Forging a Path to Sustainable Development
Edited by Philip Lawn
Chapter 9: The Environmental Kuznets Curve: some theoretical and empirical insights
As explained in Chapter 1, ecological economists believe that the continuous growth of the economic sub-system is existentially undesirable and ecologically unsustainable (Daly, 1991, 2007; Lawn, 2007). Hence, they believe that all nations must eventually make the transition to a steady-state economy. Moreover, they argue that nations should begin this transition as soon as their economies near the optimal scale, which is reached when the net benefits from growing the economy are maximized (S* in Figure 1.2). Barring this, ecological economists have stressed that economic systems should never exceed their maximum sustainable scale (SS in Figure 1.2). It has also been explained that operating a steady-state economy at the optimal scale need not preclude development. By producing better and more durable goods, improving the organisational means of production, increasing resource use efficiency, and employing more sensitive resource-extraction methods, it should be possible to increase the economic welfare enjoyed at the optimal scale for some considerable time to come. Furthermore, although the transition to a ‘qualitatively-improving’ steady-state economy will require some radical institutional changes, it need not connote the end of market-based capitalism or democracy. Indeed, if anything, it will prove to be their saviour (Lawn, 2011).
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