The Ecological Economics of Consumption.

Author:Barnes, Bill
Position:Book review

The Ecological Economics of Consumption, edited by Lucia A. Reisch and Inge Ropke. Northampton, Mass.: Edward Elgar. 2004. Cloth, ISBN 1843765128, $110.00. 259 pages.

The Ecological Economics of Consumption, edited by Lucia Reisch and Inge Ropke, is part of a series entitled "Current Issues in Ecological Economics" and is an effort to bring together research in various fields centering on consumption and the environment. Ecological economics is a broad interdisciplinary tent open to work by ecologists, economists, other social scientists, and practitioners in government and business. The issue at hand is typically a primary driver (the question determines the tools, not the other way around), and ecological economists are willing to utilize theory and techniques from different disciplines to probe for answers. This makes the field, and books like this one, inclusive and engaging. On the other hand, it can be difficult to distill concrete lessons. This is doubly hard when the particular topic itself--consumption and its relationship to the environment--is somewhat young as a formal area of study.

The editors frame the eleven contributions of the book with a useful brief history of consumption studies and the gradual linkage to environmental issues; they then offer a brief explanation of the treatment of consumption within ecological economics. Economists and other social scientists have long studied consumption, with Veblen standing out as a progenitor. But critiques of consumer society did not typically highlight the connection to environmental impact. On the other side, those studying pollution and possible policy solutions tended to focus on the role of (dirty) production. As the editors note, this began to change in the 1960s and 1970s, but the critical break seemingly happened after the Brundtland Report, the Rio Conference, and the formulation of Agenda 21 in 1992. Policy makers broadened a production-oriented focus to include consumption and citizen behavior, in part because of a growing realization that global warming must be approached from multiple angles.

This includes the argument that we need to reduce our overall level of consumption, a central theme threaded throughout ecological economics yet still a point of debate and disagreement that was obvious even within this collection. Generally, the ecological economics approach stresses that (1) the economy is embedded in nature but (2) the economy's growing scale is impinging on...

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