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The Economics of Nature and the Nature of Economics

Edited by Cutler J. Cleveland, David I. Stern and Robert Costanza

This book discusses important recent developments in the theory, concepts and empirical applications of ecological economics and sustainable development. The editors have assembled a fascinating collection of papers from some of the leading scholars in the field of ecological economics.
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Chapter 3: The improvisation of discordant knowledges

Richard B. Norgaard


Richard B. Norgaard Many are frustrated by our inability to come to a shared understanding of the meaning of sustainability. How can we work together to achieve a common goal when the term elicits widely divergent reactions from ecologists, economists and entrepreneurs, to say nothing of the dissonance in the responses of Eskimo and Ecuadoreans. Ecologists emphasize the excessive human pressure put on ecosystems, while economists see a multitude of externalities that need to be internalized. It would be easier if each of us held the same understanding. On deeper reflection, we realize that it would be even better, however, if our different understandings complemented each other in a rich, harmonious whole reflecting the complexity of the problems we face. Holding the same understanding would be comparable to each of us playing a single instrument and hitting the same notes together. Holding complementary understandings would be comparable to having each of us playing the different instruments of an orchestra or a large band. To play together takes a more elaborate score and considerable practice, but an ensemble of instruments provides richer, more varied sounds and is far more interesting. The global discourse on sustainability, however, sounds like musicians who have just brought their instruments in from the blustery February streets of New York and are just beginning to warm them up on the stage of Carnegie Hall. Even the biennial conferences of the like-minded members of our International Society for Ecological Economics remind me of young musicians from several dozen...

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