IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Population, Resources, and Energy in the Global Economy: A Vindication of Herman Daly's Vision


  • Jonathan M. Harris


Herman Daly pioneered the concept of environmental macroeconomics. He famously argued that we have moved from an “empty world” of resource abundance to a “full world” of energy and resource limits. His insights, however, have generally been rejected or ignored by most mainstream economic analysts, who argue that resource shortages are remediable through market flexibility and substitution, posing no threat to long-term exponential economic growth. In the absence of immediate crisis, standard economics has been able to maintain this “optimistic” stance, dismissing population, resource, and energy limits. But developments during the first decade of the twenty-first century indicate that it will be Daly’s view, rather than that of the mainstream, that will be most important in shaping economic development in the coming century. As Daly foresaw, an energy economy based on high efficiency and renewable fuels cannot pursue the exponential growth path characteristic of the fossil-fuel dependent economy of the twentieth century. The issues involved go well beyond the energy sector of the economy. Population growth and food supply also become critical. There are many interactions between the agricultural and energy systems; in addition to energy intensification in agriculture, demands for biofuels put pressure on the limited supply of agricultural land. Recent price spikes in food, fuels, and minerals indicate the tremendous stresses placed on the global ecosystem by the combination of population and economic growth in China, India, and elsewhere. They also raise major issues of equity, as high prices for energy and food impact the poor disproportionately. Similar problems affect ecological systems such as forests and fisheries on a global scale. It will not be possible to adjust to such stresses simply through market flexibility. It is already evident that large-scale government intervention will be needed to respond to climate change. In this context, an activist environmental macroeconomics will be required to balance the requirements of equity and ecosystem sustainability. Either through planned adjustment or through crisis, it will be necessary to shift away from a macroeconomics of indefinite growth towards stabilization of population and reduction of resource throughput, as Daly has long advocated.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan M. Harris, 2013. "Population, Resources, and Energy in the Global Economy: A Vindication of Herman Daly's Vision," GDAE Working Papers 13-03, GDAE, Tufts University.
  • Handle: RePEc:dae:daepap:13-03

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jonathan Harris, "undated". "08-02 "Ecological Macroeconomics: Consumption, Investment, and Climate Change"," GDAE Working Papers 08-02, GDAE, Tufts University.
    2. Jonathan M. Harris & Neva R. Goodwin (ed.), 2009. "Twenty-First Century Macroeconomics," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 13112.
    3. Costanza, Robert, 1998. "The value of ecosystem services," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 1-2, April.
    4. Malghan, Deepak, 2010. "On the relationship between scale, allocation, and distribution," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(11), pages 2261-2270, September.
    5. Jonathan M. Harris, "undated". "10-05 "The Macroeconomics of Development without Throughput Growth"," GDAE Working Papers 10-05, GDAE, Tufts University.
    6. Costanza, Robert & Farber, Steve, 2002. "Introduction to the special issue on the dynamics and value of ecosystem services: integrating economic and ecological perspectives," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(3), pages 367-373, June.
    7. Jonathan M. Harris, 2013. "Green Keynesianism: Beyond Standard Growth Paradigms," GDAE Working Papers 13-02, GDAE, Tufts University.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Aragão, Amanda & Giampietro, Mario, 2016. "An integrated multi-scale approach to assess the performance of energy systems illustrated with data from the Brazilian oil and natural gas sector," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 115(P2), pages 1412-1423.

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:dae:daepap:13-03. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Erin Coutts). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.