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The economic history and methodology of environmental thought is an open field which is proving its dynamism almost daily. As a multidimensional topic par excellence, the environment raises the widest possible range of political, social and economic issues; yet this accelerating interest also reflects the fact that the economists of earlier years were somewhat equivocal concerning environmental questions, and thus today’s research output began from a low base. Indeed, even today there are very few studies in the global history of environmental economic thought (exceptions include Kula 1998, Spash 1999, Pearce 2002). Of course, this special issue of the Cahiers d’Economie Politique/Political Economy Papers does not aim to provide such a history. There are many important issues which are not discussed here – for instance, natural resources economics, and the related problems of resources exhaustion (mineral, coal, fisheries), like contributions that try to set optimal use rates or prices (following Hotelling 1931 or Gordon 1954 for instance). Rather, this special issue brings together papers which provide insights into economic environmental thought, concerning either specific issues or important pioneers, from a historical or methodological perspective.
Before presenting summaries of the papers, let us briefly evoke their historical context and indicate some general perspectives within which these contributions can be located: specifically, the growth and development debates (limits to growth within planet boundaries versus green growth supported by innovation, strong versus weak sustainability); the choice between environmental economics and ecological economics, the latter being marked by controversies about its objectives, methods and results; the way the politization of the environment has been accompanied by economization through its analytical translation into the concepts and instruments of environmental policies; and the debate on the monetary valuation of nature (through the pricing of the unpriced induced by the use of cost-benefit analyses and appeal to the notion of ecosystem services)…


This paper is an introduction to the special issue «Economics and the environment since the 1950s: history, methodology, philosophy». It provides an overview of the major questions and themes that have structured the field of environmental economics since its origins (debates on the limits to growth, sustainable development, ecosystem services, monetary valuation of nature, etc.). It also presents the ways in which this academic field has been built thanks to a set of original pioneering contributions (Boulding, Georgescu-Roegen, Schumacher, Passet, Sachs…) and to the deployment of different schools and currents of thought (mainstream economics, ecological economics, bioeconomics…), which are still in competition today. Finally, this paper recalls that the politicization observed since the 1950s has been accompanied by its economization, thanks to the analytical work carried out by economists to translate its complex issues into theories, concepts and recommendations to decision-makers.
JEL Classification: B29, N50, Q50, Q57

  • history of economic thought
  • environmental economics
  • ecological economics
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