Margit Burgess gave a fascinating talk on Ecological Economics (EE) at TTJ’s Zoom meeting on May 18. A senior at UVM in Community Development and Applied Economics, she is also a board member of Better (not Bigger), promoting steady state economics in Vermont.
Margit cited LA’s clear air and Venice’s clean canals during the pandemic as just two examples of how slowing down and stopping business as usual offers an opportunity to rethink our growth-at-all-costs economic system.
She brought us through the differences between current neoclassic economics, and EE by defining economics: the allocation of limited resources towards desirable ends; in other words, who gets what; when and how? She said the traditional measure, the gross national product (GNP), while lifting up people in the past, doesn’t work in today’s world (except for the one percent!)
Margit stated that the basic problem with neoclassic economics is what it doesn’t ask: where do resources come from; where does waste go? Nature is merely another asset, awaiting liquidation.
EE considers the Earth a finite resource and draws upon the first two laws of thermodynamics: 1) You can’t make something from nothing, and 2) Entropy increases in a closed system. EE promotes a so-called steady state; balancing extraction with regeneration. Wealth is measured by the genuine progress indicator (GPI) which values voluntary work, leisure time, and impact on the environment, among other things.
Margit said the reasons for opposition to steady state economics include: being stuck in the past, fear of loss of choice, and threats to our billionaire class; ending GNP as a measure simply scares people.
Margit sees Vermont, with its progressive community and smallness as being a model state for EE. In 2011, VT adopted the GPI (second state to do so after Maryland). Whether it’s initiating cap and trade, progressive carbon taxes, or taxing the wealthy more, there are many ways to implement EE. People cited Amsterdam with its “circular economy” and France with its four day work week as examples.
During the meeting, breakouts into small groups allowed ideas to flow around peoples’ visioning of what an ecological economy would look like: repair cafes, timebanks, community gardens, to name a few. These things already exist; perhaps they need mainstreaming. Margit said communities need to envision their future and groups like transition towns could be key, she added.
She said she’s never been more optimistic than now. Covid-19 has shown that if we had a better functioning economy, we wouldn’t have been hit as hard with unemployment, mass hunger, etc. Are people ready for a brave new economy? Awareness that all of us at the meeting were at least 50 years old made one thing clear- we need more young people like Margit to take the lead in promoting an economy that works for all!
For more info on steady state economics, check out betternotbiggervt.org