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The Ecological Economics of Boulding's Spaceship Earth

Clive Spash

SRE-Discussion Papers from WU Vienna University of Economics and Business

Abstract: The work of Kenneth Boulding is sometimes cited as being foundational to the understanding of how the economy interacts with the environment and particularly of relevance to ecological economists. The main reference made in this regard is to his seminal essay using the metaphor of planet Earth as a spaceship. In this paper that essay and related work is placed both within historical context of the environmental movement and developments in the thought on environment-economy interactions. The writing by Boulding in this area is critically reviewed and discussed in relationship to the work of his contemporaries, also regarded as important for the ecological economics community, such as Georegescu-Roegen, Herman Daly and K. William Kapp. This brings out the facts that Boulding did not pursue his environmental concerns, wrote little on the subject, had a techno-optimist tendency, disagreed with his contemporaries and preferred to develop an evolutionary economics approach. Finally, a sketch is offered of how the ideas in the Spaceship Earth essay relate to current understanding within social ecological economics. The essay itself, while offering many thought provoking insights within the context of its time, also has flaws both of accuracy and omission. The issues of power, social justice, institutional and social relationships are ones absent, but also ones which Boulding, near the end of his life, finally recognised as key to addressing the growing environmental crises. (author's abstract)

Keywords: Kenneth Boulding; spaceship Earth; thermodynamics; entropy; limits to growth; ecological economics; Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen; Herman Daly (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2013
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