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The Ecological Economics of Boulding's Spaceship Earth

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  • Clive L. Spash

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Abstract

The work of Kenneth Boulding is sometimes cited as being foundational to the understanding of how the economy interacts with the environment and particularly of relevance to ecological economists. The main reference made in this regard is to his seminal essay using the metaphor of planet Earth as a spaceship. In this paper that essay and related work is placed both within historical context of the environmental movement and developments in the thought on environment-economy interactions. The writing by Boulding in this area is critically reviewed and discussed in relationship to the work of his contemporaries, also regarded as important for the ecological economics community, such as Georegescu-Roegen, Herman Daly and K. William Kapp. This brings out the facts that Boulding did not pursue his environmental concerns, wrote little on the subject, had a techno-optimist tendency, disagreed with his contemporaries and preferred to develop an evolutionary economics approach. Finally, a sketch is offered of how the ideas in the Spaceship Earth essay relate to current understanding within social ecological economics. The essay itself, while offering many thought provoking insights within the context of its time, also has flaws both of accuracy and omission. The issues of power, social justice, institutional and social relationships are ones absent, but also ones which Boulding, near the end of his life, finally recognised as key to addressing the growing environmental crises.

Suggested Citation

  • Clive L. Spash, 2013. "The Ecological Economics of Boulding's Spaceship Earth," SRE-Disc sre-disc-2013_02, Institute for Multilevel Governance and Development, Department of Socioeconomics, Vienna University of Economics and Business.
  • Handle: RePEc:wiw:wiwsre:sre-disc-2013_02
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    File URL: http://www-sre.wu.ac.at/sre-disc/sre-disc-2013_02.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Ayres, Robert U., 1998. "Eco-thermodynamics: economics and the second law," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(2), pages 189-209, August.
    2. Clive L. Spash, 2011. "Terrible Economics, Ecosystems and Banking," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 20(2), pages 141-145, May.
    3. Ayres, Robert U. & Warr, Benjamin, 2005. "Accounting for growth: the role of physical work," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 181-209, June.
    4. Bianciardi, C. & Tiezzi, E. & Ulgiati, S., 1993. "Complete recycling of matter in the frameworks of physics, biology and ecological economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 1-5, August.
    5. Clive L. Spash, 2011. "Social Ecological Economics: Understanding the Past to See the Future," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 70(2), pages 340-375, April.
    6. Martínez-Alier, Joan & Pascual, Unai & Vivien, Franck-Dominique & Zaccai, Edwin, 2010. "Sustainable de-growth: Mapping the context, criticisms and future prospects of an emergent paradigm," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(9), pages 1741-1747, July.
    7. Costanza, Robert, 1989. "What is ecological economics?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 1-7, February.
    8. Clive L. Spash, 2009. "The New Environmental Pragmatists, Pluralism and Sustainability," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 18(3), pages 253-256, August.
    9. Kallis, Giorgos, 2011. "In defence of degrowth," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(5), pages 873-880, March.
    10. Herman E. Daly, 1968. "On Economics as a Life Science," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76, pages 392-392.
    11. Spash, Clive L., 2007. "The economics of climate change impacts a la Stern: Novel and nuanced or rhetorically restricted?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(4), pages 706-713, September.
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    Keywords

    Kenneth Boulding; spaceship Earth; thermodynamics; entropy; limits to growth; ecological economics; Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen; Herman Daly;

    JEL classification:

    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • O44 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Environment and Growth
    • P - Economic Systems
    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development
    • Q57 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Ecological Economics

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