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March 3, 2016 / Rob Dyball

HE@ESA: Ecological economics for a prosperous, fair, and sustainable future


Ecological economics for a prosperous, fair, and sustainable future

Robert Costanza, Crawford School, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

This is the abstract from Robert’s forthcoming paper to be presented at ESA Fort Lauderdale as part of the Human Ecology Sections symposium Human Ecology, Human Economy: towards good governance of the Anthropocene.


A high and sustainable quality of life is a central goal for humanity. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent an unprecedented international consensus on a set of 17 goals and their supporting targets and indicators. Meeting these goals and achieving “the future we want” – the theme of the UN Rio+20 conference – is a significant local and global research challenge that will require a substantially different approach to science, economics, and policy.  Our current socio-ecological regime and its set of interconnected worldviews, institutions, and technologies all support the goal of unlimited growth of material production and consumption as a proxy for quality of life. However, abundant evidence shows that, beyond a certain threshold, further material growth only marginally contributes to improvement in quality of life and there is mounting evidence that it creates significant roadblocks to sustainability through increasing inequality, resource constraints (i.e., peak oil, water limitations), and sink constraints (i.e., climate disruption, biodiversity loss, and pollution)


Overcoming these roadblocks and creating a prosperous, fair, and  sustainable future will require an integrated, systems level redesign of our socio-ecological regime and economic paradigm focused explicitly and directly on the goal of sustainable quality of life and well-being rather than the proxy of unlimited material growth. It will require the recognition and measurement of the substantial contributions of natural and social capital to sustainable well-being.  Ecological economics is such a paradigm that has been evolving since the 1990’s.

This talk will discuss ways to achieve the transition to a sustainable and desirable future, including: (1) scenario planning (extended to include pubic opinion surveys) to build consensus on the future we want and break our addiction to the current paradigm; (2) new integrated models and indicators of progress toward these shared goals (3) new institutions, policies, and civil society movements needed to achieve the future we want.

We cannot predict the future, but we can create it.

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