Introduction to Ecological Economics

Welcome all to the seminar “Introduction to Ecological Economics”


The conventional economic model is based on the hypothesis of infinite monetary growth, made of virtual bank money. Nonetheless it also requires considerable inputs of energy and materials which are not infinite and have an impact on our planet. Environmental signals show us we are probably on the edge of a crisis and the uncertainty about our future environment relates to the  development of a new discipline: ecological economics.

Ecological Economics is related to the limits to infinite growth: not only there are environmental limits, but also economic ones, as the emerging field of degrowth studies is showing, highlighted by the crisis of capitalism.

Ecological Economics, transdisciplinary by nature, comprises contributions from economics, environmental sciences, biology, sociology, physics, ethics, psychology, etc.. However, it is not only the sum of them: the discipline is based on a new scientific paradigm and, when dealing with some environmental problems, it stresses on our ignorance about the outcome and on the application of the precautionary principle and promotes the participation of lay people to critical decision-making. It proposes a methodological alternative to conventional decision making based only on monetary evaluations of the environment: in ecological economics decision problems are analysed in a multicriterial context where the pillars of sustainability -environmental, economic and social- play a role.

Considering globalization from the point of view of access to natural resources, a political view of ecological economics defends a southern perspective (environmentalism of the poor), just as it opposes individualism to community based management, and integrates mutual aid with competition. Conventional business and ecological economics are quite opposite: new forms of business are required.

 Keywords: energy use, carrying capacity, environmental crisis, uncertainty, ignorance, transdisciplinarity, new scientific paradigm, precautionary principle, multicriteria decision making, environmentalism of the poor, participation in decision making, self organisation, human ecology.


This module is 14 hours long, and covers several topics:

  • State of the world and future risks: the evident connection between the economy and the environment.
  • Economics, Oikonomìa and Economic Degrowth: exchange value or well-living?
        The financial basis of modern economies.
        Environmental neoclassical economics.
        Fundaments of ecological economics: entropy and material flows.
        From sustainable development to socially sustainable degrowth.
  • Alternatives to decision making: participation and multi-criteria analysis.
  • Science, governance and socio-environmental consequences: how safe is it?
  • Globalization, capitalism and the environmentalism of the poor.
  • Enterprise and the environment: industrial ecology, life cycle assessment, ethical consumption, alternative business.
  • The commons: a self-organized institution beyond the state and the market.

If you are interested in other topics, or in deepening your knowledge, you can ask me.

 “How do I pass the course?”

It’s a 2 credits course (equivalent to 50 study hours).

  • 30% of the final mark is gained by attending the classes (you will have to sign your attendance). If you miss any class and want to compensate -up to 4 hours missed-, you read Ivan Illich “Energy and equity” and write a 500-1000 words summary about it.
  • 30% through:
    • active class participation –I will give you handouts or pdfs to read for the following class where we will discuss them-
    • during the last class, a group presentation, on two case studies from the report “Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle”, (or of a topic of your choice).

You will have to mark yourselves!! Class presentations should be evaluated according to the following criteria:

- quality of the subject (if the topic is interesting / well documented or not interesting / superficial);

- capacity of communicating the issue to the public (if you can get an understanding or is too confused);

- ability to generate a final discussion.

  • 40% for a 1.500 words essay. The title of the essay is one of the following:
  • Chicago economist Milton Friedman once stated: “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase its Profits”. Should businesses be more concerned about social responsibilities and the environment? If yes, how would you do? Argue your points.
  • Which solution paths do you see for the coming oil crisis? The solutions are there but will there be enough? Argue.
  • Economic growth versus degrowth: what is now your understanding?
  • Will science and technology assure us with respect to the complex ecological reality? The role of uncertainty and precaution in the case of techno-environmental disasters. Give examples.

Deadline for the essay and/or the summaries is 30 days after the end of the course, (May 11th).

Handouts to be read are:

    - Before Monday’s class: Martinez-Alier et al. and Boulding (handout)

    - Before Wednesday’s class: Daly and Ostrom et al. (handout)

    - Before Friday’s class: chapter 1 of  Natural Capitalism (pdf)

It is important for me to get your feedbacks and improve my teaching according to your needs and impressions over the course.

My e-mail is

Good luck!