Economy and Ecology: Enemies or One-in-the-Same?

In the world of environmentalism and in the world of business, often lines are drawn and there can be a perceived battle between “business” and “nature”. To environmentalists, it is development and business and maybe even “capitalism” that is destroying nature, and to business people, it is the “environmentalists” and “expensive environmental regulations” whom are holding back good and tangible business opportunities.

Some have characterized this battle as “green vs. red”, the green being to protect nature at all costs, and red to be making a dollar any way that we can. Ecology and Economy are seen as two separate things far apart from one another and at odds with one another without a mutual end-goal or shared relationship.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We have been raised to see these two entities as being separate, when indeed I will explain in this essay why they are entirely connected and necessary for one another’s well-being, that holistically, they are a singular entity. For without one another, neither can survive, and fundamentally at their root level, both ecology and economy desire to benefit the “household” (or in our case,  our world).

What does “Eco” mean? What does “Ecology” and “Economy” mean?

Both the words ‘economy‘ and ‘ecology‘ share the root, ‘Eco‘, which comes from the latin word, ‘oeco-‘, meaning “household”, and from the Greek word, “oiko-“, or “oikos” meaning “House” (1).

Both words, eco-nomy and eco-logy share this suffix but have alternate endings. The ending “-nomy” is the ‘management of‘ and “-logy” is the ‘study of‘. Both aim to understand the household. That is our town or city, state or country or our Earth or whatever scale you want to focus it on. When we deal with economy or ecology, both are the management and study of our house — this includes our money and our biological inventory — our full capital

Here are even a few “official” definitions by Merriam-Webster to help iron this concept down further:

“Economy” is defined as, “the careful use of money, resources, etc” (2).  while “Ecology” is, “a science that deals with the relationships between groups of living things and their environments” (3).

By definition, ‘economy’ must “carefully” use our resources, while ‘ecology’ must study the “relationships” between “groups of living things”, and this includes our economic relationships and our fiscal economy, which is part of our culture and anthropologic roots. Would an ecologist or biologist be wise to ignore the fact that in the human species (which is a group of organisms), that ‘economy’ is part of our operating schema? Just as a honey bee creates a hive and honey, human beings create commerce and trade, and interact with their environment to do so, thus both of these definitions overlap. There is no discrete boundary separating human economy from nature, nor is there evidence to suggest that humans can exist without any economy whatsoever, just as a fly cannot exist without wings.

Taking it further, I am sure even the wealthiest and hardest non-environmental businessman or businesswoman would not want to give up their second vacation home or the cleanliness of their air and water and live in a contaminated environment (or have their children live in this environment).

Our living planet surely is an amazing asset and resource, and we are certainly unable to reproduce this genetic diversity ourselves and have been gifted with a “one-time only gift” of genetic information (that could even cure our varied human diseases) and managing the proper spending of this resource, I am sure, most business folk would agree is in everyone’s best interest.

It is also very likely that most environmentalists would not want to live in economic downfall ruins (and give up their internet connections and iPhones) and witness the breakdown of social services and public safety and health. Globally, it is true that medical advancement has increased more than ever before while infant mortality and homicide rates are lower than ever before. Human beings have, in the past, suffered more severely from the lack of basic needs and nutrition and because of our advancement in our human economies we’ve been able to free ourselves from the pain and suffering that countless others have past experienced.

To sit on either side of the fence between ‘environment’ and ‘economy’ is like choosing between air and water–when both are required to live–both are related and exist within the same body–and wisely consuming both is probably best for proper health. Does this metaphor make sense?

Both a healthy environment and a healthy economic household are important and necessary for longevity. There is no way around that. Clean air, clean water, a diverse biology and abundance of wealth can be possible for humanity. Why is it that we are unable to have dialogues in this fashion? Why are we unable to agree, globally, that this is in our best interest? Have we found ourselves in a time of abundance in information yet a scarcity in common sense?

We can find commerce through the environment and find the environment through commerce. These two have always been related, and the long-term success or failure of countless human societies has always related to their proper management and study of both. Societies whom were unable to manage their resources died of resource shortages. Those societies unable to manage their capital fell to strife and war and battle. Both are necessary in their health and interrelated in their workings. We can build mutually beneficial economic and ecological systems that help our entire household holistically. As the famous innovator William McDonough says, we can find “peace through commerce”.

By using economic principles and creating financially lucrative products (that have closed loop systems and are environmentally sustainable and sound in their production), we could craft an entirely different world. We could build business while building our environment and these battles could finally come to an end. It doesn’t have to be a ‘Red’ vs. ‘Green’ world – it could be a ‘Brown’ world (the color combination of red and green) — this is a quite ‘earthly’ tone and maybe is an indicator to what we ought to focus on the most — a holistic earthly well-being that looks at all of our needs and issues from a larger lens.

The hardest thing that human beings will always have to deal with is our mental perspectives and beliefs. We can be surrounded by tools and resources and opportunities and all the “gifts” in the world, yet if our mental lens is unable to focus on the clear solutions or we are unable to work cooperatively towards the same end, we ultimately fail.

It is on common ground within compassionate human minds that we will ultimately find progress and solutions. It is possible to profit both the economy and our ecology – both should be seen as being entirely synonymous – and managing and studying both for their mutual benefit is our smartest long-term solution.

Examples of how economy and ecology can exist harmoniously:

  • – This website was created to spread the designs and ideas of Jacque Fresco, an engineer whom since the 1970’s has been a strong advocate for intelligently designed buildings, architecture and cities. He views cities as organisms, and as such they should be designed as so, with proper avenues for consumed resources and disposed waste. Some of his city designs and concepts are very interesting and his philosophies surely are likely to capture interest. Being in his 90’s, Jacque Fresco has not given up his mission that he started on so many years ago.
  • – This website is the digital home of William McDonough, an amazing speaker and innovator who is famous for his book, Cradle to Cradle, explaining how a “closed loop” materials economy is possible and how it could both economically advance us as well as hold true environmental solutions. Some of McDonough’s designs truly create a symbiosis of economy and ecology, and as a believer in environmentalism through commerce, McDonough’s ideas are more than tangible but being pursued at some of the highest government levels (McDonough is currently working with China on urban development improvements).