the macroeconomy as an open subsystem within the
naturally finite ecosystem (the environment). This means abandoning the isolated
circular flow of abstract exchange value, unrestricted by the balance of mass,
entropy and finitude. As Daly emphasizes (1991, p.35), “The physical exchanges
crossing the boundary between the total ecological system and the economic
subsystem constitute the subject matter of environmental macroeconomics.”
Including these physical exchanges in the economic model means that it becomes
decisive to determine what is the volume of exchange that can fit within the
context of the nature-economy relations.
How much can be extracted and how much can be returned to the
environment by means of the economic process? In other words, what is the
scale of the economy compatible with its ecological base? It is worth using
here the image of a boat, whose load – being optimally distributed within it
(solution of the microeconomic problem) – should respect the water (Plimsoll)
line. When the water level reaches this line, the boat is full; it has reached its safe
58 estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010
capacity load (optimal scale). Environmental economists, working with markets,
don’t elaborate the problem of the optimal load; what interests them is the
adequate accommodation of the boat’s cargo. Ecological economists – invoking
the principles of physics and ecology – consider that the size of the cargo is
fundamental. In the conception of a possible macroeconomics of the environment,
the carrying capacity therefore assumes a key role. It is it that is going to limit
the scope of sustainable development. It is it, too, that is going to lead us to
consider as unrealizable the proposal of perpetual growth, also called – in a totally
inappropriate way – “sustainable growth.” A growth without end, of this nature,
perfectly possible in the conventional economic vision and in the economic vision
of the environment, characterizes the priority of the Brazilian government in
2010, consolidated in the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) of the government
of President Lula da Silva. And this is likewise the paradigm of world economic
evolution, from China to the United States, from Angola to India.
Ecological Vision of the Economy
Ecological economics has arisen because a hundred years of specialization
of scientific research has left the world incapable of understanding or conducting
interactions between human and environmental components of the planet. While
no one questions the insights that scientific specialization has brought, many of
us recognize that it has also turned into our Achilles heel. In an interconnected
evolutionary world, reductionist science has stretched the array of knowledge in
many and distinct directions, but deprived us of ideas about how to formulate and
resolve problems that crop up in the interactions between the human species and
the natural sphere. In what manner human behavior is articulated with changes in
hydrologic, nutrient and carbon cycles? What are the feedbacks between the social
and natural systems, and how can such feedbacks influence the services that we
receive from ecosystems? Ecological economics (EE ), as a field of study, attempts
to respond to questions of such an order.
The growing perception that the life-support ecological system is
increasingly threatened constitutes the starting point for the reflection that led to
ecological economics. There has been a constant confrontation between nature
and society, the environment and the economy, with uncertainties, drawbacks,
urgencies and new frontiers. Conflicts appear that challenge the tendency to the
purely monetary valuation (such as the “market’s,” for example) of situations
essential for human life. For EE a central theme is exactly the incommensurability
of values in face of the economic (Martínez Alier, 2007, p.23) .In effect, this was
a consensus of the workshop conducted at the Aspen Institute (Wye
Island, Maryland, US ), in May 24-26 1990 – in which I took part with 37
other persons and from which a collective book resulted (Costanza, 1991). This
foundational book classifies EE as “the science and management of sustainability.”
In the context of EE , it goes on to disagree as much with conventional
estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010 59
economics as with conventional ecology in terms of the range of problems that it
should address. In the same way, it should delve into the basis of understanding
of the environment-economy interactions. There can be no doubt, therefore, that
EE sees the human economy as part – or subsystem – of the greater whole that
is nature, and that it subordinates the economy in one way or another to nature.
Such is its paradigm, which Figure 3 attempts to portray.
The issue that is brought about in Figure 3 is the conception of the
economy as an open system within the ecosystem (the ecosystem is the whole;
the economy, a part. Matter and energy enter into the economic system, go
through a process – the throughput – and turn into waste or degraded matter
and energy. The significance of the throughput is equivalent to the metabolic
flow of a living organism. The organism assimilates external resources that come
from the environment and returns the waste that results from the metabolism,
after the useful part of the resources is made the most of it. Thus there is no
wealth creation in the economic process. There is, indeed, transformation of
matter and energy from low-entropy (resources) into high-entropy (waste)
matter and energy – as established by the inescapable laws of thermodynamics.
To the thermodynamic perspective of EE might be attributed the characteristic
of an ecological vision of the economy. According to it, the economic system
has a digestive tract, besides the circulatory system imagined by conventional
economics. This is also Georgescu-Roegen’s (1971) biophysical comprehension of
the economic process.
Figure 3 –The economy as an open system inside the ecosystem (ecological vision
of the economy).
The above vision is thermodynamic because, since any activity means
a transformation of energy – it is thus that human beings survive, as biology
teaches us (converting food, i.e chemical energy, into movement, that is,
mechanical energy) –, and thermodynamics is precisely the chapter of physics
60 estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010
that studies energy transformations. Its hard and implacable laws are to be
obeyed by the economy, since there is no alternative (Branco, 1999). Viewing
the economic process through such a lens, ecological economics implies a
fundamental change in the perception of problems of resources allocation and
how they should be dealt with, in the same way as a revision of the dynamics of
Emphasis in the market should only be reserved for the efficient
allocation of preexisting resources (which is what static microeconomics studies).
When dealing with the situation in which new resources are being mobilized
(economists of any stripe call this expanding the dimensions of the Edgeworth
box), a theme located within the scope of economic macrodynamics, the road
opens for unification on biophysical bases of ecological and economic systems as
interdependent and co-evolving forms – to Georgescu-Roegen (1971) the chief
task and challenge of EE .
Transdisciplinarity of Ecological Economics
By proposing a paradigm shift – or a change of pre-analytic vision, as
Joseph Schumpeter (apud Daly, 1996) might put it –, one is not defending
a new dogma. What must be recognized is the unquestionable evidence that
society (or the economy) cannot exist without an ecological system, but an
environment can exist without society (and economy). Conventional economics
deals only with the human species, forgetting all others, and conventional
ecology studies all species except for the human. Both cases reveal a narrowness
of perspective that prevents an integrated vision of the ecological-economic
problematic. EE emerges without disciplinary dependence, either on economics
or on ecology, resulting, on the contrary, in an attempt to integrate both.
Its worldview then would have to be transdisciplinary, with a focus on the
relations between ecosystems and economic systems in the broadest possible
sense. As Costanza et al. say (1991, p.3), “By transdisciplinary we mean that
ecological economics goes beyond our normal conceptions of scientific disciplines
and tries to integrate and synthesize many different disciplinary perspectives.”
It is imperious to state here that no discipline has intellectual precedence
over another in the matter of realizing sustainability. This applies to physics,
biology, ecology – and to economics. Fragmentation of disciplines is an academic
convention, while the problems that interest us are not found within the scope
of discipline A or B. The University has (one-dimensional) disciplines; the real
world has concrete (multidimensional) problems (as in the case of the socioenvironmental
Disciplinary boundaries are arbitrary academic constructs. The emergence
of EE is oriented toward treatment of this convention. The conclusion can be no
different: EE does not constitute a branch of economics (nor, it is clear, a branch
of ecology). It could be called ecological economics as well as eco-economics
estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010 61
or economic ecology just as well. José Eli da Veiga (2007) has proposed that,
in place of EE , one should talk of a socio-environmental economics. The fact
of having adopted the term “ecological economics,” which can easily lead to
confusion with the notion of environmental economics, is reason to no few
mistakes. For a better clarification of the question, one can imagine a scale which
runs from the ecological to the economic, as is done in Figure 4.
The disciplines of ecology and economics can be placed on opposite points
of the scale. The first cares only for the world of nature, excluding humans, while
the second considers exclusively human reality – as is also the rule in the case
of other social sciences –, considering the ecosystem as an externality. Closer
to ecology, a little to the center of the scale, ecological economcis appears. To
its right, nearing economics, environmental economics is located. There is no
normative sense in this configuration. Environmental economics applies the tools of
neoclassical economics to ecological problems. It looks at the environment, but its
aim is simply to internalize it within the economic calculus. In other words, to value
it in money terms: to provide prices with the property of reflecting hypothetical
values for the services and functions of nature. In the meantime, the purpose of EE
is to discover to what extent the use of nature can be made sustainable.
Figure 4 – Relations between the disciplines of ecology and economics.
Implications of the Integrated Vision of Ecological Economics
As an ecological economist, questioned about the primary task of the
economic science, I feel inclined to follow the current that emphasizes its role of
explaining human behavior conditioned by scarcity. Life is a continual succession
of choices that represent the confrontation of different valuations. This happens
because, in some way, resources – including, and above all, time – are scarce.
Therefore, the fulfillment of human ends is restricted by the scarcity of means. If
one end is preferred, this involves the sacrifice of others – a reality that underlies
the economist’s crucial concept of opportunity cost.
It is for no other reason that one of the best known definitions of economics
underlines the fact that economics “is the science which studies human behaviour
as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses”
(Robbins, 1984, p.16).
In the conception of the founder of neoclassical economics, Alfred Marshall
(1961, p.xv), in turn, economic theory refers especially to human beings who
62 estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010
are impelled toward change and progress. His definition of economics, which
he equates to political economy, consists in emphasizing that it is dedicated to
examining “that part of individual and social action which is most closely connected
with the attainment and with the use of the material requisites of wellbeing.” (ibid,
p.1). This is an interpretation of economics as a discipline dealing with choices,
as in the analysis of consumer behavior within conditions of unlimited want and
finite resources. Implied in this view is the idea that to behave economically means
to make one’s activities and one’s organization “efficient,” rather than wasteful
(Knight, 1965, p.510). In other words, it means choosing the least costly course of
action, or the one whose benefits are maximized.
From the economic-ecological perspective an obvious implication is that
the economic system’s expansion gives rise to positive environmental opportunity
costs (the environment is scarce). If these costs up to a certain moment were so low
that they could be ignored, the fact is that more economy implies less environment.
It would be good if this were not so. It is here that we arrive at the conclusion that
the prevailing worldview, which gives unusual emphasis to economic growth as the
solution for everything, as an absolute priority in relation to other objectives, ends
by allowing that this priority assume the meaning of a faith, a fetish, an obsession,
a dogma. Without question, at the same time, there is room for confusion between
growth (an increase) and development (evolution, transformation or “promotion of
the art of life”).
The economic vision of the economy establishes that there are no
environmental opportunity costs for the macroeconomic process. At the same
time, some economists have even come to say, as in the example given by J. R.
McNeill (2000), that “the world, in effect, can continue its business without
natural resources.” In microeconomics, as known, the calculus (concept) of
optimality (maximum efficiency in the allocation of scarce resources) prevails. This
is the rule for stopping the expansion of scale (of the firm). In the meantime, in
macroeconomics the quest for unlimited growth prevails. Optimal growth (or when
growth should stop) has no appeal to it.
The perspective of EE is that there exists a maximum sustainable scale of the
economic system with respect to the ecosystem That scale is to be determined by
comparison of economic benefits with marginal environmental costs – as in the case
of the equilibrium of the firm. In driving the economy, in fact, the depreciation of
natural assets (natural capital) is real and cannot be ignored. That is to say, there
are ecological opportunity costs. Increasing economic production implies sacrifice
of resources, such as forests, soil, water, air, biodiversity, climate stability, and so on.
Having an idea about this problem raises the need for an ecological vision of the
In brief, this is a question of finding the optimal scale of the economic
macrosystem, allowing separation between (i) genuinely economic growth (when
the marginal benefits of the increase of the economy surpass the marginal
environmental costs of the process) and (ii) noneconomic growth (when, in
estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010 63
contrast, the marginal benefits of the increase in the economy become inferior
to the corresponding marginal costs). One supposes, of course, that, at some
point, marginal benefits and costs are equal. The EE cosmovision internalizes the
economic system in nature. This is in line with the warning of a distinguished
exponent of conventional economics (The Economist, in the column “Face Value,”
7.4.2009): “you cannot negotiate with nature.”
The problem is that economic priorities systematically trample considerations
of an ecological character. When prices are attached to natural resources – which is
the case for those that have a market such as petroleum –, such values constitute
invariably an underestimation. In traditional national accounting, zero value is
implicitly conferred on all resources of nature, giving them the condition of “free
goods.” But what values could be used in these calculations? It is difficult to say,
especially when there are things such as life in general or as a biological species
threatened with extinction, in particular, that certainly have an infinite value.
However, reality imposes a search for some form of valuation. For it is worse to see
the economic value, for example, of the standing Amazon Rainforest reduced to
zero, although the jungle constitutes, as is known, an irreplaceable source of a cast
of ecological benefits that range from regulation of the climate and water, from the
cycle of nutrients, waste treatment, recreation, non-timber products of the forest,
biodiversity conservation, etc., to the so-called option and existence benefits.
The danger of assigning monetary value to ecological goods and services,
in turn, is as much leading to the belief that they are worth what these calculations
show as making it thought that natural assets can be added to human-made assets
(both referred to the same money basis), making them substitutable. In the essence
of the concept, however, ecological sustainability must be seen as maintenance
of the physical stocks of natural capital, not of its corresponding money values
– a question that leads to what is called “strong sustainability”. It is here that
the necessity of an ecological vision of the economy arises, one that cannot be
confused with environmental economics. The economic analysis with a basis in
ecological knowledge has as one of its missions promoting the modeling of the
ecological bonds that determine the interfaces between natural and economic (or
Ecological and Economic-Ecological Thinking
Summarizing: conventional economics excludes nature as foreign to the
economic process; environmental economics is concerned with giving price to
nature, with the tendency of seeing it as an amenity (an idea implicit in the vulgar
notion of “green”); and ecological economics attributes to nature the condition
of irreplaceable support for everything that society can do. The traditional
economic vision includes not only the thinking of the neoclassical economics
of Hayek, Milton Friedman, Robert Solow and their followers (in Brazil, an
ilustrious name is that of Mário Henrique Simonsen), as also the Keynesians,
64 estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010
Marxists, institutionalists, structuralists, monetarists, political economists: a truly
Among the non-neoclassical Brazilian economists, Celso Furtado (1974)
outstands in not being part of this pattern of unique thought. As a matter of
fact, he attempted at giving emphasis to environmental factors in economic
development The same thing does not happen in the work of Luiz Carlos Bresser
Pereira, Maria da Conceição Tavares, Edmar Bacha or Affonso Celso Pastore,
for example. Chief representatives of environmental economics in the world are
Harold Hotelling, Partha Dasgupta, Anil Markandya, Joseph Stiglitz, Nicholas
Stern, David Pearce, R. Kerry Turner. In Brazil: Ronaldo Serôa da Motta,
Maurício Tolmasquin, Carlos Eduardo (Cadu) Young, Antônio Evaldo Comune,
As to ecological economics, citing its practitioners requires defining the
array of tendencies that show up as to perspectives of understanding this area
of investigation. In truth, EE is not to be defined as a science. What emerged at
the June 1990 meeting at Wye Island was the suggestion of considering it as a
“new transdisciplinary field of study” (Costanza et al., 1991, p.3) with a view of
covering spaces not approached by existing scientific disciplines. It would be an
“orchestration of sciences” (Martínez Alier, 2007, p.67), involving a diversity of
thinking among even environmentalists. Martínez Alier (2007, p.21) distinguishes
three main currents of environmentalism, with various common elements that
identify them, all of them, however, disqualified, ignored or deprecated by antiecologists
(those who see the environment as a “barrier to development”). One
environmentalist current is the one of the “cult of the wilderness,” of the sacred
value of nature, of deep ecology, of the biocentric attitude.
Another current could be called the “gospel of eco-efficiency:” an
environmentalism of results that is concerned with the effects of economic
growth. Finally, the third current is that of the “environmentalism of the poor,”
characterized by material interest in the “environmental resources and services for
human subsistence provided by the natural environment” (ibid, p.335). The line of
argument of the environmentalism of the poor proposes that the struggle between
the economy and ecology cannot be resolved by internalizing the externalities,
either by advancing ecological modernization or by eco-efficiency. It raises the
discussion of the “unequal incidence of environmental damages in face of not only
other species or future generations of humans but in our own epoch” (ibid, p.89).
Central for the ecologism of the poor is the theme of incommensurability of values.
In this particular, the task of EE is to study different processes of decision-making
in a context of “week comparability of values,” besides distributive conflicts and
“uncertainties without solution” (ibid, p.55).
In money valuations, the relevance of a service of nature to the market
is the factor that counts. However, services of nature have multiple meanings.
A mangrove, for example, besides its economic role, is important from the
standpoint of the landscape, of the survival of neighboring populations, of
estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010 65
culture, of the sacred. This leads to different values that require an integrated
vision of the physical, social, cultural and spiritual dimensions of the ecosystem.
It is as Martínez Alier (2007, p.355) underlines: “When colored people were
required to travel seated in the last row in vehicles in the United States, this could
not be compensated on the scale of human dignity by a cheaper ticket.”
The most important name of EE in the world today is that of
Herman Daly, who attempts to combine elements from the three currents of
environmentalism. He was a student of Georgescu-Roegen, and has elaborated
the thermodynamic vision of the economic process in new directions. Another
name of substance is that of Martínez Alier, who was president of ISEE (in
2006-2007). He belongs to the current of the environmentalism of the poor
(he has dedicated himself to the study of popular environmental movements
such as Chipko, in India, and the extractive reserves’ of Chico Mendes). Robert
Goodland, ecologist, is close to the cult of wilderness. Ann Mari Jansson,
economist, was connected to eco-efficiency, as also, in Brazil, are Peter May
(ex-president of the Brazilian Society for Ecological Economics, Eco-Eco,
and the ISEE ), Maurício Amazonas (ex-president of Eco-Eco) and Ademar
Romeiro (also ex-president of Eco-Eco). José Eli da Veiga is in a category that
combines eco-efficiency and ecologism of the poor. Osório Viana approaches it
close to the position of Martínez Alier. Charles Mueller identifies himself with
Georgescu-Roegen and Herman Daly. Armando Mendes tends more to a vision
of ecological humanism.
Classifications are always arbitrary. In the case of ecological economists, a
division of tendencies could be among those who defend a strong sustainability
(the case of Herman Daly) – the situation in which natural and man-made capital
are not substitutable – and those inclined to weak sustainability (the two types of
capital being perfect substitutes, as postulated by conventional economics). One
name belonging to this last line is that of the Swede Karl-Göran Mahler.
In general, however, ecological economics is grounded in the thinking of
Georgescu-Roegen (1971). According to him, the economic system consumes
nature (low-entropy matter and energy, which are the fundamental means
available to the world), inexorably furnishing waste (high-entropy matter and
energy) that is returned to the natural system (Figure 3). Simultaneously, it
provides a flow of pleasure or psychic well-being to the individuals who make
up society, thus justifying its existence. The production of economic goods and
services, without question, is nothing more than the opportunity for people to
achieve the material component of happiness. It is in this that the mission of the
economy, an organized system for converting low-entropy materials and energy
into waste matter and high-entropy heat energy, consists. The duty of humans
is to define how the economy will make life easier – the function of reason,
according to Whitehead (1985).
In this understanding, order in the economic system, its capacity for
producing useful things and offering us the means for our satisfaction, can only
66 estudos avançados 24 (68), 2010
be maintained by a constant flow of low-entropy matter-energy. In other words,
our ultimate source of well-being is a natural system where order prevails. The
totality of the authors of the founding book of EE (Costanza, 1991) are inclined
to follow this way of thinking, as well as new-generation ecological economists
like Joshua Farley and Amélia Rodrigues Enríquez (current president of Eco-
Eco). In the end, a common denominator of the practitioners of EE resides
in the defense of (ecologically, but also socially and economically) sustainable
development. At bottom, this implies qualifying something that does not need
adjectives. In truth, if development is not sustainable – which means that it is
unsustainable –, it will not be development. It will constitute a process destined
to failure, a lie (generally wrapped by the force of the growth credo). In essence,
ecological economists lean toward adoption of this last stance.
1 A mong them: Charles Perrings (economist), Colin Clark (mathematician), Cutler
Cleveland (geographer), Enzo Tiezzi (chemist), Garrett Hardin (1915-2003, biologist),
Herman Daly (ecological economist), Joan Martínez Alier (ecological economist),
Kenneth Boulding (1910-1993, ecological economist), Mary Clark (biologist), Richard
Norgaard (natural resources economist), Robert Costanza (oceanographer), Silvio
Funtowicz (philosopher), Talbott Page (environmental economist), Tomasz Zylicz
(environmental economist). I was one of the participants, perhaps inadvertently invited
by the organizers.
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WHITE HEAD , A. N. A função da razão. Trad. Fernando Dídimo. Brasília: Editora da UnB,
Abstract – The paper deals with nature-society relationships with a view to enlarging
the scope of available socio-environmental theories. It makes a review and critical
evaluation of traditional economic thought in front of the environmental dimension
of the economic process. It shows the effort to incorporate the environment into the
economic model and explores the perspective of the economy under environmental
restrictions. It introduces the notion of ecological economics and a cross-disciplinary
approach, examining some implications of its integrating view. It closes with an
appreciation of tendencies in economic-ecological thinking, suggesting some names that
represent them, with an emphasis on Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen.
Keywords: Economics, Environmental economics, Ecological economics,
Thermodynamics, Sustainable development.
Clóvis Cavalcanti, M.A. (Yale, 1965), is senior researcher at the Joaquim Nabuco
Foundation, adjunct professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco, editor of the
book The environment, sustainable development and public policies: building sustainability
in Brazil (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2000). @ –
Received on 2.12.2010 and accepted on 2.24.2010.
Translated by Cary Wasserman and Valéria Wasserman. The original in Portuguese
is available at http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_issuetoc&pid=0103-