Robert Costanza

American economist

Robert Costanza (born September 14, 1950) is a leading ecological economist and Professor of Public Policy at the Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University.

Robert Costanza, 2007.


  • Ecological Economics studies the ecology of humans and the economy of nature, the web of interconnections uniting the economic subsystem to the global ecosystem of which it is a part.
    • Robert Costanza, Ecological economics: the science and management of sustainability. Columbia University Press, 1992.
  • Ecology, as it is currently practiced, sometimes deals with human impacts on ecosystems, but the more common tendency is to stick to 'natural' systems.
    • Robert Costanza and Janis King. "The first decade of ecological economics." Ecological Economics 28.1 (1999): 1-9.
  • Standard economists don't seem to understand exponential growth. Ecological economics recognizes that the economy, like any other subsystem on the planet, cannot grow forever. And if you think of an organism as an analogy, organisms grow for a period and then they stop growing. They can still continue to improve and develop, but without physically growing, because if organisms did that you’d end up with nine-billion-ton hamsters. There is a great video on this.

Toward a New Sustainable Economy, 2008


Robert Costanza, "Toward a New Sustainable Economy," in: Steven Kates. Macroeconomic Theory and Its Failings. 2010,

  • The 2008 financial meltdown is the result of under-regulated markets built on an ideology of free market capitalism and unlimited economic growth. The fundamental problem is that the underlying assumptions of this ideology are not consistent with what we now know about the real state of the world. The financial world is, in essence, a set of markers for goods, services, and risks in the real world and when those markers are allowed to deviate too far from reality, “adjustments” must ultimately follow and crisis and panic can ensue. To solve this and future financial crisis requires that we reconnect the markers with reality. What are our real assets and how valuable are they? To do this requires both a new vision of what the economy is and what it is for, proper and comprehensive accounting of real assets, and new institutions that use the market in its proper role of servant rather than master.
    • p. 40
  • This new model of development would be based clearly on the goal of sustainable human well-being. It would use measures of progress that clearly acknowledge this goal. It would acknowledge the importance of ecological sustainability, social fairness, and real economic efficiency. Ecological sustainability implies recognizing that natural and social capital are not infinitely substitutable for built and human capital, and that real biophysical limits exist to the expansion of the market economy.
    • p. 45
  • Real economic efficiency implies including all resources that affect sustainable human well-being in the allocation system, not just marketed goods and services. Our current market allocation system excludes most non-marketed natural and social capital assets and services that are critical contributors to human well-being. The current economic model ignores this and therefore does not achieve real economic efficiency. A new, sustainable ecological economic model would measure and include the contributions of natural and social capital and could better approximate real economic efficiency.
    • p. 46
  • The long term solution to the financial crisis is to move beyond the ‘growth at all costs’ economic model to a model that recognizes the real costs and benefits of growth.
    • p. 49

Quotes about Robert Costanza

  • Ecologists and economists made unlikely partners -- indeed, these disciplines have often appeared at odds with, and determined to ignore, each other. As Robert Costanza, the founding president of the International Society for Ecological Economics, acknowledged in the inaugural issue of Ecological Economics, "Ecology, as it is currently practiced, sometimes deals with human impacts on ecosystems, but the more common tendency is to stick to 'natural' systems."5 The modeling of ecological communities or systems seemed purposely to leave out the human economy.6 At the same time, economists either took for granted or ignored the principles, powers, or forces that ecologists believed governed the world's natural communities. The market mechanism, or competitive equilibrium, that mainstream economists studied assigned no role to the natural ecosystem.7 Ecological economics sought to embed the study of economics within a larger understanding of how ecosystems work.
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