A Leap to an Ecological Economy (summary)

by Derek Paul

This book seeks to address the question: what steps need to be taken to change our economic system so that it can enable us to address the menace of climate change and to bring the system to a sustainable state.

The basic problem is that the economic system we have, which the author calls “traditional,” deals essentially with human economic activities and transactions that involve the exchange of money. This has the practical result that nature itself becomes exploited in destructive ways, and soil water and air become degraded or polluted. The current threat of climate change and the fact that we humans are living far beyond our ecological means are proof that we need an economy that will draw minimally from its fixed assets, while protecting and enriching those that are renewable. Thus the ecological economy must extend to everything living, since all species are interdependent.

The most important needed change is attitudinal, and can be described as adopting a new paradigm that puts the health of the ecosphere as the central concern. (see paper on this website, “The Essential Paradigm Shift.”)

The second chapter discusses many of the ways in which the traditional economy is the opposite of what we need.

Chapter Three lists concisely the changes the author thinks necessary, in such a way as to answer the objections to the traditional economy raised in Chapter two.

The next two chapters can be thought of as elementary primers on money and investment.

Chapters Six through Twenty outline some details of what needs to be done to fulfil the list of changes proposed in Chapter Three. Throughout, no claim is made of having found complete solutions, but rather discussion and debate are called for. Some of the more important points in these 15 chapters are the following:

  • The importance of distinguishing between money and wealth and of maximizing natural wealth. The second edition greatly emphasizes the advantages of organic growing (versus chemical farming) and proposes subsidizing transitions to organic at least until it becomes the dominant mode of farming;
  • Full employment is practicable and necessary;
  • The world has left it too late to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions through carbon taxes so that the transition from fossil-fuel based technologies to green technologies will have to come from individuals and corporations wanting to make the transition, and from government policy;
  • The need to recycle will be hugely assisted by changes of taxation, namely, putting appropriate taxes on primary, non-renewable materials, and on lumber, and removing taxes on sales and services;
  • The problem of inequality arises at root from the fact that nations see themselves as being in competition with each other, so that corporations and the super-rich can play one nation against another. Once that problem is solved, in an atmosphere of international cooperation, the “problem” of inequality becomes tractable;
  • It will be essential for nations to fund projects dealing with the transition at zero interest. One way this can be done is through publicly-owned banks;
  • The GDP really must be thrown out as an economic indicator and replaced by one or more others that take care of wellbeing holistically. Much work has already been done on wellbeing indices;

The next three items on this shortened list are all important, but share the characteristic that none of them is anywhere near the point of moving forward so as to contribute to the needed change:

  • Militarism and international armed rivalry stand in the way of every kind of progress, and obstruct the needed international cooperation to address climate change as well as wasting valuable resources and causing immense displacements of people, who mostly become refugees;
  • The ever-increasing human population, which shows no sign of slowing its growth, even though the strategy developed by the United Nations for halting global population growth is viable, and most if not all the current annual global population increase comes from pregnancies that had not been wanted by the mothers;
  • Overconsumption and the associated wastage are largely the result of a long history of increasingly skilled advertising. Not even first discussions of how to solve this problem are afoot.

Chapter 21 is the result of a recommendation to the author to prepare a chapter on China, which has 18 percent of the world’s population, is the world’s greatest emitter of greenhouse gases, and has become the world’s leading economy. This chapter proved important since, in 2017, China’s prospects of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to a low percent of its present emissions looked very poor; but a new and very ambitious project of hugely increasing its solar panels has countered the gloomy prospects of 2017. China does not yet, however, appear to be moving in the direction of adopting the mentality appropriate to a fully ecological economy, though some of its actions are in that direction.

The book also contains many recommendations that governments, federal or at a state level, would do well to follow, and concludes with five appendices. Appendix 1 explains the urgency of cutting back greenhouse gas emissions and warns that excess CO2 from the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, forming carbonic acid, and the ocean must not be allowed to become acidic—it is an acidic ocean that will bring about massive extinctions, not the warmth of the climate. Appendix 2 warns of disasters projected to occur within the decade 2038-48 under laissez-faire. Appendix 3 is a primer on ecological footprint, as is Appendix 4 on biochar, while Appendix 5 warns of the ongoing decline in numbers of very many species.