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The musical muse of Ecological economics

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
April 3, 2008


Last week I experienced a convergence of wisdom from two very different sources. Musical and municipal both muses contributed to my ongoing inquiry into environmental sustainability. Perhaps it's just in the listening, or a willingness to integrate new information as it is presented, whatever the catalyst I am happy to credit Jack Johnson for putting me in an academic state of frame.

On the title track of his recently released CD, Sleep Through the Static, Jack sums up Western Civilization with the catchy lyrics "we went beyond where we should have gone." With the tune in my head, on a beautiful spring morning a friend asked if I was familiar with the concept of relocalization.

Am I familiar with relocalization?

Relocalization is the organization of communities around locally produced food, energy and consumer goods, and the development of local currency, governance and culture. In response to the environmental, social, political and economic impacts of over development and over-reliance on imported fossil fuels. The goals of relocalization include increased energy security, strong local economies and improved environmental conditions.

Dependence on cheap non-renewable energy has produced climate change, the erosion of community, resource wars and an increasingly unstable global economy, because of this organizations such as the Post Carbon Institute, Sustainable Prosperity, and the Relocalization Network see ecologically based economics top priority.

A key element of Relocalization is ecology economic theory.

Ecological economics is distinguished from standard economics by its assertion that the economy is embedded within an environmental system. Ecology deals with the energy and matter transactions of life and the Earth. Human economic systems are contained within this system, rely on it, and thrive because of it. The theory of ecological economics grounds economic thinking, practice and policy with physical reality, the laws of physics, and the knowledge of biological systems.

I think the mellow groove of Jack Johnson's lyrical wisdom is having a positive effect on my intellectual curiosity. If we have gone beyond where we should have gone, to stay on our current trajectory, driven by the same economic models that have bought us to the brink, is nothing short of madness.

Ecological economics come into play sooner or later, one way or another. A rational being need only tally the costs of Hurricane Katrina to understand the importance of ecological economics in the planning and development process. There is a cost associated with disregarding the natural systems in which humans choose to inhabit, and the manner in which they choose to inhabit them.

Like most California coastal communities, the cities of Encinitas and Solana Beach are fully versed in the economics of bluff failure and the price of building on top of fragile environments. What are the economic costs of California's wildfire ecology?

It's time to get smart. The improvement of the human condition through sustainable means, the preservation of natural resources, pollution reduction, protection of ecosystems, and less consumptive societies requires enterprise, innovation and a respect for the biological diversity that makes California California.

Economic sustainability anyone?

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