The Ecological Economics of Boulding's Spaceship Earth

Publication: Working/Discussion PaperWU Working Paper


The work of Kenneth Boulding is sometimes cited as being foundational to the understanding
of how the economy interacts with the environment and particularly of relevance to
ecological economists. The main reference made in this regard is to his seminal essay using
the metaphor of planet Earth as a spaceship. In this paper that essay and related work is
placed both within historical context of the environmental movement and developments in
the thought on environment-economy interactions. The writing by Boulding in this area is
critically reviewed and discussed in relationship to the work of his contemporaries, also
regarded as important for the ecological economics community, such as Georegescu-Roegen,
Herman Daly and K. William Kapp. This brings out the facts that Boulding did not pursue
his environmental concerns, wrote little on the subject, had a techno-optimist tendency,
disagreed with his contemporaries and preferred to develop an evolutionary economics
approach. Finally, a sketch is offered of how the ideas in the Spaceship Earth essay relate to
current understanding within social ecological economics. The essay itself, while offering
many thought provoking insights within the context of its time, also has flaws both of
accuracy and omission. The issues of power, social justice, institutional and social
relationships are ones absent, but also ones which Boulding, near the end of his life, finally
recognised as key to addressing the growing environmental crises. (author's abstract)
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationVienna
PublisherWU Vienna University of Economics and Business
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Publication series

NameSRE - Discussion Papers

WU Working Paper Series

  • SRE - Discussion Papers

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