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Rising economic contradictions call for ecological economics

Author  :  ZHANG QINGLI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2020-05-27

Research is urgently needed into such issues as the ecological protection and development of the Yellow River basin and the sustainable use of water and soil resources. Photo: Cui Jian/JINAN DAILY

Disciplines often emerge in response to the needs of the times and society. The rise of ecological economics stems from the increasingly prominent contradictions that can be found between the processes of ecological protection and economic development. 

In this context, economists have begun to consider how to transform from the traditional high-input, high-consumption, high-pollution and high-growth development paradigm to a low-input, low-consumption, low-emission and moderate-growth paradigm, said Shen Manhong, president of Ningbo University.

In 1980, Xu Dixin (1906–88), then vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and director of the Institute of Economics at CASS, proposed for the first time studying China’s ecological economic issues and building ecological economics of its own depth. In September of the same year, Xu presided over China’s first symposium on ecological economic issues, beginning the establishment of ecological economics in China. 

Yu Fawen, a research fellow from the Rural Development Institute at CASS, said that after the reform and opening up, concerns were raised about issues such as: the crisis of the forest in the Lesser Khingan Mountains, the urgent need for rescue of forest resources in Sipsongpanna, Yunnan Province and the Yangtze River that is potentially suffering the same level of ecological damage as the Yellow River.

“Ecological economics challenges two theoretical foundations within Western classical economics, namely the hypothesis of the economic man and the assumption that the ecosystem is a subsystem of the economic system,” Shen said, adding that the ecological economic man hypothesis should be adopted in consideration of collective interests to maximize long-term and comprehensive benefits including economic, ecological and social benefits under ecological and institutional constraints. Human beings are an integral part of nature and the environment, and our economic and social activities should not exceed the limits of resource capacity, environmental capacity and climate capacity. 

Gao Honggui, a professor from the Economics School at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, said that the discipline of ecological economics changes traditional research perspectives and research methods. These changes range from pursuing the “black” economic development model to pursuing the green model; from treating the ecosystem as a subsystem of the economic system to proposing that the economic system is a subsystem of the ecosystem; from placing human beings above nature in importance and trying to control nature to pursuing a more harmonious coexistence with it; from regarding money capital and labor force as major scarce factors to regarding natural capital as the main scarce factor restricting production.

Ecological economics proposes rearranging social production. This process would involve expanding social reproduction with merely circulation of capital to that with circulation of capital and resource circulation, Yu added. 

How to deal with the relationship between economic and social development and ecological environmental protection is the core topic of ecological economics, which also drives the theoretical innovation of ecological economics. Shen introduced several theories, such as the theory of economic ecologicalization, represented by the law of the ecological industry chain formed by introducing the biological chain theory of the ecosystem into the ecological economic system and the theory of ecological economization represented by the law of ecological value added.

Zhang Weiguo, director of the Institute of Economics at the Shandong Academy of Social Sciences, said that in the future, it is necessary for this discipline to establish a research and analysis framework system based on theories from such disciplines as economics, statistics, chemistry, physics and information science. Meanwhile, we should build a socialist ecological economics theory with Chinese characteristics and form our own discipline system. 

Overall, theoretical innovation of ecological economics in China still lags behind the practice of ecological civilization construction, Shen said. Academically, to build a discipline system of ecological economics, we need to develop the basic theory of ecological value, ecological capital and ecological auditing. It is necessary to refine the core categories and basic laws of ecological economics and integrate them into the mainstream theoretical system of economics, thus providing theoretical support and a legal basis for the construction of an ecological civilization legal system. At the practical level, we should explore the mechanisms and methods of ecological economization and economic ecologicalization, and we should promote the integration of eco-products and the eco-environment into the market system through innovation with ecological technology and systems.

Research is urgently needed into such issues as the ecological protection and development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt and the Yellow River basin, the green development of agriculture and rural areas, and the sustainable use of water and soil resources, Yu said. 



(Edited and translated by YANG LANLAN)

Editor: Yu Hui

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