February 15, 2002
Book Review: Eco-Economy
by William Baue
Pioneering environmentalist Lester R. Brown fuses ecological consciousness into economics to create
"eco-economy," an economic system that would preserve natural resources while continuing to
The word "economy" closely resembles the word "ecology"--a difference of only two letters separates
the terms. Since the Industrial Revolution, however, economy and ecology have become discrete
entities, mutually exclusive of one another.
This does not have to be so, argues
Worldwatch Institute founder Lester R. Brown in his most recent book, Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth. Instead of pitting economy against
ecology, Mr. Brown advocates marrying the two. He notes that campaigns which prioritize
environmental preservation over economic gain often fail, and that economies will collapse if they
deplete the natural resources that serve as their foundation.
"[If] the operation of the
subsystem, the economy, is not compatible with the behavior of the larger system--the earth's
ecosystem--both will eventually suffer," Mr. Brown writes. "An environmentally sustainable
economy--an eco-economy--requires that the principles of ecology establish the framework for the
formulation of economic policy and that economists and ecologists work together to fashion the new
Mr. Brown dedicates the first section of the book to a list of ecological
emergencies, including rising temperatures and sea levels, melting icecaps, falling water tables,
shrinking forests, eroding soil, and disappearing species. After enumerating these and other
environmental calamities in detail, he presents his vision of a new economy that incorporates
In the book's second section, Mr. Brown outlines numerous
components of the eco-economy. He proposes the building of a solar/hydrogen economy, the
redesigning of a throwaway economy into a recycling economy, and the transformation of cities
designed for cars to cities designed for people.
Finally, in the third section, Mr.
Brown offers several tools for building an eco-economy. Tax-shifting represents one solution that
maintains tax levels by reducing income tax while increasing taxes on environmentally destructive
activities, such as oil production and clear-cutting. Ecolabeling represents another solution that
allows consumers to "vote with their wallets" by purchasing environment-friendly products. Mr.
Brown also calls on the United Nations, governments, the media, corporations, NGOs, and individuals
to accelerate the transition to an eco-economy, before it is too late.
effectuates the fusion of ecology and economy by intermingling vocabularies. In the first chapter,
he speaks of a fishery as an "endowment," using a term usually applied to economics to describe a
natural system. In the third chapter, he calls topsoil "natural capital," and in the seventh
chapter, he suggests a restructuring of the "protein economy." By mixing terminology, Mr. Brown
encourages economists and environmentalists to speak a common language, and therefore to start
The goal of Eco-Economy is nothing short of a paradigm shift, to
use Thomas Kuhn's term for scientific revolutions. Mr. Brown likens this shift to Nicolaus
Copernicus' overthrow of the Ptolemaic model of an earth-centered solar system with a heliocentric
(or sun-centered) worldview. While this comparison may appear inflated, it is in fact modest
considering the current situation of worldwide economic recession combined with global
environmental crisis. The need for a paradigm shift is more urgent than ever.
Buy this book at Amazon.com
Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth, by
Lester R. Brown. W.W. Norton & Company, 2001.