Abstract

If analysts of political and ecological economy take seriously critical trends in environmental degradation and accept social responsibility for contributing to the reversal of such trends, they must go beyond the descriptive and predictive to the prescriptive, beyond marginal environmental improvement to sustainability, beyond cooperation and efficiency to sufficiency.

Cooperation and efficiency principles are useful when biophysical underpinnings remain intact. Otherwise, sufficiency principles—restraint, precaution, polluter pays, zero, reverse onus—address the defining characteristics of current trends, namely environmental criticality, risk export, and responsibility evasion. They engage overconsumption. They compel decision-makers to ask when too much resource use or too little regeneration risks important values such as ecological integrity and social cohesion, when material gains now preclude material gains in the future, when consumer gratification or investor reward threatens economic security, when benefits internalized depend on costs externalized. Under sufficiency, one necessarily asks what are the risks, not just in the short term and for immediate beneficiaries, but in the longterm and for the under-represented.

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Author notes

The author wishes to thank Peter Dauvergne, Paul Grover, David Katz, Willet Kempton, Michael Maniates, Matthew Paterson, Ian Robinson, Andrew Rudin, Marc Williams, and three anonymous reviewers for useful comments on earlier drafts.