Guess What Trudeau Said About Growth?

By James Magnus-Johnston

James Magnus-JohnstonIn an appeal to Mr. Trudeau’s philosophical musings, I’ve written a letter to him listing five ways Canada can foster a better, more sustainable economy.

 

 

“There are a lot of people out there, environmental thinkers like Herman Daly and others, who talk about the fact that maybe endless growth within a finite system is not either possible or even desirable. Maybe we have to talk about shifting our focus so that instead of just growing, we’re actually developing and improving.” Maclean’s, “In conversation: Justin Trudeau” 2012

Justin Trudeau.Canadian Pacific

Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Photo Credit: Canadian Pacific.

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

Congratulations on winning a majority government. While most of the world appears to be fixated on your admirable hair and bone structure, I’m caught reflecting on these words you uttered a few years ago. I’m not surprised that I haven’t heard you repeat them recently, since very few world leaders adopt the rhetoric of the post-growth paradigm. But it’s clear that you have some fundamental knowledge of alternatives to growth.

If your handlers wouldn’t dare let you say such things on the campaign trail, it’s perhaps unlikely to think that you’ll adopt a steady state agenda during your term in office. On the other hand, what you said wasn’t printed in some obscure blog, taken out of context, or overheard in conversation. It was in a national platform, Maclean’s magazine, one of Canada’s largest newsmagazines. Your remarks appear to reveal some sincerity about your view of the world we’re currently inhabiting—a world with definable environmental limits to growth, like climate change.

Of course, the norms of the majority and rhetoric of the status quo can overwhelm the greatest idealists, especially in a centrist big-tent party like Canada’s liberal party. So I’m going to appeal to your not-so-long-lost philosophy by reminding you that many young folks are facing a bleak future. And I don’t just mean low-wage jobs. I mean a fear of catastrophic environmental breakdown, as evidenced by rapid methane releases in the Arctic and ocean acidification—both characteristics of climate change—as well as mass extinction. These are real, tangible manifestations of the limits to growth.

It’s going to be very hard to turn our atmosphere around, but we could adopt policies immediately to shift our focus “so that instead of just growing, we’re actually developing and improving.” Here are five practical ways to move us towards a better, more sustainable economy. After all, you’re the one that keeps reminding us that “in Canada, better is always possible.”

  1. Start counting some of the costs associated with GDP growth (formally or informally). Tar sands growth, for instance, has myriad costs associated with its expansion, including insured losses due to extreme weather, droughts, and floods, among other things. At the community level, some indigenous communities have no trouble getting funding for incarceration and diabetes treatments but can’t get funding for healthy food and community development. You could help turn this around.
  2. Finish what your father started experimenting with in Dauphin in 1978 and implement a basic income for all Canadians. Senator Hugh Segal has made a great case for why this is a practical idea.
  3. Consider a formal, nationwide price on carbon. You mentioned that you’d leave it to the provinces, but the only reason different provinces have different carbon pricing systems is because it’s taken so long for the federal government to get started on this in the first place. Much like the emergence of a national healthcare system, you could learn from the provincial early adopters and go nationwide.
  4. We have a central bank. Let’s start using it again for low-cost or even no-interest borrowing. If you have an ambitious infrastructure agenda, and want to do it without creating long-term debt, borrow from your own bank rather than the private banks. The debt-based private banking system has rather stupidly inflated the prices of commodities and housing for folks under the age of 40. That’s called “uneconomic growth,” and it’s fostering a generation of exploited Canadians.
  5. Help free up the working day, week, and year by encouraging greater work flexibility, like some European models. Full time employment for everyone is impossible to provide with low growth rates (like the present). Young people are the ones getting the shaft, and we’re well beyond the need for everyone to spend their lives toiling in low-wage jobs.

So, Mr. Trudeau, if you truly believe (as you said) that “maybe we have to talk about shifting our focus so that instead of just growing, we’re actually developing and improving,” I’ve just provided five examples of how your government can start doing that right away.

We recognize that the devil is in the details, and we’re here to help sort through them with you.

For a thriving, sustainable future,

James Magnus-Johnston

Canadian Director, Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE)

 

Adjusting the Fifth to a Finite Planet, Part II

by Eric Zencey

Editor’s Note: This is the second piece of a two-part post. You can read Part 1 here.

Eric ZenceyAmong the avenues by which Takings case law could be adapted to the reality of a finite planet are these three:

One: Change the default by changing the definition of what constitutes a reasonable investment expectation. It is no longer reasonable for an individual to expect to profit from using property in ways that would destroy or diminish the property’s ability to provide ecosystem services to the public at large. Instead of the general public having to pay property owners the going market rate for land burdened by regulation–a rate that reflects the most intensive economic use of the land that can be imagined by infinite-growth-believing, financial-risk-taking optimists–land owners would have to compensate the general public when their acts diminish the flow of ecosystems services.

Two: Change the default by promulgating the notion of an ecological servitude. All property that abuts navigable waters in the U.S. is held under a navigational servitude: the public’s interest in maintaining navigable waters trumps the interests of waterfront property owners. As Justice Jackson put it in United States v. Willow River Power Co., “Rights, property or otherwise, which are absolute against all the world are certainly rare, and water rights are not among them.” Given the legitimate authority of government to pursue the public interest in establishing and maintaining navigable waters, he said, “private interest [in the disposition of waterfront property] must give way to a superior right, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that, as against [the public interest represented through] the Government, such private interest is not a right at all.”

Under current interpretations of the servitude, when public authority exercises its power over navigation in ways that affect the interests of property owners, the public may not be required to pay compensation under the Takings Clause. Land abutting navigable waters has always been subject to this servitude, so the exercise of it does not necessarily constitute a taking or an unforeseeable loss for the property owner.

The notion of an ecological servitude would be constructed by analogy: the paramount interest the public has in maintaining the ecosystems on which civilization depends would supersede whatever particular interests individuals hold in parcels of property. Just as allowing uncontested trespass for a number of years establishes a presumptive public right of way, the public’s enjoyment of ecosystem services has long since established a presumptive right to the continued enjoyment of them. An ecological servitude would acknowledge this. A few cases decided on this ground would give undeniable constructive notice to property owners–a notice already implicit in legislation like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act–that the bundle of rights conveyed to them by title is subject to this limitation.

“Ecological servitude” is not yet a common phrase in legal circles. This should change as various strands of thought and action cohere around the concept, and as scholars discover that it is implicit in much common law and environmental legislation. A variety of groups and organizations (including the state of Louisiana) talk of conservation easements producing, in sum, a conservation servitude on particular parcels of land. An NGO in Costa Rica allows that it created the first ecological servitude in Central America in 1992.

Wetlands - Lisa Jacobs

Preserving the ecosystems that support civilization should not be financially prohibitive. Photo Credit: Lisa Jacobs

Three: Acknowledge that value in land is created as an externality of decisions made by others, and compensate accordingly. Under this approach, an environmental regulation might still offer grounds for a Takings claim, but the notion of what amounts to “just compensation” would be radically altered. Take the case that led the Court to decide that a demand for off-site compensatory restoration constitutes a taking. Developer Coy Koontz owned 15 acres near Orlando, mostly wetlands, and sought a permit to develop the land by filling some of it. He objected to the permit condition that he must pay for compensatory wetlands restoration elsewhere, refused the permit and brought suit. In a remarkable extension of Takings law, the court decided by a narrow majority that Koontz had suffered a taking even though wetlands filling permits are not granted automatically and even though he had not in fact had any property or money taken from him. What the St. Johns River Water Management District proposed to take from him was nothing more substantial than his expectation of getting a larger profit than he could get if he had to pay for mitigation. But why, exactly, could he expect any profit at all for developing and then selling his land? In central Florida as elsewhere, land values are mostly the result of decisions made by others–population growth and in-migration into the area, construction of nearby infrastructure including roads and schools and water service, and proximity to cultural developments that make the area an attractive place to live for some people. These are all decisions in which Koontz had no, or only a very minor, role. If much of the value of a piece of property is not a result of the owner’s efforts, but is a social creation, why should a private owner be compensated when part of that socially created value is retrieved by the public through regulation in pursuit of a legitimate public interest?

Credit Herman Daly and Joshua Farley with asking the question in their introductory Ecological Economics textbook: “Are individuals entitled to wealth created by society . . . or should this wealth belong to society as a whole?” A reasonable answer to that question would have the effect of diminishing considerably what constitutes “just compensation” under the Takings clause–a result that makes ecosystem-preserving public action less expensive, and thereby puts the continuation of civilization within easier reach of a public treasury that will become increasingly straitened as the era of high-EROI fossil fuel comes to an end.

*****

No matter what we do we’ll eventually have an ecologically sustainable civilization with a steady state economy, one that’s in dynamic balance with its host ecosystems. That’s because by definition an unsustainable system doesn’t last. We can make the transition haphazardly, through crisis, catastrophe, and collapse, at much cost in human pain and suffering, or we can anticipate the necessary changes and give ourselves a better, less brutal path forward. To find that path we’ll have to identify and correct infinite-planet suppositions wherever they are embedded in our system. Fifth Amendment Takings case law is one such place. Preserving the ecosystems that support civilization should not be financially prohibitive. Current Takings law says it should, and that’s why it needs to change.

Building a Movement for Happiness

by John de Graaf

John de GraafEditor’s note: this essay was first published in Truthout.

You probably missed it, but April 13, 2014, marked the third annual Pursuit of Happiness Day. April 13 just happens to be the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote those famous words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” into our Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson and other American revolutionary leaders including Washington, Adams and Franklin all believed that the main purpose of government was increasing the happiness of its citizens. They said so on many occasions. But the idea of government promoting happiness or its corollary, “wellbeing,” is more often derided in contemporary politics – “social engineering,” some call it.

One significant exception is the state of Vermont. In addition to electing the most progressive and independent of US senators, Bernie Sanders, Vermont has become a laboratory for promoting new ways of understanding and promoting happiness and wellbeing. Its governor, Peter Shumlin, has proclaimed Pursuit of Happiness Day in Vermont for the past three years. Its legislature, with support from Democrats, Republicans and Progressive Party members, has established a state GPI or Genuine Progress Indicator, that uses some two dozen measures of health, wealth, education, leisure and sustainability to measure progress (Maryland has the same index and other states may follow soon).

So it’s probably not surprising that Vermont has been the site of three of four national Happiness conferences in the US (Seattle hosted the other) and will be sponsoring the 5th Gross National Happiness Conference – Happiness and Wellbeing: Building a National Movement – in Burlington at the end of this month. Organizers hope the conference will help create a strategy for building public policies and personal change based on the goal of Sustainable and Equitable Wellbeing and Happiness.

Bhutan’s Challenge

The conference was inspired by a United Nations meeting, Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm, held in April 2012. At that meeting, then-Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigmi Thinley, declared that

The time has come for global action to build a new world economic system that is no longer based on the illusion that limitless growth is possible on our precious and finite planet or that endless material gain promotes wellbeing. Instead, it will be a system that promotes harmony and respect for nature and each other; that respects our ancient wisdom traditions and protects our most vulnerable people as our own family, and that gives us time to live and enjoy our lives and to appreciate rather than destroy our world. It will be an economic system, in short, that is fully sustainable and that is rooted in true abiding wellbeing and happiness.

Bhutan Monk - Credit-Otabi Kitahachi

Little Monk
Photo Credit: Otabi Kitahachi

The tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan, population 750,000 (about the same as Vermont), has been trying to measure and promote happiness as the goal of its government since its then-16-year old King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, proclaimed that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product” four decades ago. Its challenge to Gross National Product (now Gross Domestic Product), the standard by which other nations measure success, followed an earlier observation by US Senator Bobby Kennedy that GNP “measures, in short, everything except that which makes life worthwhile.”

As is now well-understood, GNP (or GDP) is a poor indicator of wellbeing – it measures the churn of money in a society. It creates an upside-down world in which many bad things – oil spills, traffic accidents, cancer, etc. – are measured positively because money must be spent to alleviate them, while many things essential to wellbeing – housework, volunteering, natural beauty, good health, etc. – are not counted at all (prompting Kennedy’s comments). The Genuine Progress Indicators used in Vermont and Maryland are attempts to correct these clear design flaws in GDP.

Bhutan has brought leading experts in many disciplines from around the world to guide its progress toward its goal of Gross National Happiness. The country currently conducts bi-annual surveys to measure the wellbeing and happiness of its people, measuring progress in nine areas or “domains” of life considered especially important for happiness, including: physical health; mental health; education; quality of governance; social support and community vitality; environmental quality; time balance; access to arts, culture and recreation, and material wellbeing. In this model, material wellbeing – the primary goal of GDP – matters, but as only one of several important factors.

Bhutan has also created a “happiness policy tool” that allow lawmakers to understand the longer-term implications of proposed legislation on each domain of happiness. Its 24-member Gross National Happiness Commission evaluates major policy proposals using this tool and advises Bhutan’s parliament regarding their likely impact. For example, using the tool, Bhutan turned down an offer to join the World Trade Organization. The proposal scored only 42 of 92 possible points in the GNH Commission analysis; 69 points are required for a positive recommendation.

The New Science of Happiness

In the days of Jefferson, it wasn’t really possible to measure and assess national happiness and its causes. But in the past couple of decades, a new science of happiness, driven by advances in positive psychology and extensive studies of the brain, has allowed researchers to more thoroughly understand happiness and its roots in both public policy and human behavior. Gallup polls 1,000 Americans daily regarding their life satisfaction using a popular tool called the Cantril ladder: Perhaps not surprisingly, Americans are 20 percent happier on weekends than on workdays.

Gallup also uses the ladder and other measures to assess the happiness of 150 countries in the world each year. Consistently, northern European nations rank on top, with Denmark in the number one spot (at 7.7 out of 10) year after year. The United States, which ranked 11th in 2007, has dropped to 17th place (7.0 out of 10) since the great economic meltdown. Several factors in particular characterize the world’s happiest countries – a relatively small gap between rich and poor; excellent work-life balance; urban design favoring community over cars; high degrees of interpersonal trust; a strong social safety net, and, contrary to popularly-held US ideas, the highest tax rates in the world.

Putting Happiness First

Organizers of the Vermont conference hope to launch a movement that puts happiness and wellbeing at the forefront of policy ideas and educational goals. The event features more than 50 prominent speakers, including Vermont state Senator Anthony Pollina, author of the Vermont GPI legislation, Linda Wheatley and Tom Barefoot, lead organizers of GNHUSA, the Vermont organization that has been the primary conference organizer, Laura Musikanski of the Happiness Alliance based in Seattle, John Havens of Hacking H(app)iness and a writer for the British newspaper The Guardian. (Full disclosure: This author is also a speaker.)

Ph

Bhutan’s Four Pillars of GNH
Photo Credit: Ritwick Dutta

“Bhutan may have first suggested that happiness and wellbeing be the primary focus of policymaking,” says Linda Wheatley, conference organizer and co-founder of Vermont-based GNHUSA, “but now, as we face indicators of economic, social and environmental distress, the whole world is seeing the value of that shift in orientation. It’s time for an informed and inspired grassroots movement. We’re thrilled to be part of that effort and invite everyone else to join us.”

Participants will gather to share the tools, skills and resources for building happiness initiatives in other towns and cities across the country. The formal conference, on Thursday and Friday, will explore four content areas: Policy and Community Engagement; the Power of Data; Developing Happiness Skills, and Movement Building. Each segment will include a keynote and plenary presentations by well-known academics and activists in a variety of related fields, followed by workshops for further skill development. The very practical efforts currently underway in Vermont will be an important focus of the conversation.

The formal conference, on Thursday, May 29 and Friday, May 30, will be followed on the weekend by a series of add-on trainings including a focus on spiritual traditions and on conducting happiness surveys and using happiness policy tools in local communities.

Until now, what has been happening in Bhutan, and more recently, in the state of Vermont, has been under the radar of most Americans. Conference organizers hope this gathering will help change that.

“We’ll be looking at best practices to improve wellbeing and happiness from throughout the world,” says Tom Barefoot of GNHUSA.

At a time when so much of our news is a litany of inequality and environmental destruction, making happiness our goal instead of more money, stuff and consumerism is common sense. The scientific evidence shows that social connection, participation, good health and access to nature matter far more for wellbeing than an ever-growing GDP. It’s time for that evidence to get out there more widely.

Negative Externalities Are the Norm

by Rob Dietz

Here’s a crazy but true fact: negative externalities are the norm — not the exception — in our current economic setup. Failure to recognize this fact has created a wild divergence between theory and practice when it comes to managing harm caused by economic activity.

The Backstory

When I was a kid, my family took a one-week vacation each summer. In the middle of August, we always went to the same place — the beach at Nags Head, North Carolina. The trip was a yearly highlight, and I could always tell it was approaching by the heap of towels, beach toys, and fishing gear that would accumulate by the door that led to the garage. On the day of departure, my dad would come home early from work, and my sister and I would wedge ourselves into the backseat of the car, which was already close to full capacity on account of the cooler hogging half of the seat space and the bags of food and sundries on the floor.

I had to steel myself for the ten- to twelve-hour drive from Atlanta to Nags Head. Although fighting for real estate with my sister in the cramped backseat was bad, the boredom of highway travel was worse. But worst of all, both of my parents smoked — Marlboro Lights for mom and Dutchmaster cigars for dad. When one of them would light up, I’d let out an overly dramatic sigh and ask them to open the window. They’d comply by cracking the window ever so slightly, trying to maintain the air conditioner’s advantage in its battle against the late-summer heat of the South. The haze that hung inside the car made it seem like one of those “designated smoking areas” in an airport.

It was a rough journey, but it was well worth it. The Outer Banks of North Carolina held a mystical quality in my childhood mind. It was the land of endless waves, the Wright Brothers, towering dunes, and pirate stories, all steeped in the smells of salt air and sunscreen. When I was eleven years old, something happened to sweeten the deal. My father invited me to attend the early morning fishing expeditions with the men. That was hallowed ground. Prior to the invitation, I had been relegated to the inspection crew. I’d wait for the crusty fishermen to return at mid-morning from their trip to the secret fishing hole, and I’d rush to the car when they arrived to survey their catch, which often included speckled trout, croaker, flounder, red drum, bluefish, and spot.

That invitation was the start of improved relations between me and my dad. We developed a better understanding of one another through the easy conversations that fill the downtime during a slow morning of fishing. We also developed a shared attachment to place — a mostly unspoken appreciation for where we were and what we were able to do there. Like many other fathers and sons, I bonded with my dad during the simple act of throwing a line in the water and hoping to catch a fish.

The Negative Externality

Arrrrgggghhhh!!!!

I get visibly upset when I see a sign that warns about the dangers of eating a fish caught from a given body of water. A fish consumption advisory has an uncanny ability to launch me into a scathing diatribe. Really? Have we become so reckless and so complacent that we accept polluted waters and toxic fish — that our best course of action is to stick a warning sign in the ground?

These days I live near the banks of the Willamette River, which tumbles down from central Oregon’s Cascade Mountains and flows gently north to its confluence with the Columbia River in Portland. The Oregon Department of Human Services issues the following warnings about resident fish in the Willamette:

Children 6 years of age or younger should not eat more than one 4-ounce fish meal every 7 weeks.  Women of childbearing age, especially those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, should not eat more than one 8-ounce fish meal per month.  Women past the age of childbearing, children older than 6 years and all other healthy adults may safely consume up to one 8-ounce fish meal per week.

The agency issues these warnings because the fish store dangerous levels of mercury, PCBs, dioxins, and chlorinated pesticide residues in their bodies. Given one word to summarize why these fish are contaminated, I’d say, “externalities.”

The Definition

N. Gregory Mankiw, a prominent professor of economics and textbook author, writes that an externality “arises when a person engages in an activity that influences the well-being of a bystander and yet neither pays nor receives any compensation for that effect” (Mankiw, Principles of Economics, Fourth Edition, p. 204). So a negative externality occurs when an economic activity produces harm, and the people suffering from that harm receive no compensation. A good synonym for “negative externality” is “side effect” — an unintended but unmitigated consequence.

Toxic fish in the Willamette River are the result of externalities from a host of economic activities, including mining, electricity production, farming, manufacturing, and urban development. These activities (at least the way we do them today) generate pollution, a cost that is externalized by the polluters, and that pollution finds its way into the river and into the bodies of the fish. As a result, I’m less inclined to fish in the Willamette, less inclined to take my daughter fishing there, and less likely to have the same bonding experience with her that I had with my dad.

The Theory for Managing Externalities

Economists tend to cast negative externalities as an unfortunate, but fixable, part of the market economy. The standard suggestion for fixing them is to impose taxes on externality-producing activities. For example, burning coal in a power plant causes mercury pollution. The cost of this mercury pollution is externalized by the power company and born by society (e.g., those of us who want to go fishing with our children). If the government places a tax on the amount of coal burned, the power company will burn less, and depending on the size of the tax, the government can force the power company to internalize the full costs associated with burning coal (assuming we can put a cost on the pollution, and that’s a BIG assumption).

Another possible fix is to arrange for the polluter to compensate those who bear the cost of the pollution. In the example of the power plant causing mercury pollution, the power company would pay compensation to my family (in theory, the compensation should be equal to the dollar amount at which my daughter and I value the experience of catching clean fish from a clean river). The compensation acts in the same way as the tax to internalize the costs for the polluter.  In an economics textbook, you’d see something like the following diagram, which shows how supply shifts in response to a tax.

MSB = marginal social benefit; MPC = marginal private cost; MSC = marginal social cost. A tax or compensation scheme moves supply from MPC to MSC, which increases price and lowers the quantity supplied.

Theory and Reality Diverge

The theory sounds good, but it rarely makes its way into reality. In the market, as firms work to maximize their profits, they strive to maximize revenues while minimizing costs. A sure-fire way to minimize costs is to externalize as many of them as possible. In practice, if a corporation wants to minimize the costs of environmental protection, it can move its operation to a nation with lax environmental laws. It can do the same or find various “innovative” ways to avoid paying other costs, while passing them on to the rest of society. In the context of today’s economic game, this is a sound strategy. If the objective of the game is profit maximization, then a winning player will externalize as many costs as possible.

As corporations have gotten better and better at this game, they have accrued higher and higher profits, and gained more and more influence. This influence often extends into the legislative bodies and regulatory agencies that could, in theory, prevent the inefficiency and injustice associated with negative externalities. It has become politically challenging, to say the least, for a government to place an externality-correcting tax on a corporate activity.

What about the other path proposed by economists — the path of compensation? This path falls apart for several reasons when trying to make the leap from the classroom to the real world. First and foremost, a profit-maximizing firm has a strong incentive to avoid paying such compensation. Even if a “good corporate citizen” wanted to pay compensation, it would be taking a risk — its competitors would be able to charge a lower price and potentially outcompete it in the quest for market share and profits.

Second, think about the complexity of tracing a negative externality back to its source. In the case of the river and fish, many economic entities have played a role in causing the pollution. Which ones should offer compensation? Which people should receive compensation?

Third, compensation may do very little to solve the problem. Even if the power company offered me monetary compensation, I’d still be upset that I can’t take my daughter fishing. I’m one of those people (the 99% in my estimation) who would rather have a modest income coupled with full opportunities for health and happiness, instead of a huge income coupled with degraded environmental and social conditions.

The Real Solution

In today’s cultural setting, my parents never would have smoked in the car on our trip to Nags Head. The external costs of their habit (i.e., increased odds of health problems for their children) have become much more present in the public consciousness. The dangers of secondhand smoke are now well known, and smoking, especially around children, has become frowned upon. Cultural change, therefore, can play a role in curbing negative externalities, but it is often slow to arrive and incomplete. For example, when society got fed up with the worst cases of water pollution (e.g., rivers catching on fire), the culture of environmentalism generated the political will to pass new water quality laws. Over the years, the cultural change and laws have prompted big improvements to water quality, but we still have plenty of waterways that are unsafe for swimming and fishing.

So the question is “What can we do besides wait for the culture to evolve?” For starters, let’s stop viewing externalization of costs as a small flaw that can be fixed with a few taxes or minor governmental interventions. It’s a huge flaw that’s built into the system. And that means we need to change the system.

In the boardroom, instead of working to minimize private costs, business leaders need to be working to minimize social costs. It doesn’t strengthen the economy or society when a company inflicts long-term environmental or social harm to maximize short-term profits. The game needs to be revised, therefore, to free businesses from this constraint of profit maximization. A vast accounting infrastructure exists to measure profits — there are rules, highly paid accountants, and entire corporate departments dedicated to counting up revenues and costs. But there is no such infrastructure for counting up a firm’s social and environmental impacts. We need to rethink the basic model of commerce to prevent and clean up the negative externalities that flow from today’s model.  This rethinking process is more important now than ever before — negative externalities are piling up and becoming increasingly threatening (e.g., global warming) as nations and corporations continue their pursuit of unending economic growth on our finite planet.

I hope we can speed up the cultural shift and change the economic framework. I really want to go fishing with my daughter.

Neoclassical Economist Recants Key Article of Faith

by Eric Zencey

Mark this down as minor good news: in Vermont, a neoclassical economist who has long served as a media “go-to guy” for commentary on economic matters appears to have recanted a key element of the neoclassical model. He didn’t put it in those terms, and the scope of his readership is rarely larger than his (and my) home state, but still, this counts as progress.

The element of the neoclassical model that has come under critical scrutiny in the Vermont press lately is the notion that GDP — a measure of the dollar value of all goods and services produced by the economy — is a practical and useful measure of economic well-being. It’s not hard to see why GDP is being re-thought: last month tropical storm Irene dumped tropical-rainforest quantities of water on the state in just a few hours, leading to major damage from unprecedented flooding. Rivers filled their flood plains and kept rising, sweeping away roads, bridges, and houses, ruining homes, lives, farms, and communities. The publicly owned infrastructure is being put back with great speed and efficiency (and should be in good shape for the upcoming foliage season, so if you’ve planned a visit don’t think that you need to cancel). That repair work is the source of some economic confusion. The construction industry had been slumping; now workers are busy, doing productive things, getting paid. Is all this public works effort a net benefit to the economy, or not?

GDP says yes, absolutely. Common sense — and steady-state economic theory — says no.

GDP smiles on this scene.

GDP gets it wrong because it fails to take into account the ongoing benefit we derive from the services of physical wealth that’s already in place — public and private infrastructure that is paid for and in use. My car is a capital investment that provides me with transportation services; if I own it, the only aspect of its delivery of services that shows up in GDP comes from the spending I do on operating costs and maintenance. And perversely, if gas prices go up so does GDP — telling us that because there’s more spending, the economy must be delivering more economic benefit. If I make the switch to renting a car rather than owning it, the rental fee shows up as a monetary transaction and gets counted in GDP — though there’s no net increase in the quantity of services I’m getting. Those services count in GDP only if I pay for them incrementally and continually (and don’t get an equity stake in my vehicle).

The same miscounting happens with the services provided by (non-rental) housing, roads, bridges, etc.: the ongoing benefit is simply not counted. GDP is an indicator for amnesiacs. It has no memory, no room to allow that the economy has been operating for quite a while and has produced forms of durable wealth — things like buildings and bridges and roads and communications systems — that continue to be useful long after they’ve been paid for.

So, when disaster leads to major new spending, a by-the-book accounting has to say: GDP is up, so we must be better off. The downside — the loss of wealth (and the loss of services derived from that wealth) can’t show up in the books because it wasn’t counted in the first place. Disaster looks to be good for business, good for the economy, good for us; within the limits of neoclassical concepts, tools, and analysis, when we repair storm damage the result is “net positive.”

Will Vermont end up net positive in economic benefits as it repairs the damage from Irene? There are additional complexities when we ask such a question about a particular location or region, and the answer is “it depends.” The net economic effect of damage and repair for any one location depends in part on where the funding comes from — whether it is raised within or outside the economy being considered. (At the macro level, there is no “outside,” and the answer is no.) If Vermont’s repairs are paid for with money from outside the state — from the Federal government, say, through FEMA grants — disaster repair might or might not have a net positive effect in the state; it may or may not exceed the loss of wealth from the disaster. If there is a net positive effect, the surplus comes either from deficit spending by the central government, or through direct transfer of resources (through Federal taxes) from other states. If it’s a transfer, it represents loss of purchasing power and economic activity in the areas from which the money is transferred: there’s been no net gain in the system, just a shift in who benefits and who pays. If the funding comes from deficit spending, the stimulus may be just what’s needed to put people back to work, but there is still a shift: the transfer is inter-generational rather than geographic. Wealth creation that might have occurred later, benefiting a future generation, has been brought forward to benefit us.

This wouldn’t be a problem in an economic system on an infinite planet. In a world without resource constraints, deficit-financed investment can always increase the amount of production in the future, and the deficit can be repaid from that increase. Thus, on an infinite planet it would be possible for both the present and the future to benefit from our deficit spending today. But on our planet, with an economy built beyond the limits of what’s sustainable, expanding production today diminishes the wealth and well-being of people in the future. On a finite planet at maximum capacity, there’s no room to expand the economy’s ecological footprint without causing harms and losses, and economic growth today is a transfer of wealth and well-being from the future to the present.

Casting up GDP accounts, even when corrected this way, doesn’t begin to measure the personal and social costs of the damage — people’s loss of livelihoods and secure expectations, their loss of the personal effects that help define them and their familial and community relations, and sometimes — as when farmland is poisoned by toxins in floodwaters and herds and breeding stock are swept to their deaths — their loss of a known, satisfying way of life in a familiar landscape. When those softer, less quantifiable costs are included, it’s very hard to think that the catastrophe in Vermont had any sort of net positive benefit.

But economics as neoclassicists practice it slices off those less quantifiable aspects of well-being and looks at cold, hard cash. In those strictly monetary terms, disaster looks good for business, and more business looks good for Americans. That’s the flaw in GDP that one neoclassical economist has recanted in his latest appearance in our local media.

I interviewed this particular economist by phone in 2009, when I was putting together an op-ed piece on the shortcomings of GDP for the New York Times. When I asked the professor about the perverse way GDP tallied the results of Hurricane Katrina ($82 billion in property damage, so an $82 billion boost to GDP if all the damage were to be repaired), he defended GDP. “That figure is going to include a lot of improvements,” he said. “Those people are getting new cars, new carpets, new refrigerators.” Notice that this way of thinking gives a disciplinary seal of approval (“100% rational behavior”) to a very uneconomic, irrational exchange: you’d be crazy to pay the cost of complete destruction of your household in order to get incremental upgrades of some of the things it contains.

While it isn’t always possible to map theoretical insight directly from individual households to the larger household of planet earth, here I think we can. Because GDP doesn’t count the flow of services from existing household wealth as an economic benefit, GDP fails to treat destruction of that wealth as a cost item, and so it treats reconstruction of that household wealth as a net gain. Ditto when we look at the whole system: in the planetary household GDP fails to count ecosystem services as a benefit, and so fails to count ecosystem destruction as a cost item, and so makes continual economic growth look like a net gain. Because of our shoddy accounting, we’re destroying the ecosystems that support civilization, often to get nothing more than an incremental upgrade to the wealth we already have. At some point, we’ve got to admit that this is uneconomic, irrational: crazy.

This far the go-to economist didn’t go, at least not as he was quoted in the paper. But fixing our accounting system is a commonsense idea that subverts infinite planet thinking, and in what he did say the neoclassical economist showed that he had taken the first step on that path. He allowed that Tropical Storm Irene wasn’t an economic boon to Vermont, because “there’s a tremendous amount of wealth that’s destroyed, and that’s not a good thing.” Having recognized the existence of that already-built wealth, he should be ready to take the next (logical!) step: start measuring that wealth and start counting the services we derive from it as part of our economic benefit. That means getting beyond GDP, which focuses on the now, the moment, the instantaneous rate of change in our market-based economic activity.

Getting off of GDP and implementing an accounting system with a memory will prove to be the first step on a path to broader changes. If we take into account the services we derive from our considerable stock of built wealth, and also take into account the services we derive from our considerable-but-declining stock of natural wealth, we’re led by inexorable logic to re-evaluate the concept of economic growth. When we have a system of economic accounting that includes all costs and all benefits, it will be easier to see that much economic growth is uneconomic, because it costs more in degradation of ecosystem services and other costs than it brings in benefits. Once we get over GDP it will be easier to see that the only sane, sustainable economic doctrine is one that calls on us to live within our current solar income, a steady-state flow of matter and energy through the economy. By then this truth will have become self-evident: on a finite planet, we can’t grow the economy’s ecological footprint forever.

If, thanks to unprecedented storm damage, neoclassical economists are led to reject the valuations offered by GDP and follow their thinking to this conclusion, then unprecedented weather events like Irene may yet prove to have a net positive economic effect: they will have nudged economic theory onto the path to a sane, rational, sustainable, steady-state economy.

Top 10 Songs for the Steady State

by Rob Dietz

I have a friend who sees the end of the world coming soon.  When he ponders the limits to economic growth, climate destabilization, and other ecological and economic problems, he tends to fall into a state of malaise.  I understand to some degree where he’s coming from – I’m not one to hide my head in the sand and ignore or deny the profound problems we face.  But given the amount of time that I spend contemplating the limits to growth, I can’t afford to get mired in the swamps of doom and gloom.  The main way I keep a positive perspective is by working to change the root cause (i.e., pursuit of growth everlasting) of our ecological overshoot.  A steady state economy that can meet people’s needs and exist within healthy environmental systems is a truly inspiring idea.

I also do some other things to keep a positive perspective.  For example, I like to play and listen to music regularly.  Music speaks to most of us in a way that no other art form can – we all have special songs that touch our souls.  Before I go any further with this line of thought, I need to provide a brief disclaimer about my musical taste.  I grew up in the 1980s on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 radio program.

Besides indoctrinating me on some suspect styles, songs and sounds, American Top 40 taught me a lesson.  It demonstrated how fun and addictive countdowns can be.  In the spirit of keeping things light-hearted, I thought it would be interesting to compose a top-ten list of songs with a steady state theme.  In descending order below, I’ve listed the title of the song, the performer, the album on which the song appears, and some choice lyrics.  I’m sure that I’ve missed some good ones, so please feel free to comment on your favorites.  I have also made a YouTube playlist in case you find yourself in a steady state mood.  And now, on with the countdown…

10. The Finest Worksong
R.E.M.
Document
(1987)

Take your instinct by the reins
Your better best to rearrange
What we want and what we need
Has been confused, been confused

9. Can’t Buy Me Love
by The Beatles
(1964)

Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy
I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love

8. Excuse Me Mr.
by Ben Harper
Fight for Your Mind
(1995)

Excuse me Mr.
But isn’t that your oil in the sea
And the pollution in the air Mr.
Whose could that be
So excuse me Mr.
But I’m a mister too
And you’re givin’ Mr. a bad name
Mr. like you

7. All U Can Eat
by Ben Folds
Sunny 16
(2003)

Son, look at all the people in this restaurant
What do you think they weigh
And out the window to the parking lot
At their SUV’s taking all the space
They give no @#%!
They talk as loud as they want
They give @#%!
Just as long as there’s enough for them

6. Nothing but Flowers
by The Talking Heads
Naked (1988)

I miss the honky tonks
Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
You got it, you got it
And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
You got it, you got it

5. Paradise
by John Prine
John Prine
(1971)

Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man

4. Fake Plastic Trees
by Radiohead
The Bends
(1995)

She lives with a broken man
A cracked polystyrene man
Who just crumbles and burns
He used to do surgery
For girls in the eighties
But gravity always wins

3.  Big Yellow Taxi
by Joni Mitchell
Ladies of the Canyon
(1970)

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

2. Society
by Eddie Vedder and Jerry Hannan
Into the Wild
motion picture soundtrack (2007)

It’s a mystery to me
We have a greed with which we have agreed
And you think you have to want more than you need
Until you have it all you won’t be free

1. Imagine
by John Lennon
Imagine
(1971)

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

Bonus Track:  Corporation Day
by Dan O’Neill, CASSE Director of European Operations

Chapters

CASSE chapters provide opportunities to collaborate on activities to advance the steady state economy. A chapter can cover one of a variety of geographic scales:

  • College or university campus
  • City or county
  • State or province
  • Nation
  • Watershed, ecoregion, or other geographic region

Chapter directors, in consultation with CASSE staff, determine the activities undertaken by the chapter. Chapters can work on projects such as gaining support for the CASSE position on economic growth, developing outreach materials, and arranging speaking engagements.

If you want to get involved with a chapter, please use the contact information provided in the directory below. If you are interested in starting a new chapter, please download the chapter guidelines and contact us. Also see our Staff page, if you do not see a chapter director in your area.


Directory of CASSE Chapters

Albany Chapter

Location:  Albany, New York, USA

Director:  Ted Lawrence

Ted is an Energy and Environmental Policy Analyst for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). His primary responsibilities involve energy modeling, forecasting, policy and economic analysis in support of statewide energy planning and climate action planning. He is also co-chair of the Education and Outreach sub-committee of NYSERDA’s Sustainability Committee. Outside of NYSERDA, Ted is President and Executive Director of the Foundation for Developing Sustainable Societies, a nonprofit organization committed to environmental conservation and sustainable development in Mesoamerica. He has also served as a full-time visiting instructor in Siena College’s Economics Department. Ted’s interdisciplinary education includes public policy, system dynamics, sustainability, ecological economics, biodiversity conservation, and anthropology.

Contact: Ted’s email


Australian Capital Territory Chapter

Location: Canberra, Australia

jonathan millerDirector: Jonathan Miller

Jonathan works to raise awareness of global limits to growth and advocates the need to move to a steady-state economy. He has been involved most of his adult life in nature conservation, mainly working with the Australian Government, but also as a volunteer, committee member or employee of conservation non-government organisations.  Jonathan moved his focus to his current work when he realised that Earth’s biodiversity would never be secured long-term without addressing the underlying drivers of environmental damage. Jonathan has degrees in forest science and mathematics/statistics, has researched economics extensively, and advised the ACT Government and an Australian Senator on economic policy.

Contact: Jonathan’s email


Boston Chapter

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Eric VerploegenDirector:  Eric Verploegen

Eric is a materials scientist with a Ph.D. in Polymer Science and Technology from MIT who works on developing chemical treatment processes to reduce the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction.  He a member of the Echoing Green Social Investment Council and enthusiastically supports the social enterprises movement.  Eric believes that the proliferation of organizations that operate to maximize social and environmental well being while being financially sustainable is a critical component of the path toward a steady state economy.

Contact: Eric’s email


Cádiz Chapter

Location: Cádiz, Spain

Andrew FanningDirector: Andrew Fanning

Andrew is a PhD candidate at the University of Cádiz in Spain that is applying the concept of a steady state economy to his studies and personal life. He became convinced of the urgent need to speak out about the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental sustainability while completing his Master’s in Development Economics at Dalhousie University in Halifax (Canada). Andrew is perplexed by the difficulties he faces when trying to lead a sustainable lifestyle and deeply disturbed by the ‘growth imperative’ built into our socio-economic institutions. He strives to enjoy life while providing the necessary resources for his family to live a comfortable lifestyle within the limits of a finite planet.

Contact: Andrew’s Email


Colombia Chapter

Location: Santiago de Cali, Colombia

FabioDirector: Fabio Arias

Fabio Arias is Professor of Economics at the Universidad del Valle, Colombia. He has been responsible for several courses on sustainability where the Steady State Economy is a subject of constant analysis. His research has focused on collective choice and sustainability, particularly, how the policy of municipal territorial ordering promotes actions for sustainability. In Colombia, all municipalities must develop a land use plan that is participatory and fully considers the economic and environmental aspects. The results of his research confirms that cities are machines of growth, in the sense that local actors promote economic growth, while alternative movements towards sustainability are derived from synergies with strong community leaders in association with state sections that promote social welfare and environmental policy.

Contact: Fabio’s email


Hong Kong Chapter

Location:  Hong Kong, China

Claudio DelangDirector:  Claudio Delang

Claudio is a geographer working at the Hong Kong Baptist University. He has a background in economics, geography, and environmental studies, and has been working for the last 15 years in rural areas in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam) and China. He is interested in particular in people’s livelihoods, and the conflicts that emerge around the resources people depend on, and are denied by more powerful groups (for example through land grabbing for plantations or mining, or zoning for national park) and how this is presented as ‘economic development’. Through his work, he has become interested in the economics, social, and environmental failures of the growth economy. He is very keen in organizing activities in Hong Kong to contribute to the debate as to whether further economic growth is desirable, and the costs that accompany it. He welcomes your E-mails.

Contact: Claudio’s email


London, Ontario Chapter

Location: London, Ontario, Canada

Juan Cardona

Director: Juan Cardona

Juan has plans to start a Master’s Degree in Public Administration at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. He works for the local government in the Community Services Division as a financial analyst. He also holds a postgraduate degree in Management & Quality and a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at EAFIT University Medellin, Colombia. Juan is making efforts to apply the ideas of Steady State Economics to himself first. He feels strongly about how the philosophy of the Steady State Economy is a good response to the current problems facing the world and how it can achieve effective improvements in the levels of consciousness and well being for all humanity. He also wants to help influence public policy and educate society about the need of building sustainability in a world of limited resources.

Contact: Juan’s Email


London Chapter

Location: London, UK

Desmond KilroyDirector: Desmond Kilroy

Desmond developed an interest in sustainable economics while doing an Msc Sustainable Development at the onset of the current financial crisis. His main professional interest is in the aspirational values of the sustainability agenda, i.e., ecological stability, social equity and economic efficiency. For six years he worked at the UK Empty Homes Agency as a consultant to the UK local authority sector on regeneration issues. Other experience includes managing NGO projects to create sustainable development benefits and some international development experience. In 2010 Desmond started a new organisation for sustainable development advocacy, Democratic Planet Capital (DPC) specifically focused on the systemic barriers that hinder sustainability and innovative financial mechanisms.

Contact: Desmond’s email


Los Angeles Chapter

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Woolman, Forrest, 2016 PhotoDirector: Forrest Woolman

Forrest Woolman became an advocate for the steady state economy after reading Supply Shock in 2014. Coming from a background of working on sustainable solutions, as a volunteer for the organization Common Cause, Forrest recognizes the need for increasing awareness of limits to growth and the steady state solution in local communities. Engaging in discussions with groups and individuals, Forrest encourages people to re-evaluate their beliefs about living in an economic system focused on increasing consumption. Forrest teaches accounting and business management through MBO Partners, Inc., and infuses these courses with big-picture thinking about sustainability, including the need for a steady state economy. Forrest was the controller for 9 years, from 2006 – 2015, working with the Independent Living Center of Southern California and with the Los Angeles Urban League. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science from UCLA and a graduate CPA certificate at Santa Monica College. He will complete his Master’s Degree in Sustainability, through the University of Saint Francis, in June 2016. Forrest likes to travel and camp with his wife, hike with his dog, and play drums, bass, piano and flute.

Contact: Forrest’s Email


Maine Chapter

Location: Argyle, Maine, United States

Steve CoghlanDirector: Steve Coghlan

Steve earned a Ph.D. in Environmental and Forest Biology from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York, where he studied fisheries ecology and management. Currently, he is Associate Professor of Freshwater Fisheries Ecology in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology at the University of Maine. He teaches courses in General Ecology, Ecological Statistics, Freshwater Fisheries Ecology and Management, and Biophysical and Ecological Economics; his current research focuses on ecological consequences of dam removal and restoration of native fishes. He lives in rural Argyle Township, Maine with his wife Jen and their four dogs and four cats, where he enjoys trying to live gently on the land and reducing his fossil-fuel consumption and ecological footprint by organic gardening, raising livestock, hunting, fishing, foraging, and harvesting firewood.

Contact: Steve’s Email


Milwaukee Chapter

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States

Jim CarpenterDirector: Jim Carpenter

Jim teaches Ecological Economics at Milwaukee Area Technical College and has a M.A. in Economics and a B.S. in Engineering. He has integrated the principles of the CASSE Position Statement into his economic courses. He teaches that full employment can be achieved without real GDP growth if the population stops growing. Jim lives simply, uses public transit, vacations locally, and lives in a small condo with his wife.

Contact: Jim’s Email


New South Wales Chapter

Location: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Anna SchlunkePhoto of Haydn WashingtonCo-Directors: Anna Schlunke and Haydn Washington

Anna is a chemical engineer with a PhD in reaction kinetics (from Sydney University) who works in the area of sustainable buildings, primarily creating algorithms to model building water use, greenhouse gas emissions and thermal comfort.  Anna grew up in country NSW, where she lived in an off-the-grid mudbrick house (built by her father). It was a frugal but magical childhood. She is saddened by the comparative emptiness of affluent modern lifestyles (particularly in the city) and frustrated to find herself in a system that is destroying the planet. Anna co-runs a blog as an outlet for her ideas, worries and questions about sustainability and politics.

Haydn is an environmental scientist, writer, and activist with a 38 year history in environmental science. He is a Visiting Fellow and Sessional Lecturer in the Institute of Environmental Science at the University of  NSW, and has worked in CSIRO, environmental NGOs (e.g. Director of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW), and as Director of Sustainability Projects at Willoughby City council from 2007-2009. His interests are sustainability (in all its forms) and solving the environmental crisis, and his books include Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand (2011) and Human Dependence on Nature (2013).

Contact: Anna’s email and Haydn’s email


Nicaragua Chapter

Location: Managua, Nicaragua

ClaudiaDirector:  Claudia Múnera Roldán

As a biologist, Claudia’s main interest is conservation of biodiversity. With working experience in Colombia, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, she has been involved in many conservation related projects, including endangered species, protected areas, bird watching tourism, invasive species, and recently climate change adaptation. This was how she became interested in the economic, social, and cultural issues behind the traditional economic growth model that is happening worldwide. She has a Master’s in World Heritage and Cultural Projects for Development from ITCILO and University of Turin, and her current research is related with the social aspects of conservation, looking for a way to reconcile nature conservation with society through a biocultural heritage approach. At this moment, Claudia is based in Managua, where she works as an independent consultant. She will be gathering more people and organizations in Nicaragua that are concerned about the problems of economic growth regarding the reality of our environment.

Contact: Claudia’s email


Northern Rivers Chapter

Location: Northern Rivers, New South Wales, Australia

Peter BrennanDirector: Peter Brennan

Peter Brennan is an academic with a PhD in ecology and natural resource management from the University of Hawaii.  He has been an Academic Director with SIT Study Abroad for 20 years, and currently directs an undergraduate program focused on Sustainability and Environmental Action. The program is cross-disciplinary and includes eco-psychology, environmental philosophy, ecology, ecological economics, and sustainability science.  Previously, Peter taught at the University of Auckland, New Zealand; Queensland University of Technology; and the University of Hawaii. He has also worked as a consultant ecologist and environmental planner in both Hawaii and Australia.

Contact: Peter’s email


Norway Chapter (click here to visit the Norway webpage)

Location: Oslo, Norway

Director:  Tormod Burkey
Tormod is a conservation biologist with a Ph.D. from Princeton University

on how to protect biodiversity and endangered species. He spent three years in Papua New Guinea as the Environment Programme Manager for the UN. He has served on the boards of the Rainforest Foundation and the Norwegian Carnivore and Raptor Foundation, advised parliamentarians on environmental policy, co-founded a wolf advocacy group, and is active with the Norwegian Green Party. He believes that political will is the limiting factor in bringing about meaningful change, not necessarily a lack of knowledge. Therefore he is drawn toward activism more than research.

Contact: Tormod’s email


Ottawa Chapter

Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

WeinglassDirector:  Joanne Waisglass

Joanne works in the field of public relations and communications in Ottawa, Ontario. She holds a graduate diploma in public relations from Algonquin College, as well as an Hons B.A. in political science with a specialization in international relations from Carleton University. Her career focus is on corporate social responsibility and sustainability programming. Joanne believes in the principles of the CASSE position statement and is a firm believer in the potential for citizen civic engagement to help drive the shift toward a steady state economic model. She contributes to her community by volunteering with nonprofits focused on social justice issues.

Contact: Joanne’s email


Queensland Chapter

Location:  Queensland, Australia

Director:  Richard Sanders

Richard is an ecological economist, futurist, environmental scientist and change agent who has delved deeply into the concept of sustainability for over 20 years and been a steady stater for over 40 years. He is employed as a principal policy officer within the Queensland government dealing with sustainability and resource management. He is executive officer and founder of Quest 2025, a not-for-profit community organisation which aims to: “help facilitate the transformation of society through informed people power and the democratic process from its current state of social, spiritual and ecological crisis into an enlightened civilisation that is ecologically sustainable and socially just by the year 2025”.

Contact: Richard’s email


Risaralda Chapter

Location:  Risaralda, Colombia

Director:  Paola Arias

Paola Arias is an economist with graduate studies in the management of protected areas. She has worked on interdisciplinary projects in the environmental sector, such as environmental goods and services, economic valuation, watershed management and planning, and payments for environmental services. She currently lives in the state of Risaralda where she works mainly in the Otun Watershed. She is very happy to live there, since it is an excellent place to explore local development experiences toward a steady state economy. For example, the Otun Watershed encompasses ecovillages; commitments to conserve seeds, medicinal plants and traditional knowledge; community-based ecotourism in protected areas; children involved in environmental groups; and agro-ecological schools. She believes these activities stem from the high levels of social capital in the communities of the watershed. Besides her work as a consultant, Paola is excited to be working with other steady staters to create sustainable habitats and communities, based on the experience of 11 years of the Ecovillage El Prado.

Contact: Paola’s email


San Francisco Bay Area Chapter

Location:  San Francisco, California, USA

Erik AlmDirector:  Erik Alm

Erik is a researcher and consultant providing services to companies in the clean fuels sector. He has studied sustainability formally having earned a B.S. in Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont, and an MPA in Environmental Science and Policy at Columbia University. His strong passion for the preservation of biodiversity was his motivating factor for getting involved with CASSE. Through his work with the Center, he hopes to build a collaborative environment in the Bay Area where the local effects of uneconomic growth can be documented, and ways of moving toward a steady-state economy can be devised.

Contact: Erik’s email


Schenectady Chapter

Location: Schenectady, New York, USA

Director:  L. Michael Tracy­-Ireland

Michael is an IT project manager with the New York State Office of Information Technology Services. Among his primary responsibilities he manages complex information technology projects for several New York State agencies including the Department of Environmental Conservation, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and previously for the State Education Department. Michael is a member of the NYS Sustainability Coordinators group that works to promote sustainability practices in New York State agencies and in the community. He has worked on several sustainability initiatives as a labor leader for the Public Employees Federation and presented Steady State Economics workshops at state agency and community group forums in upstate New York. Recently, he served as an economic advisor to the Warrensburg “Adirondack Bucks” alternative currency campaign. He is currently working to promote awareness and adoption of steady state principles throughout the capital region.

Contact: Michael’s email


Serbia Chapter

Location:  Novi Sad, Serbia

Director:  Ante Vujić

Ante Vujić is a biologist with a Ph.D. in diversity of Diptera (Syrphidae). He is a full professor at the Department of Biology and Ecology, Faculty of Sciences (University of Novi Sad, Serbia), whose main interest is biodiversity conservation, entomology, and the protection of endangered species. He intends to implement ecological economics into university curriculum in Serbia, and point out the importance of biodiversity through economic valorizations. He believes that biodiversity conservation through a steady state economy can provide potential solutions for many problems. He wants to help spread CASSE’s concept in Serbia and welcomes your emails.

Contact: Ante’s email


South Africa Chapter

Location:  KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Gertrud Photo Cropped SizedCo-Director:  Gertrud Lomas-Walker

Gertrud Lomas-Walker has for the past 20 years worked in the field of sustainability, in local economic development, for a large South African financial services organisation, and latterly as an advisor to companies for an international assurance and advisory firm. Her areas of speciality are sustainability strategy, integrated reporting and governance. She is pursuing a non-consumption driven ecological economic agenda and helping organisations and communities prepare for the transition. She is political science major and has an honours degree in organisational development.

Contact: Gertrud’s email


South Africa Chapter

Location:  KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Co-Director:  Jean Senogles

Jean Senogles is a veteran environmental activist and conservationist. Her primary concerns are around biodiversity and education especially with reference to the 9 Planetary Boundaries. She has served on various boards including the Fish Quota Board, Natal Parks Board, is chairman of the local Palmiet Nature Reserve management committee and the Westville Conservancy, and serves on the Board of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research. She is a geographer and teacher of environmental sciences in underprivileged schools in KwaZulu Natal, founding member of Primates Africa and PLANT (Plant a National Tree), and has propagated and planted thousands of trees over 40 years in gardens, parks, schools and hospitals.  With her husband Ron, she sailed extensively in the Indian Ocean, and together served on the Executive of the Save St Lucia Campaign. St Lucia is now a World Heritage Site.

Contact: Jean’s email


St. Louis Chapter

Location:  St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Director:  Eric Zencey

Eric is the author of Virgin Forest: Meditations on History, Ecology, and Culture and the forthcoming The Other Road to Serfdom: Essays in Sustainable Democracy. An internationally published (and nationally best-selling) novelist, Eric has been teaching ecological and steady state economics since the 1980s. He holds a Ph.D. in political philosophy, and currently is a visiting professor of historical and political studies for Empire State College. He is also an affiliate of the Gund Institute of Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.

Contact: Eric’s email


Tolima Chapter

Location:  Tolima, Colombia

Director:  Sandra Marcela Cely Santos

Marcela works at a Regional Innovation Institute which educates people living in rural landscapes and supports them in the establishment of cooperatives and associations. The purpose is to improve livelihoods, build equitable communities, and re-empower communities to build a better future. Marcela is a biologist with a passion for wildlife conservation and a deep interest in biodiversity conservation in productive landscapes. She believes that agroecology and sustainable food systems are critical to achieving healthy landscapes and a sustainable economy.

Contact: Marcela’s email


Toronto Chapter

Location:  Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Ryan DymentDirector:  Ryan Dyment

Ryan is a Chartered Accountant and the Executive Director of IRBE, a non-profit organization that connects economic and environmental issues and implements shared-resource projects in Toronto. Ryan started his career working at KPMG, an international accounting firm, and moved to the health care industry for several years before founding IRBE. In his day-to-day life, Ryan aims to limit his participation in the growth economy, build community and advocate for a sustainable economic model. Ryan is a graduate of McGill University and serves on the Board of Wildlife Preservation Canada, a registered charity that addresses biodiversity issues.

Contact: Ryan’s email


Upstate South Carolina Chapter

Location: Simpsonville, South Carolina, United States

Greaves, Gerry - PhotoDirector: Gerry Greaves

Gerry is a retired engineer with a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Rhode Island who worked at Owens Corning, most recently in the Sustainability organization on building science. He focused on improving the energy efficiency of homes including zero-energy homes. This led to evaluations of the effects of efficiency improvements on climate change and the conclusion that while efficiency improvements can help significantly, they are not enough. A switch to renewable energy will be required. However, that’s not going to help fresh water or food issues, or other pollution and resource issues.  A steady state economy is required for that. In retirement, Gerry is working on the economics of low or no growth and is particularly concerned with unemployment, inequality, our ability to manage the stability of the economic/financial system in no growth scenarios. For more information see Gerry’s Website.

Contact: Gerry’s Email


 Vermont State Chapter

Location:  Burlington, Vermont, United States

Director:  Aaron Witham

Aaron is the sustainability coordinator of Green Mountain College in  Vermont. He holds an M.S. in Natural Resources from the University of  Vermont and a Graduate Certificate in Ecological Economics from the  Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. He was also a former research  scholar at the Transportation Research Center at UVM and the Managing  Director of the Center for Environmental Education in Maine. His  research interests include reforming the fractional reserve banking  system, promoting alternative economic indicators, and mitigating  climate change. As an avid hunter and fisherman, Aaron is also  interested in steady-state outreach among outdoor enthusiasts.

Contact: Aaron’s email


Vienna Chapter

Location:  Vienna, Austria

Graziano CeddiaDirector:  Graziano Ceddia

Graziano is an economist with a PhD in Environmental Economics and Management (Ebor, UK). He is Associate Professor in Sustainable Development at MODUL University (MU) Vienna, where he teaches ecological economics and where he also serves as president of the MU Sustainability Committee. He has worked on interdisciplinary topics looking at the interactions between environmental and socio-economic systems, including the management of invasive alien species and infectious diseases. More recently he has been working on the relationship between agricultural intensification and deforestation in tropical regions and looking into the existence of Jevons paradoxes in land use changes. His interest in ecological economics has come from his dissatisfaction with the way in which standard neoclassical theory deals with environmental issues. He firmly believes in the role of education and in the necessity of providing new generations with an alternative paradigm capable of explaining the current energetic, environmental and economic crisis.

Contact: Graziano’s email


Yorkshire Chapter

Location:  Leeds, UK

The Yorkshire Chapter of CASSE holds meetings and events on the third Wednesday of each month at the University of Leeds. All are welcome to attend. The chapter also has a Facebook page.

Co-Directors: Brian Flynn and Owen Brear

BrianyorkshiresmBrian Flynn is a retired teacher concerned about the inexorable and widespread desire “to have more”. This dichotomy between having and being has been a matter of personal interest and struggle over the long term. Attending the Steady State Economy Conference held at Leeds University was a revelation to him, in that there appeared to be a real alternative to the current unsustainable system. With this in mind, he agreed to co-direct the Yorkshire chapter.

OwenBrearyorkshiresmOwen Brear is a graduate in Environment, Economics and Ecology from the University of York and is currently studying a PhD with Bangor University in the area of ‘well-being’ and investigating the multi-faceted nature of the Ancient Greek word “eudaimonia”. Owen is interested in the intersection of economic thought and eudaimonic well-being as presented within the field of positive psychology. He is also a keen birdwatcher.

Contact: Brian and Owen’s email


Zürich Chapter

Location:  Zürich, Switzerland

Director:  Michael Curran

Michael Curran is a part-time postgraduate researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zürich. His research focuses on assessing the impact of agricultural production on biodiversity, specifically how the overconsumption of imported products in developed economies is driving biodiversity loss in the developing world. His research applies steady state and ecological economic principals to both characterize the problem, and propose solutions (e.g. a “conservation tax” on imported products). Since 2014, Michael has a position as project manager in a small Environmental Consultant in Trubschachen, in the Emmental (yes, where the cheese comes from!). His work there focuses on promoting regional sustainability and self-sufficiency, and in advocating postgrowth economics. He is involved in grass roots sustainability projects that engage individuals in community initiatives (e.g. a vibrant community garden at the ETH Zurich: www.seedcity.ethz.ch). Michael completed a PhD in environmental engineering at the ETH Zürich in 2013, a Master’s degree in spatial ecology at the University of Basel in 2009, and a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from University College Dublin in 2005.

Contact: Michael’s email


Links

The Steady State Economy Conference

Other Conferences

There have been a number of other events around the globe focusing on achieving the degrowth transition to a steady state economy. These include:

Videos

A number of videos related to steady state economics were mentioned at the conference. We have included links to these below:

  • The Urbal Fix, by Tom Bliss, investigates what a steady state economy would mean for the city of Leeds, UK
  • Life After Growth, by Leah Temper and Claudia Medina, highlights the downsides of economic growth and suggests a better way to run the economy
  • The Impossible Hamster, by nef, is a short (and funny) animation about runaway economic growth
  • The Economics of Happiness, by Helena Norberg-Hodge and the ISEC, argues that in order to respect and revitalise diversity, we need to localise economic activity

Links to additional resources are provided on CASSE’s Video, Audio and Slideshows page.

Posizione verso la Crescita Economica (Italian)

Considerato che:

1) La crescita economica, come viene definita nei libri di testo ufficiali, è un aumento della produzione e del consumo di beni e servizi;

2) La crescita economica avviene quando c’è un aumento del prodotto tra popolazione e consumo pro capita;

3) L’economia globale cresce come un insieme unificato composto dai settori agricoli, estrattivi, manifatturieri, industriali e dei servizi, i quali necessitano risorse materiali e generano rifiuti;

4) La crescita economica viene spesso e generalmente indicata come un aumento del prodotto interno lordo (PIL), o del prodotto nazionale lordo (PNL);

5) La crescita economica è tuttora un obiettivo primario e perenne di molte Società e della maggior parte dei Governi;

6) La crescita economica ha dei limiti che si basano su riconosciuti principi fisici ed ecologici;

7) Ci sono prove crescenti che la crescita economica stia avendo effetti negativi sul benessere ecologico ed economico nel lungo termine.

Pertanto, noi sosteniamo che:

1) Esiste un conflitto fondamentale tra la crescita economica e la protezione ambientale (per esempio la protezione della biodiversità, della qualità dell’aria e dell’acqua , della stabilità atmosferica);

2) Esiste un conflitto fondamentale tra la crescita economica e i processi ecologici che sostengono l’economia umana (per esempio, l’impollinazione, la decomposizione, la regolazione climatica);

3) Il progresso tecnologico ha avuto molto effetti positivi e negativi, sia ecologici che economici, e non possiamo dipendere da esso per riconciliare il conflitto tra la crescita economica e il benessere ecologico ed economico a lungo termine ;

4) La crescita economica, così come determinata dall’aumento del PIL, è un obiettivo sempre più pericoloso e anacronistico, sopratutto nei paesi ricchi caratterizzati da un alto livello di benessere materiale;

5) Una economia dallo stato stazionario ( ovvero caratterizzata dalivelli di popolazione e consumi pro capita relativamente stabili, che oscillano solo leggermente) è un’alternativa attuabile a un’economia in crescita ed è divenuta un obiettivo più appropriato nell’ambito di grandi economie con alti livelli di ricchezza;

6) La sostenibilità a lungo termine di una economia dallo stato stazionario richiede che essa si sviluppi in una dimensione sufficientemente piccola al fine di evitare una ridotta capacità ecologica ed economica nel caso di variazioni brusche, previste o inaspettate, come nel caso di siccità o scarsità di risorse energetiche;

7) Una economia dalla stato stazionario non preclude lo sviluppo economico, un processo dinamico e qualitativo nel quale possano utilizzarsi diverse tecnologie e dove l’importanza relativa dei diversi settori economici possa evolversi;

8) Dopo lo stabilirsi di una economia dallo stato stazionario, sarebbe raccomandabile, che le Nazioni ricche aiutino le altre Nazioni a cambiare l’obiettivo incentrato sulla crescita economica a quello di una economia dallo stato stazionario, a cominciare da quelle Nazioni che al momento dispongono di alti livelli di consumo pro capita;

9) Per molte Nazioni con povertà diffusa, l’aumento del consumo pro capita (o, alternativamente, una più equa distribuzione della ricchezza) rimane un obiettivo appropriato.

Firmare la posizione

Position sur la croissance économique (French)

Attendu:

1) Que la croissance économique, selon les ouvrages classiques d’économie, se définit comme une augmentation de la production et de la consommation de biens et de services;

2) Que la croissance économique résulte d’une augmentation du produit de la multiplication de la population par le niveau de consommation par habitant;

3) Que l’économie globale croît comme un tout constitué des secteurs de l’agriculture, de l’extraction, de la fabrication et des services, secteurs qui utilisent des ressources et produisent des déchets;

4) Qu’en général, la croissance économique se traduit par une augmentation du produit intérieur brut (PIB) ou encore du produit national brut (PNB);

5) Que la croissance économique a été de tout temps une priorité pour de nombreuses sociétés ainsi que la plupart des gouvernements;

6) Qu’il existe une limite à la croissance économique, basée sur des principes bien établis de physique et d’écologie;

7) Que les preuves des effets néfastes de la croissance économique globale sur notre bien-être environnemental et économique à long terme se multiplient.

Par conséquent, nous maintenons:

1) Qu’il existe un conflit fondamental entre la croissance économique et la protection de l’environnement (par exemple, la préservation de la biodiversité, de la qualité de l’air et de l’eau, de la stabilité atmosphérique);

2) Qu’il existe un conflit fondamental entre la croissance économique et le maintien des services écologiques qui sous-tendent l’économie humaine (par exemple, la pollinisation, la décomposition, la régulation du climat);

3) Que le progrès technique a eu de multiples répercussions, tant positives que négatives, sur l’économie et l’environnement et que nous ne pouvons nous fier à lui pour résoudre le conflit inhérent entre croissance économique et bien-être économique et environnemental à long terme;

4) Que la croissance économique, telle que mesurée par une augmentation du PIB, est un objectif dont la poursuite est de plus en plus dangereuse et anachronique, particulièrement dans les pays riches jouissant d’un niveau de vie élevé;

5) Qu’une économie stationnaire (c’est-à-dire une économie à l’intérieur de laquelle le produit de la population multipliée par la consommation par habitant reste relativement stable ou fluctue légèrement) est une alternative viable à une économie de croissance et est maintenant un objectif approprié pour les économies affluentes;

6) Que des situations imprévues de ruptures de stocks, telles des sécheresses ou pénuries d’énergie, peuvent réduire la capacité écologique ou économique; la durabilité à long terme d’une économie stationnaire demande donc son instauration à une échelle en-deçà des limites écologiques dans le but d’éviter les situations de ruptures qui pourraient être causées par ces chocs;

7) Qu’une économie stationnaire n’exclut pas le développement économique, défini comme un processus dynamique de nature qualitative par lequel le changement technologique peut se produire et l’importance relative des différents secteurs économiques peut être appelée à évoluer;

8) Qu’au moment de l’instauration d’une économie stationnaire, il serait souhaitable que les nations développées assistent les autres nations dans la transition d’une économie de croissance vers une économie stationnaire, à commencer par les nations qui jouissent présentement d’un niveau élevé de consommation par habitant;

9) Que pour de nombreux pays aux prises avec une pauvreté répandue, une augmentation de la consommation par habitant (ou, alternativement, une distribution plus équitable de la richesse) demeure un objectif approprié.

Appuyez notre position