Getting off the beaten path (ISEE 2010)

Knowledge brokering24 Aug 2010

Forget sustainability, for now. First, we have to get through the bottleneck of the 21st century when the human population will peak at nine billion, the earth’s temperature will increase by 3-5 degrees Celcius and a significant portion of the planet’s biological diversity will disappear. “Two of today’s most overused words are ‘sustainability’ and ‘crisis’”, ISEE President John Gowdy said during the opening ceremony of the ISEE conference. As he introduced the overarching theme of the conference, ‘Sustainability in a Time of Crisis’, Mr. Gowdy stated that presently, we are so far from a sustainable world that it’s almost futile to talk about making the present system sustainable.

This is no time to play it safe. Yes, of course ecological economists should support policies as carbon taxes, promoting renewable energy and protecting the earth’s biodiversity. But Mr. Gowdy argued that it’s also necessary to get off the beaten path. We should reverse the damage already done and understand and eliminate the incentives for reckless growth embedded in the global socio-economic system.

Ecological economics has matured over the past few decades and could play a vital role in creating a sustainable human economy. In Mr. Gowdy’s eyes, the field is however suffering from what could be called a publicity problem. While mainstream economics as Jeffrey Sachs are advocating a message that is ecological economics in its core, they don’t call it that. It’ll be interesting to see if this conference can bring ecological economists a step closer to their goal of playing a leading role in the much-needed change of course in global economics, or at least give them a PR boost.