Sunday, January 24, 2010

NCSE Conference : Thursday : Plenary Roundtable

The first plenary roundtable was on Growing the Green Economy or Greening the Grown Economy? Actually, I think the title is kind of stupid, but they didn't really talk about this topic, and so the discussion was quite good.

It was moderated by Bob Costanza - ecological economist at the University of Vermont.
Panelists include Mindy Lubber (president of CERES), Van Jones (author of Green Collar Economy), Tim Jackson (Economics Commissioner of the UK Sustainable Development Commission), and David Orr (economist at the University of Vermont).

Bob Costanza promoted his new "Solutions" Magazine. It looks pretty good. The first issue included a classic article by Donella Meadows on system dynamics and system thinking. It also had an article by Michael Pollan and another article coauthored by Bill McKibbon.

Question: Is growth sustainable and is it desirable?

Tim Jackson started out answering that resource-based GDP growth is not sustainable. Value-based GDP growth could be sustainable but we're not measuring that. In October of 2008, Greenspan said that he found some flaws...This was a major event, and it signals the inability for neoclassical economics to explain the downturn as well as paths to recovery.

We are generating "ecological debt" for future generations. Even before the recession hit, though, we were never as rich as we thought in terms of life satisfaction.

Van Jones talked about being inspired by Bobby Kennedy who talked about how negative expenditures (such as sickness and war) contribute to growing GDP. It's important to note that for other billions of the poorest people, growth is a good thing. It does pull people out of poverty and meet their material and health needs. It also increases a person's access to education and life fulfillment.

Orr talked about how major growth was achieved from the military economy. The way we grew was from sprawl, and people eventually moved out of the cities such as the Rust Belt cities into suburbia. It sounds like Orr is talking about urban decay.

Lubber said that people in power support growth. She is referring to the financial world and the political world.

Van Jones pointed out that there are three crises right now. 1. recession 2. structural (jobs not coming back) 3. ecological

They mention "Managing Without Growth," a book by Peter Victor.

We need ecological investment and ecological enterprise. We need honest accounting and innovation in service business models. The major amendment to neoclassical economics is that there is now less nature and more people. Neoclassical economics itself was born during a time where natural resources seemed limitless.

In order to bring about a new world of ecological enterprise, we need ecopopulism. We need to spread the word and make a mass movement to demand this change.

How do we get there?
Currently, the structure of the economy is addicted to growth. At Oberlin, they are building models of sustainability.

Second plenary roundtable was on the Role of Science, Technology and Education in Greening the New Economy moderated by David Gergen (political analyst and Harvard University faculty), and the speakers were Michael Crow (President of the Arizona State University), Richard Freeman (professor of economics at Harvard), Martha Kanter (Under Secretary of the US Department of Education), Rush Holt (D-NJ), and Kyang-Ah Park (Veep of the Environmental Markets Group at Goldman Sachs).

It was not a great discussion, but it's also not really my main interest.

They said that the government had to invest $150 billion dollars to create 2 million jobs, which comes out to $75,000/person for 1 year.

Kanter talked about how people are dropping out of school so they're losing economic and social competitiveness. It's hard, though, because they're walking away from programs that already exist so the government is in this parental role of convincing people to look out for their own interests.

Crow had an interesting analysis that the National Defense Education Act left behind 80% of students, telling them that they didn't need a science education. This not only has to be reversed, but people need to be trained in systems thinking and education needs to be more interdisciplinary.

Park said something that was revealing when asked about whether Goldman Sachs and other corporations can take risks. She said that businesses "do take risk" but can't/won't invest in basic sciences and R&D because it's too risky, so government has to step into that role. Businesses can only fund development for technologies that are close to commercialization.

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