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Sustaining what for whom?
Optimizing in the face of scarcity
What is sustainability?
• A non-declining capital stock – “weak”
• “Natural capital assets...should not decline
through time.” Pearce – “strong”
Of the myriad definitions
They are all trying to get at several things:
• facing limits
• meeting needs
• equity
• avoiding disaster
Toward what purpose?
• Avoid human emiseration resulting from
irreversible damage to ecosystems.
• Implication: now and into the future
Economics and sustainability
All economics begins with one premise:
• Every action has an opportunity cost.
• Scarcity is a given.
Enter ecological economics
Markets do many things well, but they do
not recognize ultimate limits.
• 1st and 2nd Laws
• Optimization at the margin ignores scale.
• The assumption of substitutability
Achieving sustainability requires:
• Modifying economic models.
• Thinking in time scales to which we are
not accustomed.
• Reconsidering whether GDP really
measures beneficial change.
• Letting prices reflect real opportunity