Forward by Professor Paul Sutton
It is my distinct pleasure to write a preface to work of Peter Tsigaris, Leila Abubakar, Ayoola Ajani, Saaransh Bhardwaj, Adaku Ibekwe, Arwinddeep Kaur, Sheikh Farzin Rahman, Umma Shemo, Rashad Taghiyev, and David Waithe summarized in the study of the value of Kamloops parks. This work advances our understanding of the value of urban ecosystems through a spatially explicit assessment of many parks in the city of Kamloops, Canada. These assessments of value are eye-opening and the per capita value of these parks as natural capital is quite interesting. Raising public awareness of the idea that each citizen has a ‘stake’ of almost $30,000 of natural capital in the Kenna Cartwright Nature Park will likely change the way people think about the value of nature and hopefully the importance of nature to their health and wellbeing. The study of the value of green spaces in the urban environment is challenging fundamental assumptions about urban planning, economic theory, and economic growth.
The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008-9 opened many people’s eyes to the failures and limitations of economists and economic theory. Both orthodox economists (e.g. Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz) and heterodox economists (e.g. John Komlos and Herman Daly) have written of a discipline (Economics) in crisis. The GFC was perhaps a tipping point in awareness of this crisis although many have made valid and significant criticism of the neo-liberal theoretical framework for decades.
Disciplines have crises and most evolve in a positive way as a result of these crises. In astronomy, the Copernican revolution that placed the sun at the center of the universe rather than the earth was a challenge to world views that changed the way we see ourselves in the cosmos. Nonetheless, Copernicus was a ‘radical’ astronomer. Physics has experienced revolutions as well. Einstein’s relativity was a profound departure from Newtonian physics as was the development of quantum mechanics. Einstein, Schrodinger, Bohr, Dirac, and many others were ‘radical’ physicists. Physics and astronomy have nonetheless survived as academic disciplines despite these crises.
Economics is currently in a crisis. The impact that long-held assumptions of rational behavior, perfect information, and invisible hands have on real-world policy and practice are showing glaring problems. An apocryphal quote often attributed to Schopenhauer perhaps captures this crisis in economics: ‘Truth passes through three phases. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as having always been true.’ The reality of climate change certainly seems to be proceeding through these phases.
The truths that many economists appear to be ridiculing and opposing are many and include the following:
- Increased income and wealth inequality reduces economic growth and overall productivity measured in a traditional sense (e.g. GDP) and measured via newer non-traditional measures such as human well-being. Thomas Piketty is perhaps a ‘radical’ economist who has pointed this out.
- Natural capital and the annual value of ecosystem services provided by natural capital are greater than global GDP and cannot be internalized as trivial externalities.
- The identified ‘market failures’ of public goods, common-pool resources, and externalities are more significant than previously imagined. Climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, nitrogen fluxes, and the world’s 6th great extinction represent some empirical evidence of some of these global market failures.
- GDP is a flawed measure of human well-being that has overly influenced too much public policy. See Lorenzo Fioramonte’s book entitled ‘Gross Domestic Problem’
- Given planetary boundaries and safe operating spaces, infinite growth in GDP and/or population is impossible.
- Key economic ideas such as the ‘invisible hand’ and ‘market efficiency’ are fairy tales with little or no empirical data to support them.
Many people trained in economics have unusually privileged positions in government with more ability to influence policy than most. Many economists espouse ‘free markets’ and ‘less government’ as solutions to problems exacerbated by free markets and less government. Perhaps many of these economists are having difficulty engaging in this dialog because it is often difficult to get a man (or woman but usually a man) to understand something when his/her worldview and privileged position depends on him/her, not understanding.
Nonetheless, many other economists like Peter Tsigaris acknowledge these challenges to their disciplinary perspective and embrace an engagement with these challenges to contribute to the positive evolution of the discipline of economics (http://evonomics.com/). To my mind, Peter Tsigaris is a ‘radical’ economist who aims to contribute to the evolution of the discipline in such a way as to help us chart a path to a sustainable and desirable future. This book on radical valuing natural capital in Kamloops is such a contribution. It is in many respects informed by the ideas of the trans-discipline of ecological economics.
The very term ‘Sustainable Development’ combines a fundamental ecological idea of ‘sustainability’ with a fundamental economic idea of ‘development’. This marriage of words is not an easy one because ecologists and economists have argued over fundamental pre-analytic visions regarding ‘the limits to growth’ for a long time. There is an optimism associated with economists juxtaposed with a pessimism from ecologists that is captured by two ‘Light Bulb’ jokes:
Question: How many ecologists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Answer: Who cares? We are all doomed anyway (overpopulation, climate change, etc).
Question: How many economists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Answer: None. The invisible hand will do it for us.
Professor Tsigaris is a traditionally trained economist who is engaging in the radical and challenging process of attempting to create a synthesis from the thesis and antithesis embodied in these two ‘light bulb’ jokes and in many respects embedded in the diverging world views of ecologists and economists. I wish him well in this endeavor and encourage you to also. Much human suffering can be avoided if we succeed in reaching this synthesis.
Paul C. Sutton, Full Professor
Department of Geography and Environment,
University of Denver,
Morrison, CO, USA