FES faculty and students champion ecological economics


Above: MES student Brendan Haley enjoys a lighthearted moment while canoeing. A paper written by Professor Peter Victor led him to study ecological economics at York.

York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) is at the edge of a new field of study, an emerging alternative to the conventional, growth-driven economics perspective of ecology. Now FES students and faculty are picking up on the excitement offered in this new field – ecological economics (EE) – and are taking up some of the issues. EE is aiming to develop new models for a sustainable future.

“I decided to take economics in undergrad [studies] at York because I was concerned about social justice and environmental issues,” said current MES student Brendan Haley. “I was disappointed because it didn’t necessarily lead towards sustainability. It approached environmental issues from a fundamentally flawed economic outlook, so I began to look for alternatives.”

Through independent research, Haley discovered ecological economics. This is a stream of economic thought that emphasizes the value of natural capital, recognizing the limits of natural resources. Proponents believe that economic prosperity can be gained through improving the quality of life, rather than just pure market growth.

While researching the field, Haley came across a paper co-written by FES Professor Peter Victor (right) on the potential for reducing poverty and unemployment in a no-growth economy. The paper, “The Canadian Economy With Full Employment, No Growth, No Poverty, and No Government Deficit: A Keynesian Exercise”, may be viewed here.

“Reading this paper led to my decision to apply to FES at York, because it was one of the only places in Canada where I could study ecological economics,” said Haley. He was accepted to the MES program in 2003 and later received the York Graduate Fellowship for Academic Distinction.

Currently, Haley is pursuing his interest in EE full-time, both in and out of the classroom. He is researching income inequality and its impacts on consumption levels and well-being in industrialized nations. Last October, he attended the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics conference in Jasper, Alberta, along with several other FES students and faculty members from York.

According to Victor, who teaches a graduate-level course in the subject, interest in ecological economics is growing “tremendously” internationally and in York’s FES. “Last year this graduate course attracted 27 students. It was a great success. We are now proposing a diploma in ecological economics as part of the MES program.

The eighth biennial ISEE (International Society for Ecological Economics) conference will be held in Montreal July 11-14. This year’s theme is “Challenging Boundaries: Economics, Ecology and Governance.”

Victor anticipates that the ISEE conference will be well attended by York FES students and faculty, several of whom have had papers accepted for presentation. York attendees include Victor; York FES Professors Ellie Perkins (left) and Martin Bunch (right); and MES students Eric Miller, Seema Khanna and Brooke Marshall. Perkins is organizing a conference panel on “Public participation, environmental valuation and assessment” and Victor will present a paper entitled, “Ecological Economics – The Flavour of the Century.”

Ecological economics is providing very important theories for the promotion of environmental and social justice. Perkins said, “FES is becoming known as the place to study EE in Canada, and one of the few places in North America where you can pursue this.”

The above story was written by Beth McMahon, first-year graduate student assisting York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies’ external relations unit.