11 December 2006

So what is green economics?

I feel it may be time to offer some thoughts about what green economics actually means. In a practical sense, my favourite green economists (we are a fairly select group so far!) are Richard Douthwaite (find out more from the Feasta website) and James Robertson, who was a founder member of the New Economics Foundation and has his own archive of work available at http://www.jamesrobertson.com/.

From a theoretical point of view I find the insights of ecofeminism really helpful. Here are three important principles from which we can build a sustainable system of economics:

  • Immanence: the source of the sacred in all aspects of the planet and her people;
  • Interconnectedness: a belief in the inevitable relationship between all these aspects of the sacred, closely supported by the science of ecology;
  • Unity-in-diversity: the need to respect difference and to value the whole as requiring all of its different parts.

Three narratives demonstrate these principles.
The following quotation from James Lovelock’s autobiography illustrates the principle of immanence:

Gaia: The meaning of that cloud-speckled ocean-blue sphere was made real to me by their newly won scientific information about the Earth and its sibling planets Mars and Venus. Suddenly, as a revelation, I saw the Earth as a living planet. The quest to know and understand our planet as one that behaves like something alive, and which has kept a home for us, has been the Grail that beckoned me ever since. It came to me suddenly, just like a flash of enlightenment, that to persist and keep stable, something must be regulating the atmosphere . . . My mind was well prepared emotionally and scientifically and it dawned on me that somehow life was regulating climate as well as chemistry. Suddenly the image of the Earth as a living organism. . . Emerged in my mind. At such moments, there is no time or place for such niceties as the qualification ‘of course it is not alive—it merely behaves as if it were,’

To get a sense of the principle of interconnectedness you have to use your own imagination. I expect that nearly all of us have, at one time or another, been in a car that has hit and killed a small animal while driving on a country road. A squirrel or badger or rabbit has rushed out of the hedgerow and under our wheels before we could do anything about it. It is the feeling that follows this experience that makes real for us our interconnectedness with other species. I challenge anybody not to feel a sense of shock and horror for the life destroyed.

The third principle of unity-in-diversity is severely neglected in our culture, which sets up either-or dichotomies constantly. A simple illustration in a context we are all familiar with comes from the North American Gitksan-Wet'suwet'en people as told by their tribal elder Marie Wilson:

A North American Indian philosopher has likened the relationship between women and men to the eagle, which soars to unbelievable heights and has tremendous power on two equal wings--one female, one male--carrying the body of life between them. The moment one is fractured or harmed in any way, then that powerful bird is doomed to remain on the earth and cannot reach those heights.

These principles are drawn from the ecofeminist wing of green economics. You can download a full discussion of the economic implications of adopting the ecofeminist perspective of the earth as our mother from my webpage on the theme: earthmother.


  1. Earthmother link doesn't seem to work.