Sunday, January 24, 2010

NCSE Conference Debriefing

I went to DC last week for a conference on the New Green Economy put together by NCSE (National Council for Science and the Environment), a non-profit independent NGO, and it was really great.

It was a three-day conference packed with events. Most of the events were at the Ronald Reagan and International Trade Center Building in downtown DC, which is also where the EPA offices are located. (Interesting tidbit: There was a lot of security in those buildings. You get screened when you come in, and there were a lot of places where you needed different levels of security clearances.)

It was attended primarily by representatives of universities like heads of the sustainability programs and people who worked in the government like EPA employees. There were also a number of small business owners in the renewable energy market and various environmental and economic consultants.

On the whole, discussions were very interesting and several major themes emerged.
1. The current economic model of exponential economic growth is not environmentally sustainable. At the very least, material throughput and carbon emissions need to stop growing. It's unclear how this is possible while maintaining full levels of employment. Not everyone was behind this idea. It's unclear if the business people really understood what this meant, and certainly many panel speakers had never heard of this concept. More work needs to be done in the field of ecological economics as an alternative to neoclassical economics to provide a robust framework for national economic policy.
2. Everyone needs to think about what a "new green economy," an environmentally sustainable economy will look like. People at this conference were interested in providing a better quality of life for people, a stable society, a stable economy, and providing for future generations.
3. There is still a lot that can be done within the current economic framework to increase energy efficiency and reduce material throughput. The most useful things the government can do is to create demand through incentives so that energy efficient technologies and renewable energy businesses can break into the market. People were interested in more accurate accounting of positive as well as negative externalities, which includes pricing the usage of resources such as water.
4. A lot of the demand needs to come from the bottom up, which means we have a long ways to go to educate the public about these issues. Politically, there have been major setbacks to those who are interested in a new green economy. People were certainly starting to feel a little sick, almost despairing, but in general felt even greater urgency than before and committed to action. It got to be like rallying the forces by the end.

I took a lot of notes and will be blogging about all the events I went to in the next few posts.

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