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No economy exists apart from the ecologies which sustain it

Peter Newell

This item is extracted from an article which appeared in RWER blogs on 29 Dec 2023 [ref 1], which was in turn extracted from a longer paper by Peter Newell (ref 2]. The references cited are detailed in ref 2.

All wealth in the end is ecological. Economists contend that growth can continue indefinitely because they measure growth in terms of economic value rather than material throughput (Jackson and Victor 2019). Yet we diminish natural wealth and under-value its exhaustion at our peril. Even in a highly financialised and service-oriented economy, where direct connections to patterns of resource extract-ion and consumption are sometimes less observable, circulations of finance and constant manufacturing of ‘needs’ through advertising and exchange require resource inputs and lock in unsustainable behaviours. Assuming (often more by implication and neglect than explicitly), as many economists often do, that the environment is an infinite sink for waste and byproducts
in pursuit of ever greater levels of production and consumption through market means is both naïve and dangerous (Daly 1996). Assessments of how economies perform, and wealth is generated, now need to start from a basic recognition of our dependence on the natural world and metrics adapted accordingly so that we can measure progress (or the lack of it) in building an economy compatible with life on earth and conserving the stocks and resources that sustain it.

1. Real World Econ Rev blogs, 29 Dec 23
2. Newell, P.; Economics as if ecology mattered, Real-World Economics Review, issue no. 106, 2023

Peter Newell is Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex and research director of the Rapid Transition Alliance. He authored the books Power Shift (2021) and Global Green Politics (2019).
A successful energy transition requires

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