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Where does economics sit within sustainability? In many instances, it appears as a separate entity.
The standard ‘triple bottom line’ comprises economics, society, and the environment, sometimes expressed as profit, people, and planet. The sustainable development triangle is portrayed with three sides of social (or societal), environmental (or ecological), and economic.
Economics, though, is simply a constructed human idea, applied by human beings. It generally describes how goods and services are produced and used, involving elements such as decision-making, material and financial flows, and asset calculations.
All these elements are from, by, and for humanity. Everything involving and related to economics emerges from and is part of society. So why is economics separated from society?
Rather than artificially creating a new category for the nebulous and ethereal entity called ‘economics’, we should place it within society. Recognizing economics as a subset of society might even humanize it more.
The sad situation is that, far too often, economics dominates sustainability discussions, policies, and actions. We should instead consider primarily society and the environment, particularly regarding their connections and overlaps–even their integration as part of sustainability.
Let’s put economics and profit in the right place: Within society, as one consideration of society amongst many, and not necessarily the first priority.
For many professionals interested in economics but not toilet trained on their methodology, the main question is "why is economics a social science" when, to most of us, real economics is about food on our plate, a roof over our heads, transportation, schooling and so on all of which are generated in the material world using energy. More important, we natural scientists find that conventional (neoclassical ) economics: violates the laws of thermodynamics, uses incorrect boundaries and operates on givens rather than tested hypotheses. I would not accept their assumptions from a Freshman in Natural Sciences, but they get away with it. We are teaching a million young Americans a year fairy tales rather than the truth about how real economies work.
We have created an International Society for BioPhysical Economics which has had 7 annual meetings, have a good Journal (BioPhysical Economics and Resource Quality (Springer-Nature) and provide a forum for those attempting to generate a natural science (vs social science only) basis for economics. If you would like to join this effort contact me (Charles Hall ..firstname.lastname@example.org) or/and Ram Poudel [email@example.com] . The book by ecologist Charles Hall and Economist Kent Klitgaard "Energy and the wealth of nations" (Springer) is the place to start.