The Battle to Preserve the Natural World

In September of 1982, a group of scholars met in Stockholm intending to reform — even to revolutionize — the study of economics. The new ecological economists saw the economy as embedded in, and supported by, natural systems; nature was not simply a factor in, but the foundation of, economic activity. By integrating models from ecology and economics, ecological economists sought to provide scientific arguments for preserving the natural world.

The Stockholm meeting came at a critical time. During the 1970s, prominent environmentalists, encouraged by what they saw as a public awakening to environmental concerns, issued best-selling books and reports that predicted that if population, consumption, and with them the global economy continued to grow, the world would soon run out of food and other resources. By the early 1980s, however, these predictions had been discredited. The public worried more about unemployment and recession. They feared that the regulations environmentalists proposed would derail the economy or slow it down. Environmentalists faced a populist backlash.

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