Ecology and economics share the same Greek root, oikos, meaning 'house'. Ecology is, literally, the 'study of the house', while economics is the 'management of the house', where the house is taken to be the world or any part of it. Thus ecological economics implies studying and managing the world in an integrated way, taking full advantage of our accumulated knowledge and understanding of both the natural and the social parts of the system.

Ecological economics has historical roots as long and deep as any field in economics or the natural sciences, going back to at least the seventeenth century. Nevertheless, its immediate roots lie in work done in the 1960s and the 1970s. Kenneth Boulding's classic The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth set the stage for ecological economics with its description of the transition from the 'frontier economics' of the past, where growth in human welfare implied growth in material consumption, to the 'spaceship economics' of the future, where growth in welfare can no longer be fueled by growth in material consumption. This fundamental difference in vision and worldview was elaborated further by Herman Daly, who in 1968 recast economics as a life science, akin to biology and especially ecology, rather than a physical science like chemistry or physics. The importance of this shift in 'preanalytic vision' cannot be overemphasized. It implies a fundamental change in the perception of the problems of resource allocation and how such problems should be addressed. More particularly, it implies that the focus of analysis should be shifted from marketed resources in the economic system to the biophysical basis of interdependent ecological and economic systems and their coevolution over time.

Ecological economics is not, however, a single new paradigm based on shared assumptions and theory. It is instead a 'metaparadigm'. Rather than espousing and defending a single discipline or paradigm, it seeks to allow a broad, pluralistic range of viewpoints and models to be represented, compared, and ultimately synthesized into a richer understanding of the inherently complex systems it deals with. It represents a commitment among economists, ecologists, and other academics and practitioners to learn from each other, to explore new patterns of thinking together, and to facilitate the derivation and implementation of effective economic and environmental policies. Ecological economics is deliberately and consciously pluralistic in its conceptual underpinnings. Within this pluralistic metaparadigm, traditional disciplinary perspectives are perfectly valid 'as part of the mix'. Ecological economics therefore includes some aspects of neoclassical environmental economics, traditional ecology, and ecological impact studies, and several other disciplinary perspectives as components, but it also encourages completely new, more integrated ways to think about the linkages between ecological and economic systems.

Ecological economics has also developed a solid institutional base. After numerous experiments with joint meetings between economists and ecologists, the International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE) was formed in 1988 and currently has over 3000 members worldwide. The journal of the society, Ecological Economics, published its first issue in February 1989 and is currently publishing 12 issues per year, with an impact factor taking it to the top one-fifth of all economics journals. Major international conferences have been held since 1990, with attendance reaching as high as 1500. Several ecological economic institutes have been formed around the world, a significant number of books have appeared with the term ecological economics in their titles, and a fair number of university courses, certificate programs, and graduate degree programs have also developed.

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