Confronting Environmental Issues
Edited by Richard P.F. Holt, Steven Pressman and Clive L. Spash
Chapter 4: The Environmental Case for a Collective Assessment of Economism
Richard B. Norgaard INTRODUCTION Environmental economics emerged over the latter half of the twentieth century to fine-tune the economy, perhaps defensible in its early years, but it is now obvious that we need a major economic adjustment. Since 1900, the human population has increased four times, from some 1.6 billion to about 6.7 billion. During the same period, the global market economy has increased by about a factor of 25, from less than US$2 trillion to about US$50 trillion per year. Science and technology have made this possible, fossil hydrocarbons and ecosystem degradation feed the ‘affluenza’, while corporate advertising and public infrastructure promote ever more consumption and waste. The realization that our children will suffer from climate change, biodiversity loss and reduced ecosystem services is slowly convincing many that we need to change dramatically how we interact with each other and nature. Taking on such a major adjustment will require that we deconstruct the economic myths, the ‘economism’, that has kept the economy on course in spite of the mounting social and environmental evidence. In spite of the vast differences between rich and poor, academics and farm workers, and the political and economic perspectives people hold, people function together in a global economy in amazing synchrony. Roughly half of the people in the world are absolutely dependent on the actions of others through a complex economic system. Some among the other half of the global population who are not so enmeshed in the world’s economy are actively protesting...