Gian Piero de Bellis
An "ecolonomics" approach
(Oxford - 1986)
This essay has been drafted during the academic year 1985-1986 as an assignement for the Diploma in Planning at the Oxford Polytechnic (presently Brookes University). The term and concept of "ecolonomics" was then introduced and employed to convey the idea of a synthesis between ecology and economics and the need to identify general norms appliable to both fields of study and life.
This paper is intended to be a short survey into the field of resources management.
The aim of this essay is to attempt to intersect ecological and economic concepts in order to suggest an holistic approach ("ecolonomics") to resources management.
The hypothesis underlying this attempt is that an holistic approach represents a more effective way for understanding and managing resources.
The paper consists of a methodological premise, four interrelated parts (definition-classification-evaluation-allocation) and a list of references.
The methodological premises
In this paper the following analytical tools will be used:
1. The holistic view: the unity of the reality requires a unifying outlook that overcomes artificial boundaries between branches of knowledge and produces new useful interconnections.
2. The concept of continuum: the entities of the reality presents many facets and features that only for clarity sake receive a precise definition and arrangement. The concept of continuum takes into account this transitional multiform image of the reality and depicts similarities/dissimilarities on a graduated axis of conditions.
3. The principle of non-contradiction: the investigation into and the modification of the reality to be analytically and operationally meaningful need to be performed according to the principle of non-contradiction. This means that, assuming certain theoretical postulates, the ensuing dynamic needs to be carried out in accordance with those postulates.
4. The condition of general equilibration: the fluid dynamic process of the reality is considered to be in permanent quest of a point of balance between different entities and different conditions. Reaching this point means to achieve a sort of synergy in the multiple relationships between entities. This will be defined as a condition of general equilibration.
In order to define what a resource is, it can be useful to start from an economic point of view and, subsequently, enlarge the perspective.
In economic terms "factors of production" are dealt with as resources that allow the yield of commodities (goods, services).
The factors of production, as pointed out by classical economists, are:
|land||soil/sub-soil/upper soil||the biosphere|
From this economic angle, resources are seen as means (means of production) and the commodities as ends (ends of production).
The process of production consists of the transformation of resources in order to confer on them an economic value.
To acquire economic value and so enter into the economic arena (the market), goods and services must possess some general attributes, namely:
|utility||the exchange is useful|
|scarcity||the exchange is worthwhile|
|accessibility||the exchange is possible|
This process of production and distribution of commodities is motivated by the drive to satisfy human needs. These needs can be arranged under two broad categories:
With reference to the first set of needs, the economic process as previously sketched can be said to represent the scenario of an industrial society.
But, as the role played in society by psychological needs increases more and more, definitions and relations insofar accepted become too narrow.
In "Motivation and personality" (1954) Abraham Maslow suggested that the behaviour of a human being is motivated by the drive to satisfy sets of needs arranged in a progressive sequence:
|1. physiological needs||biological|
|5. self actualisation||psychological|
Once a certain level of needs has been satisfied, the next level will appear on the scene as the engine of human behaviour.
Assumed the validity of this "dynamics of needs" (from biological to psychological) the economic picture previously sketched can be said to represent only partly the actual reality and is, at least among some segments of the society, more and more superseded by new scenarios.
This means that some aspects of reality do not hold anymore, in practice, and so cannot hold anymore in theory, the central place they had in the western world since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
These aspects are related to:
|the concept of economic value as representative and gauge of value "tout court"|
|the market as the core where everything of value emerges|
|the idea of resources as purely factors of production|
The reformulation of these aspects can be argued as leading to a new economical/ecological paradigm ("ecolonomics") marked by:
|increasing role of psychological needs (post-affluent society)|
|increased quest for non marketable goods and services|
|new attitude towards resources perceived as means and ends at the same time|
This shift in attitude emerges clearly if it is considered how relevant segments of the society perceive now the role of the classical factors of production:
- Land is seen not just as a means for producing food or as a deposit of wealth to be exploited, but as a good in itself to admire and to enjoy for psychological well-being (e.g. a landscape)
- Labour is considered not only as an application of physical strength or mental effort in order to produce goods and services but also a way for the individual to express bodily and mentally;
- Capital is required to be not just the technological set of instruments for productive purposes but to incorporate also in itself the qualities of a pleasurable artistic object.
From what has been argued so far it emerges that "resource" is a multi-faceted cultural concept, whose definition is related to the frame of values and resultant needs a particular society exhibits.
Consequently, in this paper a resource is defined as any kind of material or non material entity that possesses some value and so satisfies certain needs.
The more the range of values or the scale of needs are refined, the more the concept of resource needs to be refined.
Having expressed this broader definition of resources, it is necessary now to attempt a general classification of them.
The first distinction is that between resources (actual) and reserves (potential).
The distinction introduces the dynamic process that is at the basis of the developmental process.
A developmental society can be seen as that which is able to detect (internally or externally) so far unexploited or undiscovered new reserves and transform them into new resources.
Referring to natural-human-capital resources this means, for example:
|the discovery of a new energy source|
|the introduction of a new technological device|
|the upgrading of human capabilities|
The reality of overlapping-intersecting spheres (biosphere-technosphere-sociosphere) emerges clearly in this dynamic from potential reserve to actual resource.
For example, a natural reserve of energy (e.g. the sun) to be transformed in actual resource needs an improved technology (e.g. more efficient solar collector) and certain social attitudes (non renewable energy saving concern) .
Dealing now with actual resources, they are here classified in three broad categories (a more precise classification is useful only at a more detailed level of analysis):
|inexhaustible/exhaustible||according to the permanence of use|
|divisible/indivisible||according to the modality of use|
|commensurable/incommensurable||according to the measurability of use|
|inexhaustible||e.g. sun-power, wind-power, rain precipitations|
|exhaustible||renewable||e.g. soil fertility, forests, animals, human beings, machines|
|exhaustible||non renewable||e.g. some species of vegetation/animals, fossil fuels, minerals|
|divisible||each individual can use a portion of it at a single time (e.g. a material good)|
|indivisible||constitues a totality that cannot be individually appropriated also if each individual benefits from it (e.g. clean air)|
|commmensurable||can be subject to quantitative measurement involving generally a monetary parameter|
|incommensurable||is qualitative-oriented and so not reducible to conventional quantitative units of measure (e.g. a landscape whose view procures a "inner" well being)|
These paired classificatory categories can be seen as poles in a continuum in which each resource can be collocated according to its predominant characteristic (as estimated in a certain place and at a certain time).
These categories placed in a continuum can be connected with actual resources to illustrate the behavioural network of a society.
For instance, if we introduce the following pairs of resources/attributes collocated on a continuum:
it can be contended that a society commits itself to the use/enjoyment of a certain group of resources with its concomitant attribute according to the value given to the previous pair of resources/attributes.
Thus is possible to visualise this sort of approximate relationships:
Another set of connections in this classification can be the following ones:
But all these categories are of no practical use if further classifications are not arranged, showing the order (priority) and the relevance (weight) attributed to the resources taken into account.
And this is what resource evaluation is meant to do.
The term evaluation taken by its self has not much meaning as far as is not clarified which are the values of individuals in a community.
When resources evaluation is examined, an entire set of values has already been expressed from the start in so far as some entities have been qualified as "resources" i.e. rich of value.
But what is an implicit acknowledgement needs to be openly clarified.
For clarity sake, analytical reasoning is used to reach a synthetic perception of the matter that is being examined.
Resources evaluation is here considered to be a process of connecting in a logic, coherent way two sets of entities. The two sets of entities referred to are:
|a set of values|
|a set of resources|
Set of values
Each society (in time and space), interacting with the environment (natural-human-built) produces and reproduces (evolves) certain patterns of behaviour.
The core of this behaviour, the so-called generator, is a mix of natural-cultural drives, an individual and/or societal framework of theoretical and practical behaviour that is defined as a "set of values".
What is thought and what is done depends on this set of values.
Set of resources
According to the set of values, certain entities inside and outside the individual are considered worthwhile as means and as ends (having-doing-believing-being).
They express or contain something of what is considered "value" (moral-ecological-economic-etc.).
These entities are here defined as resources.
At this stage the relationship between values and resources can be considered as that between ends and means.
The values are ends that are satisfied using certain resources as means.
But, as said before, the division between values and resources is just for analytical purposes. In practice there is not a clear differentiation between the two sets.
As a matter of fact, the definition of some entity as "resource" includes already a declaration of value.
And a "value" cannot exists without having experienced it as a "resource".
In other terms, values and resources are at the same time ends and means, and the dichotomy values/resources ends/means becomes a synthesis, involving the matching between instrumental values and valid instruments, each one covering both roles according to the perspective from which they are seen.
Resource evaluation means this theoretical interrelation between values and resources existent in a society at a certain time in a certain space.
So, each society should clarify (define) its set of values/resources, arrange them (classify) in a suitable order, according to the priorities and the weighting conferred to them (evaluation = definition + classification) and then practically match (i.e. express/employ them) in the most appropriate way.
And this is to what allocation of resources refers.
Assuming that the allocation of resources consists of the practical matching between values and resources, the actual dynamic of this matching depends on the values/resources under consideration.
But, whatever the value considered and the resource examined, there is a set of general rules that needs to be followed if this task of resources allocation is carried out in an appropriate (logical) way.
For analytical reasons, the dichotomy values-resources should be employed once again in the form of ends and means.
If resources allocation consists of the matching between values and resources, namely between ends and means, for this matching to take place three requisites must be fulfilled:
|compatibility between ends|
|consistency between ends and means|
|congruity between means|
This three requisites, considered together, concur to form a sort of general principle of non contradiction that is the logical frame in which any allocation of resources should take place.
Now it will be examined how this frame fits in dealing with environments (natural-human-built).
Inside each environment there are entities that can be characterized by the attributes of similarity or diversity. This means similar/different features, similar/different requirements for use and so on.
This dynamic of similarity and diversity in the case of a relationship between entities can lead to situations marked by:
If a certain population (e.g. living organisms) and a set of resources (e.g. a territory) are taken under consideration, using the categories just mentioned it is possible to have:
|opposition: conflicts between living organisms|
|competition: dynamic emulation between living organisms|
|cooperation: coexistence and support between living organisms|
Generally, in a wide spatial and temporal context, there is a mix of situations that allows one to speak of a opposition-cooperation continuum.
This dynamic can be applied to the behaviour of entities inside a certain environment (biosphere-sociosphere-technosphere) or between different environments (e.g. opposition between biosphere and technosphere).
The point that is aimed at is the intersection between the requisites previously highlighted, arranged in a continuum (e.g. consistency-inconsistency) and the continuum opposition-cooperation.
Graphically it is possible to represent this intersection in the following way:
|inconsistency||ends - means||ends - means||ends - means||consistency|
The graphic is composed by four elements:
|entities||ends (values) - means (resources)|
The allocation of resources is here seen as a dynamic quest for a balancing point along the continuum opposition-cooperation. The closer to the path compatibility/consistency/congruity, the more probabilities there are that a position of general equilibration is, for the time being, approached. This does not mean that this position is always the most preferable, and that opposition-competition are intrinsically negative events. In some cases they are positive necessary passages (e.g. opposition between old-new technology) to reach a state of general equilibration at a better, more progressive level.
And this condition of general equilibration is more a trend "towards" than a condition "in" because new realities introduce new contradictory exigencies and so change (i.e. unbalance) continuously the previously consolidated relationships between entities.>/p>
From all that has been said, it emerges the need for a rational planning activity (resources management) conducted at the level of the individual. That means the conscious fitting by the individuals of their multiple values/resources in a pattern of organisation of the total environment satisfactory, at the present and in the future, for themselves and for the large world community of which they are part.
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