Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Economics on an Even Keel

By David Tranter

Can economics balance its books with the limits of ecology?

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The 1850s terms “ecology” (the science of nature’s household) and “economics” (the wise use of scarce resources) have drifted apart, ecology investigating the resources of nature and economics the nature and growth of wealth. Since then, species have been extinguished in the name of “development”, fossil fuel capital has been burnt faster than it was ever generated in nature, the global climate has been destabilised, the population of the world has increased fivefold, and powerful nations have appropriated the riches of the weak, who are now taking to the sea in unseaworthy boats to seek their rightful share of “western” affluence. Has wisdom itself become a scarce resource?

Development is not the same as growth. Development is a qualitative, not a quantitative, process. Buds develop into flowers, pupae into butterflies, looms into computers, and computers into the world wide web. The term “development“ is a misnomer that hides a multitude of sins, and “sustainable development” is more often than not a contradiction in terms.

Unregulated growth is not normal in nature; it is limited by the resource in shortest supply (Law of the Minimum). Individuals, populations, communities and ecosystems are regulated by involuntary feedback, like the outriggers of Polynesian canoes that keep them “on an even keel” or like household thermostats that stabilise the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.