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Why ecological economics needs to return to its roots: The biophysical foundation of socio-economic systems

Rigo E. Melgar-Melgar and Charles A.S. Hall

Ecological Economics, 2020, vol. 169, issue C

Abstract: Ecological economics was formally established in 1989 with the ambitious vision of developing a new economic paradigm embedding the social and economic systems in the biophysical world. Ecological economics had its roots in the biophysical understanding of economics that pioneers of the field Georgescu-Roegen (1971), Odum (1971), Daly (1977), Jansson (1984), Martinez-Alier (1987) and others developed while studying the thermodynamic bedrocks shared by natural and social systems. Subsequently, however, ecological economics has explicitly but controversially adopted a ‘big umbrella’ approach to methodological pluralism, focusing more on topics such as valuing nature and its functions rather than attempting to understand and quantify the biophysical roots of economic activities. Biophysical economics was established in response to these concerns, focusing more on developing analyses and models of the transformations of nature to generate wealth and approached mostly from an energy and material flows perspective. The present paper argues that to achieve its original vision ecological economics must return to its biophysical roots. Collaboration between the two fields will help the next generation of thinkers to address the socio-ecological challenges of the 21st century requiring an energy transformation called for by aspirations such as the Green New Deal and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Keywords: Energy transitions; Biophysical economics; Ecological economics; Climate change; Sustainability; Green New Deal; Sustainable Development Goals (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
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Persistent link: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:169:y:2020:i:c:s0921800919310304

DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2019.106567

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