Huffpost Green
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Dr. Reese Halter Headshot

Reuniting Economics and Ecology for a Sustainable Future

Posted: Updated:

Nature and people are being brutally lambasted all over the planet. Recent torrential rains forced the evacuation of 400,000 Japanese citizens, and the severity of the U.S. drought, which has not only laid waste to millions of bushels of corn and soybean, it's now threatening water flow of the mighty Mississippi River.

The worldwide economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.

Russ Beaton and Chris Maser have produced a powerful new book entitled Economics & Ecology: United for a Sustainable World, which I believe should be required reading for all college freshmen. It is a blueprint to ensure that our species thrives in the 22nd century.

Beaton an economist and Maser an ecologist draw upon over 9 decades of global experience and wisdom to present a detailed plan reuniting economics and ecology; it's well-explained and rich with examples.

The natural world is upside down. It is very apparent that the days of pitting the economy versus the environment are numbered. The Greek root of each word 'oikos' means house. Ecology is the knowledge of understanding the house whilst economics is the knowledge of managing the house.

Our natural environment and the resource base for the world economy are inexorably linked. Therefore these two crucial parts must come together for the house to remain standing, as our species is now heading toward 8 billion by 2025.

Beaton and Maser provide a systemic examination of the living world, and a necessary economic roadmap towards a sustainable future for the human race.

Presently, worldwide economic growth is unsustainable because the natural resource base has been significantly depleted. For instance, many of the world's commercial fish stocks are nearing extinction from 150 years of overharvesting. No amount of government subsidies (or erroneously blaming whales) will change this fact. On the other hand, the scientific knowledge and a quarter of century of data to validate it, says we must now place 50 percent of the world's oceans into 'no-take zones', so that over the next 25 years the oceans can replenish themselves to feed 9 billion people by 2043.

It is time to recognize that nature is a flawless system that creates no waste. Each year in the U.S. we truck 251 million tons of trash to landfills. To put that enormous number into perspective, the average blue whale - the largest mammal on Earth - weighs far in excess of 100 tons. We are throwing away at least 6,750 blue whales worth of garbage every single day. Landfills contaminate ground water. In a warming world, fresh water is very precious and must be safeguarded.

Economics emphases efficiency, yet nature is effective not efficient. For instance, pines (and other wind-pollinated trees) expend a tremendous amount of nitrogen - the most limiting plant element, to make pollen. It takes vast amounts of pollen to fertilize enough pine seeds to perpetuate the genus. An economist might criticize this as highly inefficient, however every grain of pollen, which isn't used towards fertilization, is an exceedingly rich source of nutrition consumed holus bolus by a variety of critters and organisms. There is no waste whatsoever in nature.

In order to achieve a sustainable world there are 15 inviolable biophysical constraints. These are nature's rules of engagement, crucial for survival of both the wild kingdom and the human race.

Externalities including global warming and pollution must be factored into a worldwide sustainable economy. The solution to pollution is not dilution. It is time for economists to embrace uncertainty not dismiss it. In so doing, economists will work with climate and biological scientists, together addressing the uncertainties of global climate change - because world food supplies are at risk.

A triple bottom line, which acknowledges that the planet is a living trust and that we are merely stewards for future generations, is a requisite standard for all businesses, worldwide. Continuous growth or the growth ethic is impossible to sustain. Beaton and Maser rightfully contend that it be removed from mainstream economic thought.

Humans are exceptional problem solvers. Our ability to successfully navigate the global change ahead will rely upon: Ecological integrity and social equity harnessing updated principles of economics to ensure a healthy, viable future for humankind.

Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are: The Incomparable Honeybee and The Insatiable Bark Beetle.

From Our Partners