oikos + tropos = ecotrope

As my first blog post, I thought to explain the motivation for my work, the inspiration I have drawn from the concepts of ecological economics, and the explanation for the name of my blog. First, I am motivated by a concern for the natural environment and for the ecosystems that sustain our lives. I am concerned about the environmental impacts of economic activities, and the grave threats posed by anthropogenic climate change and losses of biodiversity. I am also motivated by a concern for growing inequality and the inequitable distribution of resources around the world. I believe that the ecological and social side effects of the human pursuit of progress have imposed serious risks to future generations. Through my research, I am interested in estimating the values of ecosystem services in support of human well-being, and I am also interested in understanding the drivers of decisions about the conservation of natural resources and the management of ecosystems. And as a teacher, I use the tools of reflection and focused discussion to encourage students to understand the values and ideologies that are the basis of environmental policies and decisions, and to examine their own environmental attitudes, beliefs, and choices.

The main inspiration for my work comes from the transdisciplinary field of ecological economics, which is concerned with integrating the study and management of nature’s household (ecology) and humankind’s household (economics). Students are often surprised to learn that the English prefix for both ecology and economics is rooted in the same Greek word, οἶκος or oikos, which is the equivalent of a household or a home. Thus, ecological economics can be thought of as integrating the study and management of the household at various scales, from home to watershed, and from continent to planet. Ecological economics is related to the science of sustainability, which is predicated on the notion that environmental problems are complex, nonlinear, and require transdisciplinary approaches to solving them. Ecological economists are concerned with the biophysical limits to economics growth and with the scale of the human economy relative to the ecosystems upon which it depends. Ecological economics is distinct from mainstream neoclassical economics in its treatment of the economy as a subsystem of the ecosystem. I first learned of ecological economics at a conference I attended in 2000 as a graduate student. I was immediately intrigued, and have been active in the field ever since. The foundations and concepts of this field have informed my thinking as both a scholar and as a citizen.

Finally, I am deeply concerned by the gap between science and action with regard to environmental threats. There is an urgency in the messages from science about the need to mitigate the impacts of climate change if we are to sustain or improve quality of life, and yet there has been virtually no meaningful action to address these challenges–globally, nationally, or locally. To that end, I believe that as a global society, we need to turn our attention to the environment and rethink its role in our lives. We need to change the way we talk about the environment–not just as a source of natural resources for instrumental uses or as a sink for the absorption of our waste, but as the source of life itself. I believe that we need to change the conversation about how we use natural resources, how we deal with the pollution we generate, and more broadly, how we define progress in a rapidly changing world. The word “trope” is derived from the Greek word,τρόπος or tropos, which refers to a turn or a change. In philosophy and literature, a trope is often used to describe a change in language, or a turn in speech. In my work, I would like to help change the conversation about the environment and its importance in our lives. Hence, oikos + tropos = ecotrope. I aim to use this blog as a forum to spark a new dialog about how we think about the environment, and to facilitate conversation about living well within the limits of the Earth.

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