A sound economic model must include ecological sustainability, writes Cookson, a New Zealand educator, who bridges the natural sciences with economics in a quest for solutions to the planet’s most vexing problems.
Economics is the study of scarcity, but, Cookson says, most mainstream models fail to recognize the finiteness of Earth’s biosphere. A science teacher at a secondary school, Cookson earned an economics degree after his son challenged him to help bring about a better future. His debut work is an ambitious, far-ranging tome on the subject of “ecological economics,” which concludes that the planet can’t sustain the current level of human activity. With a population of 7 billion and a global economy becoming more dependent on ever-increasing consumption, Cookson says we must change course if we want to achieve widespread prosperity. He plunges into the debates on climate change, energy, food supply and international trade, probing the writings of influential thinkers like John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman and Rachel Carson. What emerges is a worldview that refuses to measure quality of life solely in terms of money. While policymakers often try to achieve prosperity by creating a bigger economic pie, Cookson proposes a less-is-more approach. He explores demographic strategies to slowly reduce the world population to more sustainable levels, and his economic models reject what he believes to be a harmful obsession with GDP growth, while advocating “balanced trade” between nations rather than free trade. There’s no shortage of doomsayers among futurists, but Cookson remains cautiously optimistic. His broad research, which is meticulously sourced and receptive to opposing viewpoints, succeeds at providing an introduction to a high-stakes, increasingly visible topic. The book is comprehensive and systematic in its presentation, though its heavy use of scientific formulas and supply-and-demand curves can make for arduous reading. To suggest less growth might challenge conventional wisdom, yet the book remains doubly valuable since it earnestly confronts dilemmas that threaten rich and poor nations alike.
A paradigm-busting vision for the future that doesn’t shy away from the hard choices humanity might have to make to secure its survival.