Rethinking Economics: Accounting for Environmental Impact at a Local Level
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The quality of the human experience depends on a dramatic change in how we think about economics and, more specifically, about the relationship between human economic activity and the natural world. The continued pursuit of a growth agenda threatens the health and stability of global ecological systems, jeopardizes the wellbeing of many people, and undermines opportunities for future generations. In an era of sustainability challenges, we must measure the impacts of economic activity and use that information toward designing more sustainable human systems. This dissertation supports an ecological economic worldview by extending biophysical based measures to local scale applications to improve understanding of environmental impact at the urban and sub-regional scale. To account for environmental impact, I test two calculation approaches: one to estimate municipal ecological footprint values and one to measure environmental impact at a neighbourhood level. The novel calculation approaches account for environmental impact at finer scales of resolution than has traditionally been applied. I also explore drivers of environmental impact using Halifax Regional Municipality as a case study. I examine the relationship between direct GHG emissions and socio-economic and wellbeing variables using a multivariate model. Those reporting to be married, young, low income, and living in households with more people have correspondingly lower direct GHG emissions than other categories in respective groupings. Respondents with lifestyles that generate higher GHG emissions did not report to be healthier, happier or more connected to their communities, suggesting that individuals can experience similar degrees of wellbeing largely independent of their GHG emissions. I explored whether where we live influences direct GHG emissions. Findings indicate that individuals living in the suburbs generate similar GHG emissions to those living in the inner city, challenging a widely held assumption that living in the inner city is better for sustainability. These results underscore the importance of understanding the spatial distribution of GHG emissions at the sub-regional scale. The research offers new insights to measure and understand environmental impact at the local level toward supporting ecologically informed decision-making.