A new framework to address overshoot
As an independent economic thinker rather than an affiliated academic, I can perhaps offer a fresh approach to our ecological predicament.
The current approach is typified by recent posts regarding cap-and-trade, including Edward Fullbrook’s request that economists evaluate James Hansen’s “fee and dividend” proposal. These posts are attempts to reform the current system – that is, to improve on business-as-usual. Such reforms are worthwhile, but strikingly inadequate to prevent the collapse that Fullbrook and many others rightly fear.
Climate change is clearly a major threat to ecosystems, but it is only a symptom of the underlying problem we face – ecological overshoot. For the first time in history, humankind has violated environmental limits on a global basis. This situation is unprecedented, and therefore requires an unprecedented solution.
We must recognize that our economies have to date been guided largely by our unconstrained biological drives. This has culminated in capitalism, a system that harnesses these impulses to increase production while massively expanding our ecological impact. History is now calling on us to switch to the conscious guidance of our economies, based on principles that are consistent with sustainable well-being.
These principles are distinct from those used in the analysis of capitalist economies, which means that an entirely new framework must be developed. This strikes me as a tremendous opportunity for heterodox economists. For those who can break free from the conventional worldview, there are new concepts to be defined, new optimization techniques to be developed, new interpretations of productivity and efficiency to be formulated. The technical analysis of cap-and-trade, etc. can continue, but there could be a parallel heterodox track of framework development.
My own very tentative start on this work is called the Economics of Needs and Limits (ENL). For details, see my website: needsandlimits.org. For a discussion of the changes to economics that I believe are required, see the video “Revolutionizing Economic Thought”: