Ecology above economics

One of the most urgent and pressing needs in terms of organizing productive society is to reconcile economic development with the promotion of social development and ecological balance, respecting and protecting before anything, the environment , biodiversity and ecosystem services - the base
and support of economic activity.

Marcus Eduardo de Oliveira (*)

The central notion around that idea is very simple: it is to seek to reconcile economic, social and environmental dimensions. This is the starting point to try to overcome, in the foreground, the dichotomous dilemma occurred in nations in the modern policy of "growth" and the need to "preserve the eco-balance", in other words, between "prospering" (economically and socially), but "Without destroying" (environmentally).

In essence, we seek to achieve this and meet three basic principles that are referenced in the famous Brundtland Report, also called "Our Common Future", namely: 1) economic development (immanent aspiration of humanity); 2) environmental protection (care for our common home, Mother Earth, Gaia for the Greeks and Pachamama for the Andean indigenous); and 3) social equity (inclusion of the excluded).

To overcome this dichotomy , there is an obvious question of environmentalism over economic rationality, given that the latter, by lens of neoclassical thought (Traditional) - which in general is the way that many economists think - gives little importance to the consequences (degradation of natural capital) arising from environmental stimulus to intense and frantic economic growth.

By the way, achieving economic growth at any "cost" has become a kind of obsession of conventional macroeconomics, disregarding with that serious disturbances generated in the biosphere, endangering the basis of sustaining life, since, due to the productive economic expansion biophysical limits shall be disregarded. It is the economic activity squandering natural capital.

In this detail, it should be noted that given the important passage in the Global Ecology Manual (1993): "The production of food, energy and industrial articles is strongly related to the deterioration of the system that sustains life on Earth. Between 1950 and 1986, when the population of the world doubled, grain consumption increased 2.6 times, energy use increased by 3.2 times, the effective power economy quadrupled, and the production of manufactured goods grew seven times. ( ... )

Currently, humans consume in foods, directly or indirectly, approximately 40% of the total cultivated land in the world. It is exactly this kind of "invasive action" that economic growth cannot continue its "journey" of deterioration of natural resources, greatly squandering the major ecosystems.

To continue promoting the acceleration in productive growth is in practice to substantially increase the loss of biological diversity and the ecosystem. Increasing economic output, among many other possible environmental damages, is also synonymous with further polluting the atmosphere.

About this, it is reiterated that the high levels of pollution and air pollution leave no doubt as to the response that such "expansive economic practice" provides the environment. Nowadays, more than two million people die each year worldwide by "breathing pollution", small particles staying in lungs (PM10) generated by burning fossil fuels, apart from pollution of ozone (O3). In Latin America and the Caribbean, each year, approximately 35,000 people die due to air pollution; in Europe, the figure is more than 150, 000, and in East Asia, more than 1 million lives are snuffed out for the same reason.

Therefore, the ecological positioning, making it clear that there are restrictive limits and measures for increasing economic production, must be above traditional economic thought, attacking in this way, to the despair of traditional economists, the dogma of economic growth, wrongly seen and defended wrongly as an
important factor for enhancing the prosperity of a society.

With an overwhelming pattern of consumption, fueled by consumerist greed 20 % of the world population (1.4 billion people) live in affluent societies, Planet Earth shows signs of complete depletion, indicating that it does not support expansive production.

Not surprisingly, 10% of fertile land on the planet has now turned into desert. Every year 7 million hectares are lost. Put simply, 60% of the principal ecosystem services are deteriorated. It is also not by chance that over the last 50 years there has been a loss of 35% of mangroves, 40% of forests, 50 % of wetlands. Currently, fish stocks are 80% smaller and the cultivated area of ​​the planet covers 25% of the Earth.
Unfortunately, these data show that the economic position lies above the environmental issue. We must reverse it, and soon.


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(*) Professor of economics. Master in Integration of Latin America (USP).

[email protected]


Translated from the Portuguese version

By Olga Santos


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey