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• 2022

The Intersection of Biophysical Economics and Political Economy

By: Christopher Kennedy

The circular flow diagram, whether in its limited form in macroeconomics, or broader form in ecological economics, depicts a duality of flows – physical resources in one direction with financial transactions in the opposite. Biophysical models of the economy can be constructed based on the physical flows and their associated stocks. In previous work, I demonstrated how the accumulation of wealth – measured by the capital stock – can be established using a biophysical model. With capital, energy use, and the distribution of labour determined by biophysical economics, here I investigate the range of potential distributions of wealth – profits versus wages – that follow in the political economy. The analysis is conducted using a four-sector model of Great Britain's economy from 1760 to 1913, including agriculture, coal mining, construction & materials, and production of goods and services. Energy price is a key variable in the model, influencing the distribution of income between different sectors. Taking the price of coal at historically observed values, the distribution of total factor income per worker is plotted as a trade-off between annual wages and profits per worker for example years of 1761, 1817, and 1871. The plots reveal how possible alternative distributions of income might be achieved under different political-economic regimes, subject to the same biophysical constraints. Conclusions are framed in the context of the grand challenges faced by ecological economists of developing environmentally sustainable economies with a just and equitable sharing of resources.

• 2022

The social shortfall and ecological overshoot of nations

By: Andrew Fanning, Jason Hickel, Dan O´Neill, Nicolas Roux

Previous research has shown that no country currently meets the basic needs of its residents at a level of resource use that could be sustainably extended to all people globally. Using the doughnut-shaped ‘safe and just space’ framework, we analyse the historical dynamics of 11 social indicators and 6 biophysical indicators across more than 140 countries from 1992 to 2015. We find that countries tend to transgress biophysical boundaries faster than they achieve social thresholds. The number of countries overshooting biophysical boundaries increased over the period from 32–55% to 50–66%, depending on the indicator. At the same time, the number of countries achieving social thresholds increased for five social indicators (in particular life expectancy and educational enrolment), decreased for two indicators (social support and equality) and showed little change for the remaining four indicators. We also calculate ‘business-as-usual’ projections to 2050, which suggest deep transformations are needed to safeguard human and planetary health. Current trends will only deepen the ecological crisis while failing to eliminate social shortfalls.

• 2022

Challenging dominant sustainability worldviews on the energy transition: Lessons from Indigenous communities in Mexico and a plea for pluriversal technologies

By: Paola Velasco-Herrejón, Thomas Bauwens, Martin Calisto Friant

Little research exists on how alternative understandings of sustainability and societal well-being, such as those developed by marginalized Indigenous populations, can enrich and possibly challenge dominant visions of sustainability anchored in Western discourses on sustainable development and ecological modernization. This paper addresses this research gap in the context of the transition towards low-carbon energy sources by addressing the following question: how do Indigenous worldviews contrast with modernist visions of sustainability in the context of the energy transition? To do so, it first builds a conceptual framework contrasting modernist and Indigenous sustainability worldviews. Second, it applies this framework to the case of wind energy developments within the territory of three Zapotec communities located in southern Mexico, with the discussion relying on 103 interviews with key stakeholders, six focus groups and participant observation. Results show that the Zapotec sustainability worldview contrasts strikingly with wind developers’ modernist propositions, which tend to reproduce the region’s past colonial arrangements in terms of cultural domination, non-recognition of Indigenous identities and disrespect for local customs. This contrast has led to many conflicts and misunderstandings around wind energy projects. The paper concludes that different conceptualizations of sustainability must be recognized to ensure an inclusive and just energy transition, and advances the concept of “pluriversal technologies” to emphasize the need for technologies that embrace ontological and epistemological diversity by being co-designed, co-produced and co-owned by the inhabitants of the socio-cultural territory in which they are embedded.

• 2022

Scientists' warning against the society of waste

By: Federico Demaria, Antonio Turiel, Isabel Marín-Beltrán, Claudia Ofelio, Luis M. Serra, William J. Ripple, Sharif A. Mukul, Maria Clara Costa

The metabolism of contemporary industrialized societies, that is their energy and material flows, leads to the overconsumption and waste of natural resources, two factors often disregarded in the global ecological equation. In this Discussion article, we examine the amount of natural resources that is increasingly being consumed and wasted by humanity, and propose solutions to reverse this pattern. Since the beginning of the 20th century, societies, especially from industrialized countries, have been wasting resources in different ways. On one hand, the metabolism of industrial societies relies on non-renewable resources. On the other hand, yearly, we directly waste or mismanage around 78% of the total water withdrawn, 49% of the food produced, 31% of the energy produced, 85% of ores and 26% of non-metallic minerals extracted, respectively. As a consequence, natural resources are getting depleted and ecosystems polluted, leading to irreversible environmental changes, biological loss and social conflicts. To reduce the anthropogenic footprint in the planet, and live in harmony with other species and ourselves, we suggest to shift the current economic model based on infinite growth and reduce inequality between and within countries, following a degrowth strategy in industrialized countries. Public education to reduce superfluous consumption is also necessary. In addition, we propose a set of technological strategies to improve the management of natural resources towards circular economies that, like ecosystems, rely only upon renewable resources.

• 2022

State-civil society relations in Gramsci, Poulantzas and Bourdieu: Strategic implications for the degrowth movement

By: Max Koch

Degrowth thought and strategies suffer from a tension between viewing the state as incapable of initiating transformational change and making a political appeal to it to do precisely this via targeted eco-social policies. While a small number of academic papers has theoretically addressed this tension, there is a lack in research on the strategic implications arising from conceptualizations of the state and state-civil society relations within degrowth/postgrowth approaches. Responding to the generally increased interest in strategic reasoning within the degrowth movement, the present paper examines the state theories of Antonio Gramsci, Nicos Poulantzas and Pierre Bourdieu under these auspices. It first compares and contrasts the three theories in respect to general characteristics of state-civil society relations. Subsequently, the paper addresses principles of domination, crisis and corresponding openings for oppositional movements. The discussion reflects on the main findings and identifies critical strategic implications.

• 2022

Ecologically unequal exchange and uneven development patterns along global value chains

By: Louison Cahen-Fourot, Jeffrey Althouse, Bruno Carballa Smichowski, Cédric Durand, Steven Knauss

The ecologically unequal exchange (EUE) literature has provided ample empirical evidence for asymmetric transfer of material and energy resources from low-income to high-income countries. However, research has not been able to clearly specify the causal mechanisms driving these processes. This paper relates participation in global value chains (GVCs) to development patterns and ecologically unequal exchange. We conduct a principal components analysis and a clustering analysis along six dimensions (GVC participation, GVC value capture, investment, socioeconomic development, domestic environmental impact and international environmental balance) for 133 countries between 1995 and 2015. We find three social, ecological, productive development and GVC insertion patterns: “curse of GVC marginalization”, “ecologically perverse upgrading” and “reproduction of the core”. While our results confirm the asymmetry in ecological degradation between high-income and low-income economies shown by EUE, they support the existence of alternative mechanisms to account for it. We argue that environmental asymmetries are driven in large part by differences in how countries articulate within GVCs, and therefore cannot be ascribed to relations of ecologically unequal exchange, alone. Countries with a higher capacity to capture value from GVC participation (“reproduction of the core”) are able to displace environmental impacts to countries facing a trade-off between the positive socio-economic impacts of rapid GVC integration and ecological degradation (“ecologically perverse upgrading”). GVC marginalization, in turn, constitutes a barrier to socio-economic benefits and to imported ecological degradation. However, the lack of diffusion of more ecologically-efficient processes through GVCs has a negative impact on domestic ecological degradation for countries of the “curse of GVC marginalization” group.

• 2022

Visions before models: The ethos of energy modeling in an era of transition

By: Christian Kerschner, Melf-Hinrich Ehlers, Christian Kimmich, Sgouris Sgouridis, Jordi Solé, Martin Černý

Energy-Economy-Environment (E3) models feature prominently in energy policy and climate mitigation planning. Nevertheless, these models have a mixed track record when assessed retrospectively and exhibit biases that can make them counterproductive for prescriptive policy during transition. We argue that in times of energy transitions it is preferable to develop a vision of the desired future energy system rather than relying on techno-economic solutions based on simple objectives (e.g. lower carbon emissions). We support this argument through reasoned inference supported by historical examples. A critical appraisal of E3 modeling exercises highlights the biases, structural or implicit, favoring existing energy system modalities. As a result, if E3 models are uncritically used to formulate long-term energy policy, there is the risk of unintended or deliberate performativity preventing a radical transition. Given the significant learning-by-doing effects in reducing technology costs, the evolution of energy systems is path-dependent and reinforced by technology policy feedbacks. This is showcased by Germany's Energiewende. Therefore, it is preferable to prioritize a clear articulation of the vision for the future desired end-state which can be shared with stakeholders a priori. Then utilize models as exploratory tools for assessing the economics and scale of corresponding interventions. These should include focused technology policy that aims to commoditize relevant technical innovations through learning-by-doing and scale economies. Ideally such models should be open, exploratory, reflexive and incorporate the dynamics of innovation.

• 2022

Beyond money: A Postcapitalist Strategy

By: Anitra Nelson

What would a world without money look like? This book offers a lively thought experiment of a world without money. Nelson shoes how money drives political power, environmental destruction and social inequality and argues for it to be abolished, rather than repurposed, to achieve a postcapitalist future. Grounded in historical debates about money, Nelson draws on a spectrum of political and economic thought and activism, including feminism, ecoanarchism, degrowth, autonomism, Marxism and ecosocialism. Looking to indigenous rights activism and a defence and advance of commoning, an international network of activists engaged in a fight for a money-free society emerges. Beyond Money shows that, by organising around post-money versions of the future, activists have a hope of creating a world that embodies radical values and visions.

• 2022

Welfare systems should be made independent of GDP growth

By: Max Koch

Given environmental pressures and long-term economic stagnation, GDP growth can no longer be considered as method to improve welfare resources. Researchers must investigate the relationship between growth and welfare, finding ways to decouple them, new welfare funding sources less dependant on economic fluctuations, and methods to decrease demand for welfare. Policymakers must realize the environmental limitations of the economy, working alongside researchers, activists and citizens to ensure public support.

• 2022

A one-off wealth tax for Belgium: Revenue potential, distributional impact, and environmental effects

By: Daniel W. O'Neill, Arthur Apostel

Policymakers and economists are becoming increasingly concerned about wealth inequality. Here we estimate Belgium's wealth distribution — and based on this distribution — the revenue potential, distributional impact, and environmental effect of three proposals for a one-off Belgian wealth tax. Our method consists of (1) estimating the Belgian wealth distribution by extending survey data with a top-tail Pareto distribution based on a novel national rich list, and (2) combining the estimated wealth distribution with proposed tax configurations and published elasticities. There are four main results. First, the wealthiest 1% of households possess ~24% of total net wealth, substantially more than previous estimates suggest. Second, the revenue potential of a one-off tax is considerably higher than estimated by wealth tax advocates. Third, the distributional impact would be limited as the richest 1% of households would still possess at least 23% of total net wealth. Fourth, a one-off tax would likely reduce CO2 emissions by only 0.1–0.6%. Overall, our findings suggest a one-off wealth tax could finance over half of Belgium's COVID-19 costs, but would lead to only small reductions in wealth inequality and environmental impact. Ecological economists may therefore wish to pursue other policy proposals to achieve fair distribution and sustainable scale.

• 2022

Economics for people and planet—moving beyond the neoclassical paradigm

By: Milena Büchs, Lina Brand-Correa, Daniel W O’Neill, Anna Brook, Petra Meier, Yannish Naik

Despite substantial attention within the fields of public and planetary health on developing an economic system that benefits both people's health and the environment, heterodox economic schools of thought have received little attention within these fields. Ecological economics is a school of thought with particular relevance to public and planetary health. In this article, we discuss implications of key ecological economics ideas for public and planetary health, especially those related to critiques of gross domestic product as a measure of progress and economic growth as the dominant goal for economic and policy decision making. We suggest that ecological economics aligns well with public health goals, including concern for equality and redistribution. Ecological economics offers an opportunity to make the transition to an economic system that is designed to promote human and planetary health from the outset, rather than one where social and environmental externalities must be constantly corrected after the fact. Important ideas from ecological economics include the use of a multidimensional framework to evaluate economic and social performance, the prioritisation of wellbeing and environmental goals in decision making, policy design and evaluation that take complex relationships into account, and the role of provisioning systems (the physical and social systems that link resource use and social outcomes). We discuss possible interventions at the national scale that could promote public health and that align with the prioritisation of social and ecological objectives, including universal basic income or services and sovereign money creation. Overall, we lay the foundations for additional integration of ecological economics principles and pluralist economic thinking into public and planetary health scholarship and practice.

• 2022

National responsibility for ecological breakdown: a fair-shares assessment of resource use, 1970–2017

By: Jason Hickel, Daniel W O’Neill, Andrew L Fanning, Huzaifa Zoomkawala

High-income nations are responsible for 74% of global excess material use, driven primarily by the USA (27%) and the EU-28 high-income countries (25%). China is responsible for 15% of global excess material use, and the rest of the Global South (ie, the low-income and middle-income countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia) is responsible for only 8%. Overshoot in higher-income nations is driven disproportionately by the use of abiotic materials, whereas in lower-income nations it is driven disproportionately by the use of biomass.

• 2022

Promises of growth and sustainability in the bioeconomy

By: Sandra Venghaus, Martin Fritz, Dennis Eversberg, Lilian Pungas

This Special Issue engages critically with the promises of 'green' economic growth within the bioeconomy discourse which as a concept is increasingly marshalled as providing an answer to multiple challenges. The aim is to shed light on the nexus of sustainability, technology and growth within the bioeconomy from multidisciplinary, critical and constructive perspectives. The papers published in the Special Issue either address the interplay between the three following three factors or focus on one particular aspect: Sufficiency perspectives Democracy and participation Institutions and governance

• 2022

The Future Is Degrowth. A Guide to a World beyond Capitalism

By: Andrea Vetter, Matthias Schmelzer, Aaron Vansintjan

We need to break free from the capitalist economy. Degrowth gives us the tools to bend its bars. Economic growth isn’t working, and it cannot be made to work. Offering a counter-history of how economic growth emerged in the context of colonialism, fossil-fueled industrialization, and capitalist modernity, The Future Is Degrowth argues that the ideology of growth conceals the rising inequalities and ecological destructions associated with capitalism, and points to desirable alternatives to it. Not only in society at large, but also on the left, we are held captive by the hegemony of growth. Even proposals for emancipatory Green New Deals or postcapitalism base their utopian hopes on the development of productive forces, on redistributing the fruits of economic growth and technological progress. Yet growing evidence shows that continued economic growth cannot be made compatible with sustaining life and is not necessary for a good life for all. This book provides a vision for postcapitalism beyond growth. Building on a vibrant field of research, it discusses the political economy and the politics of a non-growing economy. It charts a path forward through policies that democratise the economy, “now-topias” that create free spaces for experimentation, and counter-hegemonic movements that make it possible to break with the logic of growth. Degrowth perspectives offer a way to step off the treadmill of an alienating, expansionist, and hierarchical system. A handbook and a manifesto, The Future Is Degrowth is a must-read for all interested in charting a way beyond the current crises.