Anthropocentric ecosystem services versus geocentric technosystem services

In previous posts I have argued against the flawed anthropocentrism of the ecosystem services concept. But what is the alternative? How can we practically achieve a geocentric turn? Literally, that would mean that we reverse the direction of functional analysis. In the ecosystem concept, we ask what ecosystems do for us. Now we might ask …

Saving the Biosphere or Saving by the Biosphere? The Thermodynamics of Negative Interest Rates

A decade ago, the German economist Carl Christian von Weizsäcker mused that the phenomenon of declining opportunities for profitable investments that is behind the trend towards declining interest rates might reflect the Second Law of thermodynamics, in the sense that the more capital we accumulate, the more we must struggle to keep it in order, …

The Evolutionary Epistemology of the Technosphere

Technology and science are deeply interwoven. Often, this is interpreted in terms of scientific progress driving the emergence of new technologies. But historians of science have always emphasized the fact that science is also enabled by technology that is generated outside the epistemic venture of science. For example, artisanal advances in watchmaking contributed to the …

Is Anthropocentrism Good Science? Why Sir Partha Got It Wrong

In these days, the ‘Dasgupta Review' receives much attention in policy circles and news reports. The Review pursues the laudable goal to include environmental concerns into economics and to show economic strategies for putting biodiversity at the centre of our efforts to cope with the challenge of climate change. The Review submits many important suggestions, …

Nature-based Solutions: ‘Naturally’ Growing the Technosphere

In recent initiatives of coping with the challenge of climate change and designing sustainable economies and societies, ‘nature-based solutions’ NBS have become a buzzword. Broadly speaking, this term refers to all sorts of alternatives to techno-engineering (‘grey’) measures directed at adapting and mitigating the impact of climate change which intentionally activate and strengthen ecosystems or …

Weighing the future more than the present: Paying a negative natural rate of interest to the biosphere

The interest rate is a crucial, if not the pivotal parameter in modelling challenges and strategies facing climate change. It reflects our stances towards the future. There are two basic, though conflicting principles how to determine it, as reflected in the seminal debate triggered by the Stern report in 2007, which opposed William Nordhaus’s position. …

The messiness of human life: the ultimate limit of technosphere expansion

Recently, the term ‘technosphere’ is increasingly used in a slightly different sense than in the Earth system context (see the new issue of ‘The Economist’ and the briefing that inspired and informed this post). The technosphere would be the world of the internet, roughly defined. This refers to the global and comprehensive connectivity and the …

What is the purpose of the economy? The case for a geocentric turn in economics

Recently I have been working on a chapter contribution to a volume on geoethics edited by Martin Bohle “Geo-societal narratives – contextualising geosciences” (Palgrave). Dealing with literature that I was largely unfamiliar with helped me a lot to focus my thinking about ideas that I have been working on for years. This has been condensed …

The modern corporation: centre of power in the technosphere

There is a black hole in climate research, ecological economics and Earth system models: The corporation. Of course, corporations are recognized as actors, but what happens inside the corporation is normally not included in the macro-scale perspective that most Earth sciences research in the broadest sense adopts. Even when critics claim that the ‘anthropocene’ should …

The technosphere as a computer: What are the thermodynamic implications?

In modern economics, information is arguably the core notion. Indeed, many economists would agree that the market is a giant distributed computer that processes information about scarcities of resources and generates prices that guide the actions of economic agents accordingly. However, economists rarely consider the physical side of information, although in practice that matters much, …

Eigentimes in co-evolution of biosphere and technosphere: A challenge to policy design

The Corona crisis has highlighted a problem of considerable significance for the study of co-evolutionary processes: temporal dynamics and temporal coordination. In my 2002 book (in German) ‘Elements of Evolutionary Economics’ I devoted a full chapter to time and introduced the term ‘Eigentime’ that is mostly known from physics but is rarely used in other …

Universal basic income: Revolutionizing technosphere governance

Universal basic income UBI has been suggested by many authors as a major institutional innovation in designing the economy of the future. One motivation that increasingly gains acceptance is that it might be the solution to the problem of technological unemployment created by digitization and automation. In our context, that would translate into the assumption …

The Corona, Oil and the Challenge of Climate Change

Many observers have noticed that the current crisis could serve as a policy template for meeting the challenge of climate change. We collectively experience and manage a ‘de-growth’ process of unprecedented speed, and most governments are busy with finding ways how to recover growth. Yet, astute analysts such as the previous governor of the Bank …

Will Corona kill capitalism?

Economic historians know well that pandemics and existential crises can change the evolutionary trajectory of economic systems. The most illustrious case was the Black Death that ushered the demise of feudalism via its impact on labour supply and wages. In the 20th century, the Great Depression and WWII fundamentally changed the role of government in …

How to restore human agency in the technosphere

Most observers of the current climate crisis argue that we need fundamental changes of our lifestyles and economic policies. There is less emphasis on whether and how we must change the fundamental institutional structures of our economic systems. But when thinking about agency in the technosphere, institutions are central. If the technosphere follows its partly …

Vaclav Smil on Growth: Seeing the Trees, but not the Forest

Vaclav Smil is one of the world’s leading thinkers on energy, society and nature. He has just published a volume on growth across many scales and domains (“Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities”). As always, he presents an amazing richness of facts, often extremely enlightening. For example, he definitively shows that all thinking about ‘decoupling’ or …

Global urbanization: The dangerous delusion of economics

In recent debates about reforming capitalism, we observe a problematic tension between the social and the ecological. There are growing concerns about the social consequences of capitalism, which eerily remind me of Karl Polanyi’s political analysis of the ‘Great Transformation’: These social conundrums are increasingly driving the rise of populism worldwide. Many commentators explain them …

Money and the technosphere

Fifteen years ago, the late and renowned Swiss economist Hans Christoph Binswanger published a book that deeply influenced my own work in economics: The Growth Spiral: Money, Energy, and Imagination in the Dynamics of the Market Process In a nutshell, he argued that the monetary economy is inherently expansive, and that this drives the relentless …

In a Climate-neutral Solar Economy, Would the Technosphere Outcompete the Biosphere? A Provocation.

In his recent post, Axel Kleidon offered a grand view on the thermodynamics of the Earth system that includes the human domain. His fundamental point is that the human economy follows the same systemic dynamics as the Earth system, i.e. Lotka’s Maximum Power principle. That means, it manifests an inherent physical trend towards maximizing energy …