Economics for the Anthropocene

SUMMARY: The Economics for the Anthropocene (E4A) project seeks to displace the growth-insistent macro-economic framework which is destabilizing the Earth’s life support system(s). An Ecological Economics perspective based on contemporary Earth system science and cosmology provides a fulcrum for the construction of a Fuller Dome of integrated, self-reinforcing knowledge systems.

PROBLEM SPACE: It is widely recognized that anthropogenic activity is destabilizing Earth’s life support systems. Much less discussed is the complicit role of higher education in that destabilization. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the discipline of economics. The huge gap between economic pedagogy and practice, and the Earth’s complex and interdependent systems increasingly pits humanity against the biophysical realities of our planet. But economics is just the tip of an iceberg. Other disciplines such as finance, law and governance and much of the ethics also lack systematic connection to contemporary science and the realities of the Anthropocene. The plain fact is that the mental maps of these disciplines that we give to millions of students a year are not maps of where they are. As a consequence our leaders are lost at the outset and are unable, and even uninterested in, connecting scientific knowledge to policy and practice. The E4A project consolidates an ongoing ecological critique of economics in order to coalesce a renaissance of the social sciences and humanities, and ultimately advocate for a higher education whose structure and purpose are aligned with Earth’s living systems.

SOLUTION: “The fundamental and unquestionable insight of Ecological Economics is that the economic system is embedded in and an integral part of the Earth’s biogeochemical systems. Despite the self-evident and irrefutable nature of this observation, at the beginning of the new millennium, Ecological Economics was in danger of becoming extinct. On the one hand, leaders such as Herman Daly and Richard Norgaard were approaching retirement; and on the other, many of the people entering the field choose environmental economicsäóîa branch of the neo-classical school. Rather than focus on energy and material flows they were interested in pricing nature’s services, for example.
The E4A project was founded to rally the resources at McGill, the University of Vermont, and York University to provide first rate graduate education and research in Ecological Economics before it was too late! But we are not content to stop there. We aim to deepen, broaden and add power to the Ecological Economics insistence that economics must be connected to science. In for a penny in for a pound. In the past 50 years, our knowledge of the cosmos and our place in it has improved dramatically, though much needs to be discovered. What we have found, as Thomas Berry has said, is a new creation story. It is a story very different from that found in and derived from the Book of Genesis. That narrative which underpins much of Western culture finds little support in current cosmology. So it turns out that to reconsider economics we cannot help re-examining the very foundations of our whole society. To begin this massive undertaking we assembled the E4A partnership. See the answer to question 10 for details.”

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