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Ecology, the Environment, and Energy

Paper Session

Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM (PDT)

Manchester Grand Hyatt, Old Town A
Hosted By: Union for Radical Political Economics
  • Chair: Paul Cooney, Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE)

Marxism and Ecological Economics: An Assessment of the Past, Present, and Future

Paul Cooney
Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE)


Over the last few decades, as the field of ecological economics became more established and recognized, there has nevertheless been limited interaction between Marxist authors and ecological economics. This paper will present an assessment of the positive and negative engagements that have taken place in recent decades, the current state of affairs and areas for potential future collaboration. On the one hand, there are many cases of closed-mindedness, ignorance or dogmatic views from certain individuals from both general perspectives. Moreover, both Marxism and ecological economics represent large tents with many varied perspectives contained within each. In spite of a lack of constructive engagement, there are several important examples providing the potential of fruitful collaboration going forward.

Given the major limitations of the neoclassical approach and associated ideological defense of capitalism, one would have assumed that heterodox approaches, including Marxist economics, would be a better fit with the paradigm of ecological economics. One problem is the compartmentalization of heterodox views within the broad field of economics, but this paper will seek to explain why there has been limited engagement, in spite of significant potential.

Several of the relevant issues discussed in this paper are methodological pluralism, theories of value, the concept of natural capital and thermodynamics, entropy and economics. A comprehensive evaluation is not possible in a single paper but several key authors addressed include Georgescu-Roegen, Altvater, O’Connor, Foster, Burkett, Barkin, Martinez-Alier, Gomez-Baggethun, Daly and Costanza.

Energy and Social Reality: Can Social Ontology Provide Insight?

Lynne Chester
University of Sydney


What is energy? How do we conceive the nature and structure of energy? What is the relationship between energy regimes, or energy systems, and society? What is the intersection of energy technologies and fuels with social processes and influences: that is, the social system in which energy production, distribution and use is embedded? Various projects in social ontology, extending earlier critical realist projects, have advanced our understanding of social reality (e.g. Lawson 2003, 2012). These projects have led inter alia to conceptualizations and theorizing of social existents (or social categories) such as technology, power and leadership, money, trust, gender, institutions, the corporation, open and closed systems, and neoclassical economics. In this paper, I present a preliminary foray into answering this question. My starting point is that energy is one phenomenon (social existent) of the social realm “whose coming into being and/continuing existence depends necessarily on human beings and their interactions”

"Home on the Range": Integrating the Household and Ecology

Ann E. Davis
Marist College


The long-standing domestic labor debate is still relevant in terms of understanding the contribution of household labor to the production of value and surplus value in capitalism. One aspect that has not yet received much attention, nonetheless, is the spatial location of the typical household, and its ecological impact. For example, historically the availability of the commons had enabled women to contribute to household production (Valenze). Women’s role in inheritance was a particular focus for the propertied household including land (Davidoff and Hall), with impact on marital patterns, class, and sexuality. The impact on household labor was affected by the design of residential housing (Hayden) and the design of appliances (Cowen). The isolation of women in the suburbs may have contributed to the mobilization of the women’s movement in the post War period (Friedan), as well as the conservative reaction (McGirr; Phillips-Fein). As much of the world’s population becomes urbanized, the impact on work, collective solidarity, and standard of living will be affected by urban and infrastructure design. Water and waste systems as well as types of land cover will have potentially large environmental impacts. Improved systems of waste management will lead to new skills and higher valuation of “dirty” jobs, from individual human to urban scale. This paper will propose methods of conceptual integration of the household and ecology. We will review the spatial distribution of the household historically, including separation of residence from employment with the rise of the factory, the typical household composition (such as servants or apprentices), and whether dormitory, multi-family or single-family was the norm, by class, marital status, and gender. Further,the impact of consumerism and conspicuous consumption of late capitalism will be reflected in residential ecological footprint.

The Political Economy of Environmental Conflicts: Collective Action as Informal Regulation

Ceren Soylu
University of Massachusetts-Amherst


Research on the human-resource interaction has emphasized the role that institutions and successful coordination among individuals play in preventing the overexploitation of resources, hence averting what is famously known as the tragedy of the commons. Although models that depict sustainable governance of resources by the users adequately capture many environmental degradation problems, in many cases, external actors exacerbate the tragedy by reducing the resources’ capacity for sustainable use. This leads to another coordination problem for resource users: how they may collaborate to impose constraints on external actors. This latter aspect of collective action acts as an informal regulation mechanism that compensates for inefficiencies in the formal environmental regulation. The model developed in
this paper formalizes this dual collective action problem faced by resource users, and the relationship between endogenous formal and informal environmental regulations, by way of a dynamic tri-partite game theoretical model of inter-group dynamics of conflict and collective action. We ask how public policy affects, and is affected by, both aspects of collective action problem, as well as social and economic consequences of environmental conflicts. Unlike many economic models of collective action that focus on acquisitive (income) motives, the model combines acquisitive and constitutive (identity) motives, and considers heterogeneous agents.
Keywords: Environmental conflict, Collective action, Heterogenous agents,
Game theory, Informal regulation
JEL Classifications
  • Q5 - Environmental Economics
  • Q4 - Energy