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OnWords: Economy, Ecology, And Other Housekeeping


The last 30 years have seen a shift toward economic concerns over just about everything else. Simultaneously, we’ve seen an uptick in our awareness of ecology, and of humanity’s often destructive place therein.

As oil-industry-funded climate-change denial has shown, however, the words “economy” and “ecology” are often at odds in the public mind. Doing what it takes to create a cleaner ecology, we’re told, will harm our already fragile economy.

It’s ironic, then, that these words share a root: the Greek “oikos,” which means “household.” Etymologically, economics has to do with how a household is run, ecology with the condition of that household. Metaphorically, the house is the environment in which humanity finds itself—the Earth, its resources, and the way we use them in order to survive.

Rather than being at odds, the terms “economy” and “ecology” are intimately related. A healthy ecology is necessary for a truly robust economy, as measured by our access to viable resources. The opposite is also true.

We’d do well to listen to the wisdom of the root word, hearing past the immediate din of pocketbook affairs and into the quiet distance where the rafters creak and a hot wind seeps through.

Lael Ewy is a co-founder and editor of EastWesterly Review, a journal of literary satire at www.postmodernvillage.com, and a writer whose work has appeared in such venues as Denver Quarterly and New Orleans Review and has been anthologized in Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh.