Culture of Ecology: Reconciling Economics and Environment


231 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-3595-7
DDC 333.7




Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


The aim of this book is to recast mainstream economics so that it
enhances rather than degrades or destroys the environment. Exactly what
is to be reconciled with economics is rarely clear: the options include
the environment, environmental policies and the discipline, principles,
or the culture of ecology. The approach of Robert Babe, a professor of
media studies at the University of Western Ontario, is by way of
historical analysis. There was once a synthesis of environment and
economics, which was destroyed by the thinkers of the Renaissance and
the Enlightenment.

The flaw that vitiates the exercise is a common one: contemporary ideas
of environment and of ecology, the latter a science barely a century
old, are projected backwards onto thinkers who had no such concepts or
barely recognizable analogues. Babe’s project is not helped by the
fact the analysis, both of ecology and economics, ranges from
name-dropping at one extreme, through anecdotal observations on the
thinkers from secondary commentators, to critiques with the intellectual
respectability of a good encyclopedia.

Babe makes no claim that it is the scientific propositions of ecology
that are to be reconciled with economics. Rather, it is a series of
values derived by moral reasoning from the observed principles of
ecology, such as the promotion of human societies on the holistic model
of ecological systems, with human beings in a state of mutual
interdependence rather than the individual “atoms” of mainstream

In effecting the reconciliation, some of Babe’s contentions are
dubious. Sometimes, the arguments relate to living systems, at other
times to physical concepts such as energy and matter. These have to
become the stuff of economics, rather than land, labour, and capital.
The laws of closed physical systems are first applied to the living
biosphere with a constant source of external energy (the sun), then
applied to abstract information systems casually equated with human

It is hardly surprising that, in the end, there is no reconciliation,
only an enterprising piece of stage-setting. How the reconciliation is
to be effected is far from clear.


Babe, Robert E., “Culture of Ecology: Reconciling Economics and Environment,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 24, 2024,