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Greece - Economics of the environment and its teaching in Greek universities

2004, by Georges Hatjikonstantinou

Last years economics and politics of the environment have taken a special place in research and education programs in an important number of Universities around the world. On the level of the second and the third cycle of studies, the students of economics have the opportunity to study environmental problems and are thereafter made aware of the repercussions of the economic process on the natural system and of the responsibilities of market economy. The reality poses a methodological and theoretical conflict between two economic ideologies, a situation, which is reflected in the teaching of the discipline. These two ideologies could be schematically described in the following way.

The first vision of economy promotes a purely analytical and axiomatic character of economic science. It considers natural and human resources rather as a factor which can be introduced into the laws and the logic of the market, where the mechanism of prices and the appreciation of costs occupy a place of priority. Such a vision leads to problems, which adopt, for the greater part, quantitative approaches in view of the research of a short-term profitability and a decision-making process oriented mostly towards "cost-advantage" analysis. The majority of authors of "neo-classical" origins use this approach and come to propositions which, though efficient in a short-term period as for the resolution of pollution problems (for instance the principle of "who pollutes pays"), are evidently inadequate for the establishment of a long-term perspective, given that they consider natural phenomena as reversible.

By contrast, a second view can be found in the framework of a "bio-economic" approach or of a "eco-energetic" analysis. Following this outlook, the sphere of economic activities do not constitute an autonomous sphere of events and research. It belongs to the sphere of socio-political activities, which belong in turn to the life sphere : the biosphere. This vision aims to introduce the environment in economic questions as a factor of priority. The proponents of this approach are directed to thermodynamic paradigms and refer to the concept of "entropy" which, under its classic or actual form (Carnot, Clausius, Prigogine, etc.), contributes to the study of the evolution of the economic system. Evolutionary process and economic progress are considered as probabilistic concepts, strict determinism is becoming supple, and the concept of profitability is redefined. An important number of propositions ensue, which lead to the promotion of new forms and models of development (e.g. "sustainable development"), considered efficient in the long-term for the economy and for the environment.

Nevertheless, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. In fact, between them, a creative dialogue is being developed, capable of leading to adaptations profitable to humanity and to the future of life on earth. For these two methods, although different from a methodological point of view, are characterized by the capacity to absorb parts of each other’s success.
The philosophy of the teaching program of each faculty and the level of pluralism which characterizes it, lead to an appreciation of the economics of the environment which is subject to either a traditional mechanistic approach, or an interdisciplinary and systemic approach. It is obvious that the epistemological conflicts and the methodological differences influence the content of the teaching of the economics of the environment.

In Greece, the economics of the environment is actually taught to students of the Departments of Economic Science in the universities of the two biggest cities of the country, Athens and Thessaloniki. The author has been teaching for twenty years in the Department of Economic Science of the Faculty of Law and Economic Science at the university of Thessaloniki, teaching, inter alia, this subject which had being introduced into the program of studies of this Department in 1982.
Every year, since then, from the 1000 students of the first year of studies, 250 chose, in the 4th semester, the lesson on the economics of environment. They are, in this way, introduced to an approach oriented towards a critique of the neo-classical approach, the critique being based on the argumentation of a Thermodynamic and Systemic economic methodology. Up to now, almost 3000 students have followed a quite radical training and obtained a quite high level of bio-economic information. A bibliography is suggested to the students who choose this subject. Among the articles and books proposed, "Economics and the living" by Professor René Passet of the university of Paris I (France) and "The global threats to the environment" by Professors Sylvie Faucheux and Jean-François Noël of the Center of "Economy Space Environment" of the university of Paris I (translated into Greek) occupy a place of priority.

COMMENTS: Following the author, the environment and the responsibilities of the economy for it, will form, in the future, an important center of interest for scientists and intellectuals. In the contemporary world sensitivity to the environment is increasing, the discussions regarding the necessity of sustainable development are widespread. The qualitative and the non-material require a place of priority in a society which, since the industrial revolution and up to now, has been defined by the quantitative, the material, the energy. Following his experience as a teacher, it seems to the author that the argumentation, the critics and the positions taken in the epistemological conflict between the two economic viewpoints reveal the force of tradition and the necessity for a reconstruction of the base hypotheses. These hypotheses should be closer to a reality, which changes continuously, imposing an often irreversible mutation.

SOURCE: Text compiled on the occasion of the congress Journées Environnement of the French National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS), Montpellier, France, March 1994
KEY WORDS : Economics of the Environment; Higher Education; Neo-classical approach; Bio-economic approach; Sustainable development.
EDITOR : Georgia Liarakou & Marie Schippers, c/o Yolanda Ziaka, Polis Network, P.O. Box 4, 84100 Ermoupolis, Greece, Fax: 30 / 281 / 87840, email:
AUTHOR: George Hatjikonstantinou, 25 Martiou 125, 54249 Thessaloniki, Greece
FILE DATE : 1994