Applied Evolutionary Economics and Complex Systems

Applied Evolutionary Economics and Complex Systems

Edited by John Foster and Werner Hölzl

This book takes up the challenge of developing an empirically based foundation for evolutionary economics built upon complex system theory. The authors argue that modern evolutionary economics is at a crossroads. At a theoretical level, modern evolutionary economics is moving away from the traditional focus of the operation of selection mechanisms and towards concepts of ‘complex adaptive systems’ and self-organisation. On an applied level, new and innovative methods of empirical research are being developed and considered. The contributors take up this challenge and examine aspects of complexity and evolution in applied contexts.

Chapter 11: Evolutionary thinking in environmental economics: retrospect and prospect

Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh

Subjects: economics and finance, evolutionary economics


Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh* 1. INTRODUCTION This chapter explores the various links between environmental and evolutionary economics. Environmental economics combines elements of natural and social sciences, and touches upon basic research questions. At the same time, it is policy-oriented. The combination of basic research and policy relevance is exciting. Within environmental economics it is almost ‘natural’ to think about similarities and possible links between biological and social–economic evolution. The result is ‘co-evolution’ that is very ‘real’ and concrete. One would expect that social sciences in particular can benefit from such a transfer, given that evolutionary biology has a long tradition. Nevertheless, one should certainly not exclude the possibility that learning can occur in the other direction. Biology in particular can learn from evolutionary theory and modelling in social sciences when it comes to analysing the evolution of groups and social organization.1 The relevance of evolutionary thinking to understanding environmental problems and formulating public policy responses can be illustrated in several ways. Environmental problems often mean a loss of diversity of options, which is best illustrated by the loss of biodiversity. Many environmental problems are difficult to resolve because undesirable, second-best technologies are locked in as a result of historical accidents and increasing returns to scale. The most significant example is the complete dependence of modern economies on fossil fuels. Related to this is the dominance in both passenger and freight transport of cars with fossil fuel combustion engines. An entirely different example of the...

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