Environment as a Sector of the Economy

JMSB Lecture Explains Importance of Rethinking Classical Economics

  • Jon D. Erickson, professor in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources spoke at Concordia University recently. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

Students and staff members filed into a Concordia lecture room on Nov. 13 unaware that they would leave with a simple message: humans need to reconcile their relationship with the Earth.

The world’s economy is largely based on fossil fuels, which perpetuates the emission of greenhouse gases, according to Jon D. Erickson, professor in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and fellow of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.

Erickson lectured students of the David O’Brien Centre for Sustainable Enterprise at the John Molson School of Business about how the world must rethink the traditional worldview of economics, in order to sustain the ecosystem.

“Humans are the focal point of an economic worldview,” he said. “It’s all about us.” Erickson continued that the worldview of economics sees the environment not as a home but as a resource.

“[The environment] is something we extract from and put waste back into,” he said. “It’s a sector of the economy.”

In a video titled “‘Crash Course’ in Ecological Economics” published by the Gund Institute, Erickson said that the classic definition of economics is the allocation of scarce resources toward alternative desirable ends.

Conversely, ecological economics adopts the traditional definition but looks at the scarce resources and questions what the ends are.

“Ecological economics brings this fresh narrative on how we need to rethink economic systems and structures,” said Tejaswinee Jhunjhunwala, program coordinator at the David O’Brien Centre for Sustainable Enterprise and organizer of the lecture. “It gives value to holistic systems, elements of resources, and all other biophysical things beyond humans.”

Much of Erickson’s work is based off of atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, who popularized the term, “Anthropocene.”

The Anthropocene is the geologic time period we’re living in, in which the Earth’s ecosystems have been significantly affected by human activities. It’s what Erickson said frames the collaborative project, called Economics for the Anthropocene, which is being conducted between the University of Vermont, McGill and York University.

“The Anthropocene really reflects this notion of a human dominated world,” he said.

The naming raises two separate questions for the project: “is this something that we should celebrate? Or should it be seen as some kind of warning?” Erickson said. He added that humans are still the focus in the worldview of ecological economics, but are part of a whole.

“[The environment] is not just a resource, it’s our home,” he said. “This is the foundation of peace and justice in a sustainable and resilient environment.”

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