The Urbane Ecologist


  • Political economy is the study of economics in relation to politics, and is usually studied at the scales of countries or continents. It examines issues likes production and trade and how they relate to laws, governmental structures, culture, wealth.
  • Political ecology is the study of the interactions of and relationships between the environment and social issues (political, economic, cultural). It can mean the study of examining human society from an ecological point of view (applying the concepts of ecology and biology to systems of human organization) or it can mean the study of biology from a social studies point of view (examining how our scientific findings are influenced by our cultural concepts). Political ecology highlights issues of power and control, such as unequal access to resources, or how the exploitation of the environment is embedded in the same structures that exploit people.
    Ecology prides itself on being apolitical and strictly examining biological relationships (how organisms interact with each other in a “food chain”, for example, or how organisms interact with their environment). People who are dedicated to keeping the natural environment in its “pristine” form are called conservationists.
    Political ecologists see the relationship between people and nature inseparable and argue that one cannot preserve the natural environment without critically examining the entities causing the problem–i.e. people. Many of them also argue that there is no such thing as “pristine” nature.
    While there is conflict between political ecologists and ecologists that mirrors that between social scientists and physical (“real”) scientists, it is pointless to take sides. Each discipline has its own intrinsic value and each relies on the insights of the other.
    Here is also a 12-minute video that explains what political ecology is.
  • What’s the problem with neo-liberalism (a type of capitalism)? Why are many environmentalists anti-neoliberals? Neo-liberalism is an economic system based on unlimited economic growth which is driven by short-term profits and equates human well-being with economic value. However, economic growth is underpinned by the exploitation of resources, such as water, minerals, forests, or fossil fuels. These resources are finite and thus present limits to economic growth.
  • Political geography is the study of how territories are made and what the effects of that process are, the structure and character of the state, and how different scales of political power are deployed.
  • Ecological modernism: the idea that environmentalism is good for the economy
  • Development economics: the route/means by which less developed countries can achieve long-run economic progress
  • How the IMF-World Bank and Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) Destroyed Africa
  • “Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire” (Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone)
  • “Keystone XL oil pipeline–everything you need to know”
  • “Field Guide to the Modern U.S. Environmental Movement” (Katherine Bagley and Paul Horn with InsideClimate News)
  • What is wrong with the term “developing countries”? — Although often deployed with an economic connotation to mean “countries that have not yet become fully capitalist”, terms like “less developed” or “underdeveloped” or “developing” are resented because they imply that the countries to which these labels are applied are somehow lacking something socially or culturally that the West has. For people who resent capitalism itself, setting up capitalism as something to aspire to for “developing” or “underdeveloped” countries is dismaying.
  • What is wrong with the “First World”, “Second World”, and “Third World” classifications? — These terms derive from the Cold War, when the capitalist United States and Western Europe were the First World, Russia and the Soviet satellites were the Second World, and the Third World was every other country that was expected to go to either the First World or the Second World. The problem with these terms is that they are no longer useful categories. Most of what used to be the Second World would be classified as Third World in terms of things like healthcare and infrastructure, for example.

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