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Environmental economics and ecological economics: the contribution of interdisciplinarity to understanding, influence and effectiveness



This paper reviews developments in both environmental economics and ecological economics with respect to their progress towards environmental interdisciplinarity and towards providing solutions to environmental problems. The concepts, methods, theories and assumptions of each field of knowledge are reviewed and the extent to which they depart from the dominant neoclassical paradigm of economics is assessed. The contribution that interdisciplinarity has made to the success of each field is analysed in terms of understanding, influence and effectiveness and the constraints that it has imposed upon that success. Environmental economics has adopted the dominant economic neoclassical paradigm, including the power of the market to allocate environmental resources efficiently and in a socially optimal way. The solution to environmental problems is thus seen as a matter of ensuring that the environment is properly priced to reflect the relative scarcity of natural resources and assets and to ensure that environmental values are incorporated into the market. This specialized view of environmental problems is now reflected in government policy around the world including the use of extended cost benefit analyses, contingent valuations, environmental charges and emissions trading. Nevertheless, environmental problems continue to grow in severity and the solutions provided by environmental economists have proven ineffective. Thus lack of interdisciplinarity does not prevent a field of knowledge from gaining influence and dominance, however its effectiveness in terms of understanding environmental problems and solving them is impeded. Ecological economics seeks to incorporate the research of economists, ecologists, philosophers and social scientists, however its influence seems to be have been limited to areas in which it retains the standard economics framework, and this limits its effectiveness in terms of environmental solutions. Thus interdisciplinarity may increase understanding of the real world but it cannot overcome political and social barriers to translating that understanding into the widespread implementation of effective environmental measures.


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*Correspondence: Dr Sharon Beder, University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia e-mail:


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