Off limits

Stimulating economic growth outside the limits only increases the pressure on the services provided by nature. Growth is synonymous with expansion (increasing the amount of goods produced), and the ecological world no longer supports a type of overly aggressive expansion of the scale of nature values, especially biodiversity.

Marcus Eduardo de Oliveira (*)

Right here in this space, repeatedly we have brought the data that point towards the substantial loss of various forms of life: the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that, worldwide, around 11% of bird species, 25% of mammals, 25% of amphibians, 20% of reptiles, 34% of fish and 12% of plants are in danger of disappearing forever in the next hundred years.

In the Brazilian context, a total of 627 species of animals and 472 plants run the risk of no longer appearing on the biodiversity map. Of these species, about 160 are fish, 70 are mammals, 20 are reptiles, 130 are terrestrial invertebrates, 160 are birds.

As for this severe loss of biodiversity, most are in the Atlantic Forest, of which there are only 27%; Caatinga, remaining 63%; the Pampas, 41%; Cerrado, 60%; Amazon, 85%; and the Pantanal, 87%.

This scary biodiversity disappearance is related to economic action that continues to sell the dream of growth as an "ideal" model of prosperity and well-being. While the larger paradigm of economics continues revolving around the pursuit of economic growth, leaving aside the social and human development, the biophysical limits will be constantly exceeded.

Changing this principle is the main challenge of the times. Therefore, it is necessary to establish an economy operating in line with the principles of nature, recognizing in advance the dependence of the economic system in relation to ecology and thermodynamics.

One cannot forget that the economy is nothing more than an appendage of the biosphere that consumes energy. So the economy is subject to the ecology which, in turn, is subject to biology and what we have already noted: thermodynamics (heat, power, power), this being subject to physics.

Thus, any attempt at economic growth undoubtedly passes through these intricacies. Just because economic activity consumes energy already linked to an explicit dependence on the laws of physics.

It is necessary to reiterate a few points: energy, for example, is a basic concept of physics that follows two fundamental laws of thermodynamics. The first is the law of conservation, the basic assumption is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be transformed.

The second is the law of entropy, which says that energy always is dispersed, from a state of higher concentration to a lower concentration.

This second law of thermodynamics is in itself beacon of economic expansion since the economy cannot contradict the law of entropy, that is, in other words, you cannot use the same energy, the same burning coal several times.

So it is pertinent to the claim that the economy is linked to ecology and thermodynamics. Being an open system to the ecological system, the economy is to be governed by the laws of thermodynamics.

The biggest problem is that in addition to not recognizing this "dependency", the neoclassical teaching - that forms the basis, in general, the reasoning of economists - is to disregard the limits of nature, putting all the natural bases in a delicate situation.

Every attempt to stimulate economic activity to grow beyond the limits of nature only aggravates the environmental issue. What needs to be done, and very quickly, is what the French philosopher Catherine Larrère says with property "bon usage de la nature", ie "good use of nature", highlighting the central idea that you cannot use nature without first determining the criteria of its use by ethical care.

(*) Professor of Economics of UNIFIEO and FAC-PHYTO (São Paulo).

Master in Integration of Latin America (USP).

[email protected]


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey