- Erik Gómez-Baggethun: Ecological Economics and the COVID-19 crises
2. News from ESEE and its members
- On upcoming ESEE elections and call for nominations
- Environmental Policy and Governance Journal - current issues
3. Hot topic
- Tommaso Luzzati and Tiziano Distefano: Post-Covid world- Ask the economists to tell the truth
4. Student spotlight
- Corinna Dengler: Feminism and degrowth- The limits of monetisation as an approach to making the invisible visible
5. Events, jobs and publications
- Announcement: the Degrowth New Roots open letter was launched
- Announcement: New online lecture series in ecological economics
Ecological Economics and the Covid-19 crises
Erik Gómez-Baggethun, President of the ESEE
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused massive social and economic disruption globally. Besides the health crises, the pandemic has brought an economic downturn with devastating effects to workers and business. The United Nations Development Programme predicts the longer-term economic impacts of the pandemic will increase poverty and inequalities at a global scale. On the other hand, the slowdown in economic activity has put temporary breaks to the escalation of human pressure on the biosphere.1 Due to reduced transportation and industrial activity, energy demand has fallen drastically and within months, the pandemic has caused unprecedented drops in air pollution and CO2 emissions.2
The positive short-term environmental effects of the pandemic could mislead some ecological economists to think that the crisis is forcing the world economy in a direction that is more compatible with our objectives. We should make no mistake: in a growth-based capitalist system, a degrowing economy involves enormous social costs, and it is typically the poor and the vulnerable that will be the most affected. The crises could however open a window of opportunity for fundamental political and economic transformation, ‘a gateway between one world and the next’, as Arundhati Roy puts it. Economists refer to these situations as ‘critical junctures’, situations of uncertainty in which decisions are decisive for the path of political development. We know from history that decisions taken in such junctures can change the direction of humanity.3
The direction of change will depend crucially on the balance and the tactical and strategic moves of opposing political forces. Several potential pathways may be envisioned, with radically different implications for ecological economics.4 A worse-case scenario would include a dismantling of environmental regulations and social protections to promote fast economic growth. Unfortunately, this scenario is not entirely unrealistic, and large countries like Brazil and the US have already planned or taken steps in this direction. Another scenario we can expect is a return to ‘business as usual’, an attempt to restore previous forms and levels of economic activity. This scenario may be appealing for many because it requires the least disruption to existing institutions and ways of life. There is, however, ample evidence that pre-Covid patterns of economic growth were deeply unsustainable. A return to business as usual would therefore be a lost opportunity.
More positive scenarios for global sustainability can also be envisioned. One that has attracted attention in the media as well as some political traction is that of a ‘green recovery’. Discussions around this scenario revolve around notions of ‘green growth’ a ‘green economy’ and a ‘Green New Deal’, and include proposals like carbon pricing, a transition from fossils to renewable energy, and investment in greener technology. While clearly more positive than the previous one, this scenario still falls short for the goals and vision of ecological economics. Green growth remains a distant dream and empirical evidence suggest that, as long as growth continues, dematerializing and decarbonizing the economy at the rate required to meet international climate and biodiversity targets is unrealistic.5,6,7,8 This scenario could deaccelerate, but in all likelihood not reverse the ecological crises. It is also unclear how this scenario would tackle rising social inequalities.
Finally, we may envision a scenario of transformative social-ecological transition that makes serious steps towards the reconversion of global metabolism to a level compatible with just and safe planetary boundaries.9 In a global scenario with authoritarian populism and climate denialism on the rise, it would be naïve to think that the odds for a move in this direction are very high, and yet there are some signs of hope. The pandemic has shown the vulnerability and unsustainability of a hyper-globalized economy, making evident that major transformations will be required in political and economic structures. Policies that months ago were considered utopian, such as a basic income, have all of a sudden been implemented. Ecological economists can promote this transformative scenario with policy proposals like the replacement of GDP with more comprehensive measures of economic progress, working time reduction, major green tax and subsidy reforms (shifting taxes from labor to pollution and depletable resources, and shifting subsidies from nuclear and fossils to e.g. renewables and ecological agriculture), and the gradual enforcement of resource and pollution caps up to levels compatible with the Earth’s regenerative and assimilative capacities. Transformative policies should also include blunt measures to reverse rising inequalities, like progressive taxation on income and wealth or the enforcement of maximum-minimum income ratios. Autonomy against exploitative and precarious jobs could be promoted through a basic income, either unconditional or by means of a universal civil service to cover and equitably redistribute socially necessary work, as early ecological economists already proposed more than a century ago.10, 11
A firm commitment to our long-term goals should not shy ecological economists away from actively engaging in, and contributing to, ongoing discussions around the Green New Deal in Europe and beyond. Nor from making tactical alliances for the implementation of less ambitious policies that nonetheless can be steppingstones towards more fundamental transformations. Distant as it may look for us today, this transformative scenario is worth fighting for. I hope many ecological economists will engage in the battle for a just and sustainable post Covid-19 future.
1. Helm, D. 2020. The Environmental Impacts of the Coronavirus. Environmental and Resource Economics, 76, 21–38
2. Le Quere, C. et al. (2020). Temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement. Nature Climate Change, 10, 647-653
3. Robinson, J. A., & Acemoglu, D. (2012). Why nations fail: The origins of power, prosperity and poverty. London: Profile
4. Sandbrook, C., Gomez-Baggethun, E. Adams, B. Conservation in a Post-COVID-19 Economy. Forthcoming
5. Hickel, J., & Kallis, G. (2020). Is green growth possible?. New Political Economy, 25(4), 469-486
6. Jackson, T., & Victor, P. A. (2019). Unraveling the claims for (and against) green growth. Science, 366(6468), 950-951
7. Otero, I. et al. (2020). Biodiversity policy beyond economic growth. Conservation Letters, e12713
8. Parrique, T. et al. (2019). Decoupling debunked. Evidence and arguments against green growth as a sole strategy for sustainability. A study edited by the European Environment Bureau EEB
9. Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist. Chelsea Green Publishing
10. Popper-Lynkeus, J. (1912). Die Allgemeine Nährpflicht als Lösung der Sozialen Frage: Eingehend Bearbeitet und Statistische Durchgerechnet. Dresden: Reissner
11. Martinez-Alier, J. (1992). Ecological economics and concrete utopias. Utopian Studies, 3(1), 39–52
On upcoming ESEE election and call for nominations
Dear ESEE Members,
The terms of office of 6 Board Members and our 2 student representatives is ending in 2020 after 3 years, which means we will have elections by the end of the year!
Our election committee, chaired by the ESEE President Erik Gomez-Baggethun, will count on your feedback and on your interest in playing an active role in the ESEE Board and get nominations for the election later this year.
The official calendar for 2020 elections is as follows:
To become a nominee the person has to be supported by five ESEE Members eligible to vote. All nominations for elections shall be made in writing to the secretariat, using the email-address: firstname.lastname@example.org and must be received by Sunday, 15 November 2020.
- Monday, 19 October – Sunday, 15 November: 4 weeks nomination period
- Second half of November: Preparations for elections
- Monday, 30 November – Sunday, 20 December: 3 weeks election period
Information on the candidates and the voting procedure will be given at the ESEE website. However, as only active ESEE Members paying their membership fees are entitled to stand and/or vote for the board elections, we encourage you to renew your membership (or become a member if you are not yet one!) as soon as possible. Based on the election calendar, you need to be an ESEE member until Friday, 27 November 2020 to be eligible to vote in this year’s elections.
- Nomination shall include the names of the supporters. Supporters are asked to express their support directly to the secreteriat (email@example.com) also up to the same deadline.
- A brief CV, a photo and 5 lines on the motivation for working in the Board shall be provided to be put on the ESEE website as a pdf file during the election period.
If you have any questions regarding nominations and/or elections do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Environmental Policy and Governance Journal
Table of contents for current issues May/June (vol30/03) and July/August (vol30/04)
Post-Covid world- ask the economists to tell the truth
Tommaso Luzzati* and Tiziano Distefano, Dipartimento di Economia e Management, REMARC and CISP, Università di Pisa, Italy
Plea available at here.
The framework on which Ecological Economics is founded provides a privileged perspective for formulating policy indications for managing the Covid-19 pandemic and fostering economic recovery. There are three main reasons for this.
First, ecological economics adopts the precautionary principle, as stated by Bob Costanza in the first editorial of the journal
in 1989. The level of uncertainty we face today requires policies that minimise societal risk. The rapid spread of Covid-19 around the world should have impressed upon policymakers, and people in general, the importance of espousing said precautionary principle. Had governments taken the early warning signs seriously, the epidemic would have not become a pandemic, and the economic crisis would have been much less severe.
Second, as industrial ecology has also been emphasising for many years, ecological economists know that the principle guiding any sustainability policy should be minimising material throughput. GDP growth is based on accelerating the rate at which extracted materials become waste, thereby engendering environmental degradation and negative effects on our well-being and happiness.
Third, we are acutely aware of the limits and flaws of GDP as an appropriate indicator for measuring progress and assessing economic policy.
The deep economic crisis triggered by Covid-19 presents us with the opportunity to radically change our economy and society. It is time for us to call for structural change, something that we have been hoping to attain for decades, and to which we have dedicated a great deal of research effort.
None of us needs convincing that the present socio-economic system must be changed. We are thus in the position of having to talk to the hesitant, to those who are still convinced by the ‘conventional wisdom’ that without an incessantly growing GDP we cannot have employment and well-being, that stimulating demand (and garbage generation) is the only way forward.
Paradoxically, first-year economics students are taught that economics studies the allocation of scarce resources among alternative ends, and that markets generate bad allocation of production factors due to externalities and public goods, leading to the production of too much of some goods and not enough of others. Prices are wrong, that is to say, they do not reflect the actual cost of producing goods, and hence the value that people attribute to them. Workers and other production factors should be reallocated so that the “right” quantities are produced at the “right price”. GDP includes anything that is traded on the market, without distinguishing between economic goods and bads. GDP is not the right indicator, even from a strict Arrow-Debreu perspective.
We recognise the many flaws in the neoclassical approach and that criticisms to the current system go far deeper than the problem of allocative inefficiency. However, we should at least try to break the mainstream schizophrenic position of macroeconomics supporting GDP growth while microeconomics invoking improvements in allocative efficiency. In reacting to the current rhetoric about how to re-launch the economy, while calling for a healthy transformation towards a less unsustainable socio-economic system, we believe that it is also helpful to convince the hesitant and the sceptical that GDP growth can be bad even from a mainstream point of view.
To this purpose we have prepared a short plea, which is supported by a group of well-known scholars within our discipline and is
We ask ecological economists to sign it.
You can do it by clicking here.
We will send it to several international institutions (e.g. EU Parliament and Commission) and spread it through the media.
Feminism and degrowth- The limits of monetisation as an approach to making the invisible visible
Interview with Corinna Dengler, Research Associate, University of Vechta
Tell us about yourself
Hey there, I am Corinna – a feminist ecological economist and degrowth scholar activist based in Bremen, Germany. I recently submitted my PhD thesis titled “Feminist Futures: What Degrowth learns from the Feminist Critique of Science, Economics, and Growth” at University of Vechta’s department for economics and ethics. I hold a degree in Development Studies (B.A.) from the University of Vienna and degrees in Economics (B.Sc.) and Socio-Ecological Economics and Policy (M.Sc.) from the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU). I had my base in beautiful Vienna from 2010 to 2016 with semesters abroad in Managua and Moscow and then moved to Quito to work on my master’s thesis on (Neo-)Extractivism at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar. Since March 2017, I have been working as a research assistant at the Chair for feminist economics held by Prof. Dr. Ulrike Knobloch at the University of Vechta. I live in Bremen and engage in local climate justice and feminist groups, as well as in the coordination group of the international network Feminisms and Degrowth Alliance (FaDA).
What are you researching?
My research focuses on integrating gender justice with socio-ecological transformation and degrowth. Materialist ecofeminism and feminist ecological economics problematize the structural similarity in the devaluation of female-coded reproductive labour and the exploitation and degradation of nature in our current economic system. I am concerned with what I call the boundary between the monetized economy and the economy of socio-ecological provisioning, entailing non-monetized social and ecological reproduction. Currently this boundary runs along the lines of monetization – it decides what is visible, productive, the focus of our economic analysis – so to say the tip of the iceberg – and what is rendered invisible, reproductive, the blind spot of our analysis, and the underwater part of the iceberg. I am interested in strategies of how this boundary can be overcome.
In a growth paradigm, the most self-evident strategy to make this underwater part of the iceberg visible would be a strategy of monetization, for example by means of transforming (biocentric) ecosystem functions to (anthropocentric) ecosystem services or by shifting unpaid care work to paid sphere of the economy. However, I show that this strategy is problematic, as it widens the realm of money- and accumulation-driven social relations and reinforces the centrality of GDP by giving recognition only to what is included in the monetized economy. Thus I research strategies for a feminist socio-ecological transformation that actively try to disrupt and overcome that boundary – a scenario which is, as I argue, easier to be met (but by no means an automatism!) in a degrowth society.
If you were in charge of the world economy for one day, tell me one thing what you would do and why?
I don’t believe that the transformative change we need can or should be implemented top-down, so if I was in charge of the world economy for one day, I would probably aim at democratizing and transforming basic institutions to allow for (more) bottom-up or bottom-linked approaches and, more generally, a democratization of all dimensions of life. This would, for example, include shorter hours spent in wage work for everybody, a decoupling of wage work from livelihood security and the democratization of money. I would stop the still incredibly high public subsidies paid to highly polluting industries (e.g. air travel) and suggest to use this money to support the solidarity economy, for example by financially supporting co-operatives or commoning initiatives, as well as a better public infrastructure that promotes, for example free public transport and car-free city centers.
Tell me one thing that you think many ecological economists don’t realise, but should.
I think that ecological economists should be more aware of the structural similarity of the discursive and material subordination of ‘nature’ and ‘women’. As ecological economists, we should discuss, for example, the patriarchal roots of the growth paradigm. We should be aware that gender relations are omnipresent and that more often than not putatively gender-neutral policies have highly gendered outcomes. We should embrace the often neglected feminist roots of critical environmental thinking and also critically reflect on why this scholarship is often ‘structurally forgotten.’ The feminist and the ecological critique of economics and growth have a lot in common, and I think that both could benefit from a theoretical integration of the two streams of thought.
Interviewer, Ernest Aigner, ESEE Student Representative
Announcement: the Degrowth New Roots open letter was launched
An open letter on a degrowth response to covid19 has been published by a group including: Nathan Barlow, Ekaterina Chertkovskaya, Manuel Grebenjak, Vincent Liegey, François Schneider, Tone Smith, Sam Bliss, Constanza Hepp, Max Hollweg, Christian Kerschner, Andro Rilović, Pierre Smith Khanna.
Further information can be found in these media out lets, openDemocracy (UK), Mediapart (FR), The Wire (IN), Pagina 12 (ARG) and ctxt (ESP).
Announcement: New online lecture series in ecological economics
Environment Europe Foundation is launching a new online lecture series in Ecological Economics. The online registration is open at: https://environmenteurope.eu/online-registration-form