Are We Consuming Too Much—for What?
HERMAN E. DALY,
BRIAN CZECH,† DAVID L. TRAUGER,‡ WILLIAM E. REES,
TRACY DOBSON,†† AND STEPHEN C. TROMBULAK‡‡
School of Public Affairs, Van Munching Hall, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742-1821, U.S.A., email email@example.com
†Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, National Capital Region,
Alexandria Center, 1021 Prince Street, Alexandria, VA 22314, U.S.A.
‡Natural Resources Program, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, National Capital Region, Alexandria Center, 1021
Prince Street, Room 312, Alexandria, VA 22314, U.S.A.
University of British Columbia, School of Community and Regional Planning, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada
††Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, 10C Natural Resources Building, East Lansing,
MI 48824-1222, U.S.A.
‡‡Biology and Environmental Studies, Department of Biology, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT 05753, U.S.A.
In a provocative paper published in the
, 11 coauthors, all distinguished
economists and ecologists (Arrow et al. 2004), asked in
their title, “Are We Consuming Too Much?” The paper’s
relevance to conservation biology was soon highlighted
in a summary in
Conservation in Practice
2005), which in turn engendered a response by several
Conservation in Practice
, vol. 6, no. 3). No
doubt the original article would have elicited comments
too, but it is the policy of the
Journal of Economic Per-
not to publish comments. No matter, when 11
leading scholars jointly pronounce on such an important
question it acquires the air of a manifesto and demands
that the larger scientific community take a close look at
their argument—they deserve no less.
The Question: Scale versus Allocation
We do so here, by focusing the question a bit. We begin
by asking, Are we consuming too much for the rest of the
planet? In other words, is the scale of the human econ-
omy so large relative to the containing biosphere that it
displaces biospheric functions that are at the margin more
important than the extra production and consumption?
One index of the extent to which this might be the case is
a decline in biodiversity. We do not argue that there must
never be a reduction in biodiversity—only that marginal
costs of increasing the human scale of population and
Paper submitted June 21, 2006; revised manuscript accepted January 25, 2007.
per capita resource consumption are rising, whereas the
marginal benefits of extra production and population are
falling. If the costs are not already growing faster than the
benefits of scale increase, we believe that they soon will
Neoclassical economics does not recognize any prob-