Do we have Free Will? What is determinism? How does it threaten the existence of free will? Explain how libertarians respond to this problem.

In everyday life we experience events, these events are assumed to occur in a linear fashion in which each event is a predecessor of the previous; in effect, all events have a cause. This is referred to in philosophical terms as determinism. Determinism embraces the relationship between earlier and later events. If determinism is true, and we were to rewind time and start an event in the exact same way as it was initially, the outcome would be the same (Opie 2009, p. 1).

As determinism is accepted, we also believe that we are in control of our own lives, and are capable of making choices from an array of choices; leading to the conclusion that we have freewill (Opie 2009, p. 1). Freewill is something that is imperatively important to human beings as there is a close relationship between freewill and responsibility, and simply because we like to feel in control of our own fate.

To assume that both of these doctrines were correct, would lead us into a paradox. A paradox occurs when two individually plausible beliefs are inconsistent with each other. In the case of determinism and free will, it is obvious that the two ideas conflict.  If determinism were true, it is unreasonable to believe that we have free will, as the way things were before you were born settles in advance every choice you will ever make, leaving it impossible to make any choice other than the one you are going to make. Contrarily, if we have full control over our actions, making the choice a free choice, determinism is ruled out.

Determinism threatens the existence of free will through a number of channels; it argues that events are determined not only by things that occurred before your birth (known as ancestral determinism) (Opie 2009, p. 6), but are also heavily influenced by things that are immediately local to us (known as local determinism) (Opie 2009, p. 6). So, if event X is the cause of event Y, the occurance of X makes Y inevitable, leaving no room for the array of choices we assume we have in the case of freewill (Opie 2009, p. 2).

Although there are extremists that argue for either side of the paradox, there are others that aim to resolve the paradox of freedom and determinism. To do this, we are offered two options: to dismiss the paradox, and argue that freewill is compatible with determinism or to accept the paradox and deny either the thesis of determinism or the thesis of free will. Let’s consider the option that accepts the paradox, and denies the thesis of determinism. This is known as libertarianism, who argue that the evidence of freewill makes the claim of determinism implausible (Opie 2009, p. 6). In everyday examples we appear to have a variety of options, for example: you catch the bus every day, on one occasion, you decide to sit down and on another you stand. On both occasions, the option to do the opposite of what you did was open to you because over time you do a mixture of both. Libertarians argue that these examples are cases of deliberate action, and are the result of conscious control, again asserting that freewill unarguably exists (Opie 2009, p. 6).


Reference List


Opie, J (2009) Freedom and Determinism, University of Adelaide


What is scepticism? Describe Descartes attempt to build a secure foundation for knowledge using his method of doubt, and assess his account.

In philosophy a theory is not considered an infallible one without revision and argument. To refute a theory, and argue against points of it, is to be a sceptic. Many theories and beliefs about epistemology have come from scepticism (Newman 2010). They find points in an argument that can be doubted, and doubt. Descartes embraced this method of using doubt to achieve knowledge, but made it very clear that he used scepticism “not to be a sceptic, and doubt for the sake of doubting”, but to reach certainty through doubt (Newman 2010).

Descartes attempt to form a solid doctrine regarding knowledge began with the basis of his other profession, mathematics. He was fascinated with mathematics ability to build such solid foundations and still have clear and assured reasoning (Descartes 1637, p.5).

His contribution to modern epistemology is very distinct due to his use of doubt to define knowledge, using doubt as the polar opposite of good sense/reasoning (Newman 2010). He claims that within nature, good sense and reasoning is equal in all men, but it is not enough to have a good mind, the main thing is to apply it well (Descartes 1637, p.3).

Descartes believed that the works of a single hand is more likely to lead to perfection than that which involved several different parties; in particular architecture. He used this as a representation for knowledge, claiming that our beliefs and thoughts would be pure and solid if we were governed only by ourselves, our reason from birth as opposed to being led by our parents and societies (Descartes 1637, p.7). As Descartes was raised by his mother and sister, he came to the conclusion that his own beliefs and thoughts were not pure, and could not be counted as true knowledge.

After this revelation, Descartes examined as many people as possible through an impartial lense, and came to the conclusion that many commonly accepted beliefs were illogical and obscure; this sparked his ambition to take anything he had been exposed to through example and custom lightly, and found that he gradually eliminated errors in his reasoning using this method (Descartes 1637, p.9).

As it seemed impossible to “demolish the entire city and start from scratch” (as ideal as it would be), Descartes laid down four maxims he would follow in his attempt to rid his mind of fickle thoughts, including to follow the laws of the religion which he accepted as reasonable and solid notion (Descartes 1673, p.11), which inevitably lead to Descartes hardest conflict to resolve within his own theory.

After a long attempt to rid his mind of all his prior, poorly acquired opinions and beliefs, Descartes came dangerously close to the conclusion that everything is false. He decided that because we are quite often fooled by our senses, nothing exists in the way that we perceive it through our senses, everything that we consider knowledge is no more true than an illusion or a dream (Descartes 1637, p. 16); it was at this point that Descartes nearly accidently stumbled across his infamous ideology:


“It was necessary that I – who was doing the thinking – had to be something. Noticing this truth  – I think; therefore I am”

                                                                       (Descartes 1637, p. 17)


The method of doubt concludes that if you wish to acquire pure and solid knowledge, you must consider and analyse each thought you hold and have at least some reason to doubt. The theory uses sceptical doubts to assess the strength of ideas/beliefs to become knowledge. Applying exaggerated (hyperbolic) doubt universally (to all thoughts) helped Descartes secure his theory (Newman 2010). By applying doubt universally, allows the person to remove conflicting opinions stored since childhood, and go over each opinion and discard those which are anything but true and beyond doubt. Hyperbolic doubt does have an overarching value, in which no more doubt can be applied, and this is known as ‘The Evil Genius Doubt’. If a belief can stand up against this doubt, it is worthy of becoming a part of the foundation for ones knowledge (Newman 2010).

Upon completion of his “Discourse of Method”, Descartes sent his text out to the best minds across the globe for critiquing and feedback. He received several responses to his works, and responded to each of them individually, eventually adding them onto his book. Through the array of criticism he received, Gassendi had the simplest of critiques; why did Descartes excessively consider everything as false, as opposed to merely labelling his previous knowledge as uncertain, and attempt to conclude on their validity once he had secured the foundation of knowledge (Newman 2010).

The more hyperbolic the doubt, the harder it is to come to a certain answer about any knowledge or foundation, if one is to doubt something lightly, it is much easier to come to the conclusion that it is a justified, true idea and should count as knowledge, but if heavier doubt is consistently applied to even the core of ones beliefs, it should become impossible to settle on an unquestionable truth. Descartes mentions that there is a “supreme overlord” of doubt, but with little explanation into the doubt of all doubts, it appears to be quite an elusive thing to achieve, leading me to claim that the method of doubt appears to be a circular theory.

In an attempt to prove that the existence of god is undeniable, Descartes claims that because he is aware of other perfections in man that he does not hold, there was a nature which was god. He continued to add that thinking in the way that we have a body, and knowing that there are stars are less certain than gods existence (Descartes 1673, p.19). Descartes method of doubt would lead one to the conclusion that there is not enough empirical evidence and too much doubt that god exists to say this is so. As Descartes had a heavy hand when describing his devotion to his religion, it appeared as though he was making an exception to the rule.

Descartes motive was to fight against human nature, and the habit of dependence on second hand knowledge, which is nothing less than a noble intention. The underlying drive behind Descartes method of doubt is perhaps the most attractive part of the theory; although flawed it captures and bring awareness to the inability we have to filter and philosophise about information fed to us through external channels.



Reference List

 Descartes, Rene 1637, (italics) Discourse on the Method for Reasoning Well and for Seeking Truth in the Sciences, trans I Johnston, Vancouver Island University, Canada

Newman, Lex, “Descartes’ Epistemology”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <;.


The graduation approach attempts to stimulate development by including a bottom up approach into top down government policy that will encourage steady employment and financial management of the extreme poor. The governance of such an approach is multi-scalar in that it requires NGOs, government and the international development community to gather their resources to ensure the graduation program reaches its potential and is distributed and moderated accordingly. This program has the potential to address each of the post2015 development goals through innovating development that takes the emphasis away from ‘handouts’ and implementing top down approaches and expecting the population to adapt to it and places the power into the hands of the poor, which can lead to unforseen development advancements.  The World Bank released a handbook in 2002 that defined empowerment as an vital component of development, it is suggested that if individual economic assets were distributed to the extreme poor, it would empower them to make choices, gain a sense of freewill, become more productive and the positive effects would slowly trickle down to address most, if not all of the millennium goals (United Nations 2014). It is obvious that the graduate approach draws on the suggestions by the World Bank, there are still hurdles to pass in order to ensure the approach is truly bottom up and will result in empowerment of the poor. The poor need to be provided with basic services, local and national governance must be supportive and good, market development needs to be pro-poor and those involved in development programs must have access to justice and legal aid (Ecosoc 2014).


The ‘United Nations Convention to combat desertification’ was formed in 1994 after desertification was identified as the biggest challenge to sustainable development at the Rio Earth Summit (UNCCD 2014). The twitter feed is mostly comprised of tweets about soil and food security, both of which need to be addressed in order to achieve the three pillars of sustainable development. The literature linked through the twitter feed is centred on Africa, as it is the country that is most harshly affected by desertification. Often the twitter feed makes reference to institutions like the IPCC and other international non-governmental organisations as a form of authority.

Nation states are addressed separately, giving the impression the UNCCD identifies that a ‘one size fits all’ development model can be used in all environments and that good local, international and global development governance is required in all cases. This is a double edged blade, as it gives nation-states individual empowerment and culturally relevant development methods, but also creates a discourse of separation rather than cooperation. Twitter feed itself is directed at ‘community’ by asking for community input and most tweets concern a community.

The feed is full of questions, and there are little statements, this mirrors the necessity of community involvement in development, it is almost as though twitter is being used as a bottom up information dissemination, even if the policies that the organisation implements and their foundations follow an institutional top down approach.

It addresses multiple contributors to desertification, which are also results of desertification such as climate change, political unrest and natural disasters, displaying the symbiotic relationship between the environment and sustainable development. The feed acknowledges the pillars of sustainable development, through addressing environmental issues through a social means and firsthand appealing to the reader’s individual sense of social justice (Koshey, Mataki & Lal 2008).

Many of the questions are thought provoking and directed at the individual in trying to get them to think about issues of desertification. It is possible that we might say that this is a form of self-governance as it seeks to provoke the individual with these questions with the aim of having self-governing individuals as agents of thought and action. These types of tweets are not telling you what to do explicitly, but rather they try to appeal to an individual’s moral senses in the hope that they will then do the ‘right thing.


I’d like to offer an example of a culture that was forced to change, and then explore clusters of people that desire to change and are making positive effects toward sustainable futures that can be implemented as local development initiatives. In 1991 the USSR fell, and with it took away Cuba’s only source of imports of petroleum and machinery for agriculture (Koont 2008). The country was facing an agricultural crisis and a huge threat to their food and economic security which forced the government to morph their economy into a wartime model and implement a food and goods rationing scheme (Garth 2009). Overnight the population of Cuba had to dramatically change their consumption habits and were completely reliant on the government to provide them with enough food and necessities. To cut a long story short, communities across Cuba took matters into their own hands and with support from the government and development initiatives, transformed the agriculture sector and regressed to older farming methods and are now producing sustainably sourced produce that is consumed locally (Caballero 2001). Cuba has dramatically reduced their reliance on petroleum and unsustainable products, and has shifted to much more sustainable consumption patterns. I will briefly look into a grassroots movement that in the last 25 years has transformed from an idea to over 4000 independently operated projects in 120 countries; permaculture.

“Permaculture is a holistic system of design, based on direct observation of nature, learning from traditional knowledge and the findings of modern science. Embodying a philosophy of positive action and grassroots education, permaculture aims to restructure society by returning control of resources for living: food, water, shelter and the means of livelihood, to ordinary people in their communities, as the only antidote to centralized power” (Veteto & Lockyer 2008).

Permaculture surfaced as a reaction to the current system of global capitalism and the ever popular belief that what we are doing now, is unsustainable and cannot address the issues surrounding food security, poverty and the ecosystem (Veteto & Lockyer 2008). In the last decade, there has been an uprising of people urging the population to shift toward a more sustainable lifestyle and social media has only made this task easier and able to reach more people. I think people do want to change but require a little push, not everybody is equipped with the ability to make a leap of faith in a grassroots movement but if incentives are given for people to make more sustainable changes within their home environment and overconsumption is continued to be discouraged through harsher moderation of media and paraphernalia we will see more of a shift toward sustainable lifestyles and less consumption.


This essay will evaluate western feminism and its ties with colonialism, and reveal if it is reasonable for ‘Third world’, Black and Indigenous women to say that western feminism and colonialism are closely associated. We will also explore alternative paths and precautions that western feminists could have taken to avoid this reaction from ‘the other women’. This will be done through a critical analysis of the claim that western feminism is aligned with colonialism, how western and ‘other’ feminisms clash, modern examples of colonial based feminism and what western feminists could have done to avoid these reactions.

Many ‘non-western’ women claim that they do not feel as though they have a place in western feminism due to its ties with colonialism. The foundation of western feminism either embraced or ignored the racial, economic and cultural devastation caused to natives by colonialism yet invited women of all races to be involved in their movements (Weedon 2000 p.90).

White women involved in the feminist movement throughout history have appeared to ignore the idea that racism shapes sexism (Huggins 1994 p.72) and also the fact that white women were oppressors themselves. It is well documented that white women in colonial Australia held Aboriginal women and children as slaves, and the general mentality was that the white woman was superior to the primitive black woman. Glenyse Ward tells her unimaginable story of being removed from her parents in the 1960s, educated in a white catholic institution, and forced into slavery, it is in this book that Glenyse advises that there was a strong assumption at the time that the colonisers were inherently superior to the colonised (Huggins 1994 p.73).

At a time when Aboriginals were becoming increasingly involved in Australian politics around 1970, the Womens Liberal Movement (WLM) was becoming more active. The WLM is a movement conceived in the 1970’s, aimed at promoting women’s freedoms (workplace, domestic, economic etc.) against what is considered in discourse to be a male centric and male dominated society (Bartlett, A, Henderson, M 2013 p. 85). In an attempt to be anti-racist, the white women involved in the movement asked Aboriginal females to join them in their fight for ‘womens liberation’. What they failed to recognize is the cultural differences between western and Aboriginal women. Asking an Aboriginal woman to be separated from the males in her community opened a wound that was not yet fully healed from when whites colonialized their land.

Western women continue to have heavy influence on Aboriginal women’s lives through the roles they fulfil in society; welfare carer, teacher and foster parent are roles typically occupied by white women, whom teach and raise Aboriginal children with western ideologies.

Huggins argues that white feminists appear to have the belief ‘I am a feminist, so I am an expert on all women; Aboriginal/black women just need ‘raising up’ to my level of feminist consciousness’. It is hard to ignore the similarity of this notion to the ‘White Man’s Burden’.

‘Take up the White Man’s burden– Send forth the best ye breed– Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives’ need; To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild– Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child. Take up the White Man’s burden– And reap his old reward: The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard– The cry of hosts ye humour (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–“Why brought he us from bondage, Our loved Egyptian night?”
Take up the White Man’s burden– The savage wars of peace– Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease; And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought, Watch sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hopes to nought.’
(Denis, J 2013)

Both colonists and white feminists at this time saw natives as ‘backward’ and ‘primitive’ and felt that it was their duty to raise the natives up to their level of ‘advancement’.

Indigenous and Black women argue that it is hard to find their voice in western feminism as white women claim that women are sexual beings, whom want to experiment with sex and sexual partners, and that it is equally as important for females to enjoy sex as it is for males (Huggins 1994 p.71), whereas Aboriginal and black women sought the right to say no as opposed to the authority to say yes, and to shift the focus away from their sexual bodies.

Aboriginal women are not the only race of women to claim that they feel the likeness of western feminism and colonialism is hard to ignore. ‘SlutWalk’ is a feminist movement  that claims they are working to challenge mindsets and stereotypes of victim-blaming and slut-shaming, sparked by a police officer in Toronto stating that “women should avoid dressing like sluts, to avoid getting sexually assaulted/victimised”(Slutwalk Toronto website). In an open letter to ‘SlutWalk’, women of African descent revealed that although they are pleased that we live in a time where women are able to make extraordinary resistance campaigns and get their voice heard, they do not feel as though they have a place in the ‘SlutWalk’ movement. They struggle to comprehend why the word ‘slut’ had been coined, when the word has such a dark history for Black women.

When Black women were used as slaves during colonial times, they were raped, had their gender misrepresented and feel that the word ‘slut’ refers to Black women in that time, a word that they have been trying to escape for decades(Blackwomen’s Blueprint 2011).  The women represented in the letter claim that it is possible to make a statement without the use of derogatory words.

“We can learn from successful movements like the Civil Rights movement, from Women’s Suffrage, the Black Nationalist and Black Feminist movements that we can make change without resorting to the taking-back of words that were never ours to begin with, but in fact heaved upon us in a process of dehumanization and devaluation”. (Blackwomen’s Blueprint 2011)

The women outline how the ‘SlutWalk’ could improve on so Black women can get involved, and also what the White women could have done to avoid the reaction invoked in the Black women. Initially, the White women should have recognized that the USA is racially diverse, and taken that into account before starting their campaign, yet again Black women and their needs and potential input to the feminist movement was ignored. It is asked of ‘SlutWalk’ to rebrand their campaign with something that is racially sensitive and applicable to women from all walks of life, and include violence against women and put an end to sexual assault and the power and oppression that stems from it.

Although the SlutWalk was a recent event, it is not one that receives a lot of media coverage here in Australia; we are constantly inundated with images of Arab women and men either in their war ridden countries or here in Australia. It is a constant ‘hot’ topic of our parliament, whether to pull our troops from Arab countries, whether asylum seekers (not explicitly Arab) should be ‘allowed’ to come to Australia and so on and so forth. Naturally, the feminist movement have not ignored the issues surrounding the culture of Islam; in 2011 Alia al-Mahdi uploaded a naked photo of herself which had a massive chain reaction in the Arab community, causing her to flee Egypt. In 2012, she did the same but associated her cause with the feminist group FEMEN.

FEMEN originated in Ukraine, and urges women to break out of the patriarchal chains and to come out to rallies topless and ‘win’ FEMEN have taken many stabs at the Muslim community, running on the assumption that women who veil are uniformly oppressed, and that Muslim/Arab women should step out of their burqas and demand equality. The undertones of this movement now seem very familiar, western feminism also believes that female liberation is directly linked to what the woman wears (Salem, S 2012).

It also sounds very familiar to a point Anne McClintock made in her book Imperial Leather 2008. When colonisation was rearing its head, white men and women that arrived at locations such as Africa and saw naked women and immediately set out to veil them with cotton and ‘preserve their modesty’; however something changed significantly when they arrived at the Middle East, they saw women were veiled with the burqa or hijab and did not commend the practice as expected, but began to remove the veil from women, in an attempt to civilise them (McClintock 2008 p.31). These acts were simply acts of power and followed ‘the white man’s burden’; an elaborate excuse for mistreatment of others and an attempt to justify colonialism.

When Muslim/Arab women are asked on their opinions on the burqa, and if they agree with the sentiment that the veil is inherently oppressive, it is immediately obvious that FEMEN are not speaking for Muslim women, rather what they think should occur, completely disregarding any cultural relativism and the voice of the people involved. FEMENS explicit public nudity marches have sparked outrage from Muslim women, claiming that in doing what FEMEN is doing, is sending the message that Muslim women are universally oppressed and need saving from Western women. In 2007 Fatemah Fakhraie wrote an explosive article in response to western feminism as a whole entity and outlined exactly what Western feminism should and should not do when defending Muslim women. She outlines that Muslim women do not need to be victimised or pitied, that they should delineate their liberation and, something we have visited already in this essay, acknowledge that racism shapes sexism. Fakhraie summarises her opinion in a forceful and clear sentence:

‘I notice a lot of condescension when you talk to us or about us. Let me be clear: you do not know more about us than we know about ourselves, our religion, our cultures, our families, or the forces that shape our lives. You do not know what’s best for us more than we do’ (Fakhraie, F 2007)

It is obvious through the literature flooding the internet that Western feminism does not include, nor acknowledge all cultures and races of women. Colonial beliefs and methods are not hard to find in Western feminist theories and campaigns, and until these issues are acknowledged and rectified, I cannot see Indigenous, Black or ‘Third world’ women finding their voice in Western feminist movements. I believe it is impossible to have one strain of feminism that speaks for all women, as so many factors influence different cultures needs and concerns, yet on the same token I believe that Western feminism has great potential to embrace other cultures and speak for ethnic as well as white women, as long as it removes itself from colonial roots and recognizes that the Western way is not the only way.



Alakhbar 2013, Femen’s Neocolonial Feminism: When Nudity Becomes a Uniform, Alakhbah, viewed 18/4/2013 <;

Bartlett, A, Henderson, M 2013 ‘The Australian women’s movement goes to the museum: The ‘cultures of Australian feminist activism, 1970–1990’ project’, Women’s Studies International Forum, Volume 37, pp. 85-94

 Blackwomen’s Blueprint 2011. An open letter from Black women to the SlutWalk. Facebook, viewed 13/4/2013. <>

 Denis, J 2013 ‘Diamonds are forever: Kipling’s imperialism.’ History Today, Volume 47 p. 37

 Feminist Theory 2007, The do’s and don’ts of defending Muslim Women, Altmuslimah, viewed 18/4/2013, <;

 Huggins, J 1994, ‘A contemporary view of Aboriginal women’s relationship to the White feminist movement’ in Norma Grieve and Ailsa Burns (eds.) Australian Women: Contemporary Feminist Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press

 McClintock, A 2008, Imperial Leather: Race, gender and sexuality in the colonial contest, New York: Routledge, pp. 21-61

 SlutWalk Toronto 2011, SlutWalk Toronto, WordPress, viewed 13/4/2013, <>

 Weedon, C 2000, Feminist practice and poststructuralist theory, Blackwell, Oxford


Sustainability means that something possesses the trait of being sustainable, that it can look after itself and maintain equilibrium; however this word holds very different meanings for economists and ecologists. Within the realm of environmentalism, there is a spectrum on which political parties and everyday people place themselves. The spectrum was created by Timothy O Riordan in 1981, where he identifies four categories of environmentalism under two larger umbrellas that are ‘ecocentrism’ and ‘technocentrism’ (See Figure 1).

The author articulates traits of each category, which will now be explored in further detail. On the left side of the spectrum under the ‘ecocentrism’ umbrella lie ‘deep ecologists’ and ‘self-reliance soft technologists’, the latter being closest to the middle on the spectrum. O’ Riordan describes ‘deep ecologists’ as those who hold the value that the unhuman world is equally as important as the human world, and that humans should live their life in accordance to natural law; a real life example of this are Buddhist monks who regard natural law as fundamental truths and live their life in harmony with the environment. ‘Self-reliant soft technologists’, still on the left hand side of the spectrum but situated closer to the middle are described as anti-materialists who believe in small communities and are sceptical about the use of modern large-scale technology to fix environmental issues; an example of this (although not yet fully executed yet) is ‘The Venus Project’, a group of activists that wish to reshape society into a resource based economy with small communities working together to achieve equality and pure sustainability (

Moving on to the right side of the spectrum, and exploring the ‘technocentrism’ umbrella, ‘environmental managers’ and ‘cornucopians’, the latter being the furthest to the right. ‘Environmental managers’ believe that resource exploitation for human needs can continue, under the conditions that there is a minimal level of environmental quality; a real life example of this being the carbon tax that was introduced under the Australian Labor Party in 2010. ‘Cornucopians’ are described as people that believe that no matter what, the human race will find a way out of the situation, with a heavy faith that scientific and technological advancement will eventually pave a way to sustainability and reversing the detrimental effects on the environment, and most importantly put a much greater onus on economic growth, believing that this is what will lead to a good future; a real life example of this being John Stuart Mills view on economic progress, being a race between technology development and environmental degradation, he believed that technology would win the race and humans would live in a world of economic and environmental equilibrium, where they are free to pursue their spiritual and artistic interests (Cato 2011, p. 137).

 “The general agreement amongst neoclassical/technocentric economists is that neither pollution nor resource limitations should operate as constraints on perpetual economic growth” (Cato 2011, p.137).

Technocentric views of sustainable development refer purely to economic development, and this discounts the environment severely. Their approach to natural resources is that they are there for our exploitation, and it is because of this that environmental benefits and costs get translated into a monetary value, so that a simple ‘cost-benefit’ analysis can be conducted. Ecologists disagree with this sentiment, arguing that a two-dimensional x-y graph where one good or service is traded off against the other simplifies things too much and opens the door to exploitation. They argue that this approach cannot incorporate the complexness of the ecosystem, a web of interconnectedness; hence this is why the neoclassical (or technocentric) approach to sustainability has failed to predict the serious environmental consequences of exponential growth (Cato 2011 p.140).

This disagreement led to environmentalists creating values for the environment or natural resources that the neoclassical approach missed. David Pearce wrote a paper that would be used as background for the World Development Report (1992), in which he constructed the ‘Total Economic Value (TEV)’ (See Figure 2 for an example of TEV in practice). This was an attempt to move away from typical benefit-cost rules, and instead use four values that account for monetary and intrinsic value. These four values will be briefly outlined:

– Direct values are assigned to physical products that are easily assigned a monetary value.

– Indirect values concern ‘ecological functions’, something that does not necessarily take a physical form, but can be an important ecological process, or a chemical reaction.

– Option values is the amount that an individual is willing to pay to conserve an area for future use, for example the price that a family pays to camp in a nature reserve for a week.

– Existence values are the last of the four values, and the most difficult to exchange into monetary figures, it is the intrinsic value of the ecosystem. (Pearce 1992 p.8)

As shown above, there is an inherent conflict between economic and ecological ways of thinking, for each theory or method one creates, the other quickly serves up a rebuttal. This has led to the idea that there may never be a compatibility and harmony between the two schools of thought. “Herman Daly refers to sustainable growth as an ‘impossibility theorem’ making reference to Kenneth Arrows impossibility theorem of voting behaviour” (Cato 2011 p.140). Arrows wrote a paper in the Science Journal (1995) arguing against the relationship between per capita income and environmental quality, the relationship demonstrated in the ‘Environmental Kuznets Curve’ (See Figure 3). This was developed by environmental economists, based on the curve created by Simon Kuznets used to demonstrate the relationship between income and equality (Cato 2011 p. 62). The environmental take on this curve shows that development in its early stages creates more pollution, but once countries become richer and stabilised, they start to focus on the environment and work toward cleaner, greener alternatives. Arrows argued that this is a tunnel visioned way of looking at environmental sustainability, that development is important in increasing environmental policy; however it discounts other methods that are necessary.

The argument above is centred on equal distribution of wealth, and both neoclassical and ecological economists agree that a steady state economy will have to be one where wealth is distributed equally. A snapshot into the current distribution of wealth shows that 0.7% of the world’s adult population control 41% of the world’s wealth ( Herman Daly in his paper ‘Essays toward a steady-state economy’ (1971)guarantees that a steady state economy would result in a global respect of the ecosystems limits and encourage use of renewable resources without exceeding their ability, and minimise the use of non-renewable resources (Cato 2011 p. 141). It was Herman Daly that took issue with neoclassical theorists and their “technology argument”.

In the 1970’s, an equation was devised by Ehrlich and Holdren to identify the three factors that had the most significant impact on the environment: population, affluence and technology. The IPAT is seen as a formula that has the most promising impact of sustainability. “IPAT is an identity simply stating that environmental impact (I) is the product of population (P), affluence (A) and technology (T)” (Chertow 2001, p.15).  Technocentrists focus on the economic sustainability associated with the IPAT, and are specifically interested in the affluence part of the equation. They think that affluence needs to be kept at a constant, to keep the standard of living high, and achieve an overall greater amount of happiness and are confident in the ability of future technology to reverse damage done to the environment from resource exploitation. Ecocentrists on the other hand focus on the environmental sustainability, however agree that technology needs to be encouraged in reversing devastation to the environment, but find it ideal to attack both population and consumption in a heavy handed matter to reverse the damage as quickly as possible. Again, economic sustainability and environmental sustainability are ignored by the contra-party.

Nick Hanley’s “Introduction to Environmental Economics” is a simple paper, acknowledging existing methods and equations relation to environmental/economic sustainability, and redirected the focus to a much more hands on approach to achieving environmental sustainability. By providing a basic list of economic theories that he hopes policy makes will reflect on in order to protect the environment, covering that economic and environmental systems are determined simultaneously to the fact that environmental resources are scarce. This papers main purpose was to clearly define what environmental quality means, and how policies can be implemented that support it.

“Some of the confusion about the compatibility of economic growth and environmental quality arises from a failure to define concepts and arguments. Thus, some writers regard economic growth as an increase in the materials and energy throughout the economy. Defined in this way, the conflict between growth and the environment is not inevitable . . But defining economic growth as materiials and energy throughput is not what economists would typically mean by economic growth. Economic growth is an increase in the level of real GNP over time. Now the link between growth and environmental degredation is far less certain because not only can the link between materials/energy throughput pollution be broken, but so can the link between income growth and materials/energy throughput”                                      (Pearce and Barbier 2000)

To answer the question of compatibility between economic and ecological sustainability seems a mammoth task, with so many clashes and conflicts from every direction. Hawken (1999) coined the term “natural capitalism” which suggests that we can produce twice as much using half as much energy, once it is acknowledged that the earth is not an endless pit of resources, however with population growing exponentially and over consumption increasing, his argument appears to be invalid (Cato 2011 p. 142). What needs to occur in order to find a working relationship between economic and environmental sustainability is to question the foundations of each stance. Environmental combatants base their foundations on the laws of nature, drawing on empirical evidence that we are slowly destroying the place we call home. Economists rely on the GDP (gross domestic product) measure, the GDP is used in all transactions and decisions, and measures stocks and applies a monetary value to said stocks. This has a devastating impact of the natural world, and environment because a resource that has not been mined up, or cut down has no monetary value, and will only gain economic value when it is able to be sold in a market.

The most fundamental part of our current economic system ignores the natural world and the environment, economists view natural resources simply as capital, and with this attitude and the neoclassical approach being so ingrained into our society, how can it be possible for economic and environmental sustainability to be compatible? We have a long way to go to achieve environmental sustainability, and as shown in the examples throughout this essay, there is a constant butting of heads with new theories and arguments arising frequently, with little to none addressing economic and environmental sustainability as one homogenous process. Without natural resources, there will be no capital, and at this stage, without capital there will be no resources.

The prisoner’s dilemma is a famous philosophical problem, where two prisoners are in a predicament. If they go against each other and simply look out for themselves, they will receive punishment; however if they both cooperate and not work in a self-interested manner, they both walk away free men <;. This is very applicable in the debate about climate change, environmental sustainability and economic sustainability, drawing from green economist ideologies, these issues are holistic, and require both Anthropocentric and Ecocentric parties to acknowledge the necessity of both economic and environmental sustainability.

In conclusion, economic sustainability and ecological sustainability in the current setting are not compatible; both parties fighting for their cause do not acknowledge the true importance of the big picture and the greatness that can be achieved if they worked together and found a middle ground. It is possible for economic and environmental sustainability to be compatible however, there is an unequal distribution of power and the ‘green’ movement is still a relatively new one without roots in history to grasp onto.

Everyone needs to have the same interests, and the only plausible way of this occurring is social action. In order for deep ecologists to move to the right on the spectrum, and cornucopians to move to the left and meet in the middle, for society and the world we live in to be transformed into a platform where both parties work in harmony and the economy and environment both thrive, the people need to move into the public area and politics (O’riordan 1981, p. 14). The twenty first century and the current generation is already surging in this direction, and have the potential to make change that matters.







Reference List


Arrow, K., Bolin, B., Constanza, R., Dasgupta, P 1995, ‘Economic Growth, Carrying Capacity and the Environment’, Science, vol. 268, p. 520


Cato, M.S. 2011, Environment and Economy, Routledge, London.


Chertow, M. R. 2001, ‘The IPAT equation and its variants’, Journal of Industrial Ecology, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 3-15.


Daly, H. E 1971, Essays Toward a Steady-State Economy, W H Freeman & Co, London


Hanley, N., Shogren, J.F and White, B 2001, Introduction to Envrionmental Economics, Oxford Press, Oxford


Hawken, P., Lovins, A. and Lovins, L.H. 1999, Natural Capitalism: Creading the Next Industrial Revolution, Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass CO


O’Riordan, T. 1981, ‘Environmentalism and education’, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 3-18.


Pearce, D. 1992, Economic Valuation and The Natural World, Background paper for World Development Report 1992, The World Bank


Pearce, D. W and Barbier, E. B 2000, Blueprint for a Sustainable Economy, Earthscan, London


Property and Environment Research Centre 2013, Mexico and the Environmental Kuznets Curve, viewed 29 October 2013,

Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy 2007, Prisoner’s dilemma, Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy, viewed 21 September 2013,


The Venus Project 2013, About the Venus Project, The Venus Project, viewed 29 October 2013,





Figure 1


(O’Riordan, T. 1981 p.5)


Figure 2


(Pearce, D. 1992 p.8)



Figure 3