The prefix "eco" connotes the natural system. Ecology is defined as the study of the relationships between living things and the resources they need for survival. The suffix, "-nomy," means distribution, arrangement, and management. It follows that economy is broadly defined as the management of resources by living things to ensure their survival. Indeed, the old familiar "home economics" classes taught this careful use of money and resources.
That's not the definition that economists, financial pundits and policy makers are guided by. Rather, we are told to think of economy as the societal arrangement for producing, selling and buying goods. The distinction in definitions is important, because modern economic thought has been untethered from considerations of managing natural resources to ensure survival. The luxury that has been afforded to us by cheap and easy fossil fuel based power has made possible the delusion that we are entitled to endless economic growth, to ever more consumption, and that all the while our survival is assured.
It's a dangerous, potentially fatal mistake about the meaning of economy.
According to Noam Chomsky "the reason is that it's a business-run society." The plan for this business-driven society is to be a perpetually growing cancer on the face of the earth. The symptoms of this sickness are evident in the scarcity of energy and water resources and the violence committed to secure them, in the extinction rate, in poverty and the ugly gap between the haves and have nots, and urgently, in the changing and unstable climate. "It should be evident to a rational person that we are at the edge of a cliff" says Chomsky, and "these things are all totally interconnected."
The economic inequality caused by the severing of economy from ecology is particularly pernicious because it leads to disparities in power that we witness in consolidated multinational corporations, Too Big To Fail banks, and dysfunctional governance that serves only the privileged. Thus our most powerful institutions create tremendous inertia to maintain the unsustainable status quo. Our growth dogma is pushing us past the limits of ecological capacity and working to paralyze our ability to stop ourselves from sailing over a cliff.
We attempt to address our problems whether it's global warming, militarism, or inequality one by one and get discouraged when we can't even do something as simple as keeping money from perverting elections. Forget preventing climatic catastrophe, right?
We fail because we are trying to deal with all these interconnected problems on a piecemeal basis. Systemic problems require systemic solutions. Let's get to the root of the matter, and treat our cancerous economic model like the serious disease it is.
It is time for us to put ecology back into economy, to instill the consideration of our survival and good stewardship back into the common conception of economy. Naomi Klein does a brilliant job of conceptualizing this healthy definition of economy in her "Capitalism vs. the Climate" article in The Nation.
"The real solutions to the climate crisis are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system--one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work and radically reins in corporate power. It would also require a shift away from the notion that climate action is just one issue on a laundry list of worthy causes vying for progressive attention."
"This deliberate attempt to shift cultural values is not a distraction from the "real" struggles. In the rocky future we have already made inevitable, an unshakable belief in the equal rights of all people, and a capacity for deep compassion, will be the only things standing between humanity and barbarism. Climate change, by putting us on a firm deadline, can serve as the catalyst for precisely this profound social and ecological transformation."
Environmentalists are frequently characterized as being economy killing party poopers. The truth is we merely want to work and live in a way that isn't self-destructive. Continual consumption of more junk is unsatisfying and in the end impossible. We no longer want to live in the false "economy" that Too Big To Fail corporations control.
The efforts to create a sustainable and by necessity just humanity are stronger if they are unified. This ecological understanding of our economy is the unifying foundation where we must start.