Remembering Robert Goodland

by Brent Blackwelder and Herman Daly

Robert Goodland, a true friend of CASSE and the Daly News, passed away shortly after Christmas. Brent Blackwelder and Herman Daly herein describe the exemplary life and contributions of their friend and colleague. Robert’s life story will inspire all who care about the environment and social justice.

Robert Goodland

Robert Goodland (1939 – 2013)

Robert Goodland was the first ecologist hired by the World Bank and worked hard for thirty years to improve that institution’s environmental and human rights practices. Robert also wrote more than twenty books on environmental and social issues and many more monographs. The Library of Congress lists more than forty of his titles. He was the first winner of the World Conservation Union’s Harold Jefferson Coolidge medal for lifetime achievement in the conservation of nature. In contrast to colleagues who avoided controversy, Robert pressed to work on the most challenging of environmental and social issues. He saw that his job at the World Bank necessitated his being a vigorous “sparring partner,” providing constructive criticism and sparking improvement. He was known as the “conscience” of the World Bank, a role in which he sought the views of environmental leaders around the world.

Robert earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from McGill University in 1960. For his master’s degree, he researched tropical ecology in a remote part of Guyana with no roads or electricity. The Canadian Government awarded him a scholarship for PhD research on ecosystems in Brazil.

Robert became a professor in 1974 at the University of Brasilia, where he established a program to teach tropical ecology and environmental assessment. Then he moved to the Instituto Nacional de Pesquiasas da Amazonia in Manaus, where he designed Brazil’s first graduate course in applied tropical ecology. Its key case study was the trans-Amazonian highway. That led Robert to co-author with his friend and mentor Howard Irwin the book Amazon Jungle: Green Hell to Red Desert. It attracted much favorable review, and became viewed as a seminal work in the birth of the international environmental movement.

From 1975 through 1978, Robert served as a consultant for World Bank projects. He designed environmental and social programs to mitigate damages being caused by the Itaipu project, then the world’s biggest hydroelectric project. He also worked on addressing environmental issues and the welfare of Orang Asli forest dwellers for the first time in Malaysia’s national development planning. Separately, he was recruited by the New York Botanical Garden to help establish what became the Cary Center for Ecosystem Studies to complement the Cary Arboretum in Millbrook, New York.

In 1978, Robert was recruited to become the first full-time ecologist at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. He was initially assigned to the task of screening every single proposed World Bank project, and selecting for scrutiny those with the largest potential impacts, for which he would draft recommendations. But project designers resisted implementing his recommendations.

As a remedy, Robert took a lead role in drafting environmental and social policies for the World Bank Group, notably covering Environmental Assessment (now Operational Policy 4.01), Indigenous Peoples (Operational Policy 4.10), Natural Habitats (Operational Policy 4.04), and Physical Cultural Resources (Operational Policy 4.11).

In 1979, Robert joined an early mission for the World Bank’s Polonoroeste project in the northwestern part of the Amazon rainforest. Vulnerable ethnic minorities were a key issue in the design of the project, and Robert protected Amerindians by incorporating elements of the then-draft policy on indigenous peoples. So Robert’s focus on policies involved not just drafting text, but also testing its implementation. Even harder work was to persuade one committee after another to approve the adoption of the policies. To foster their implementation, Robert arranged for numerous workshops, conferences, training programs, colloquia, lectures, and guidance materials. Distinguished specialists and a variety of stakeholders were involved in internal World Bank events and activities as well as external ones.

The policies and guidance materials pioneered by Robert essentially served as environmental and social standards for many countries that lacked appropriate regulatory frameworks to provide such standards. Other development banks and aid agencies became interested in adapting them for their own purposes. Robert pressed for those banks and agencies to coordinate among themselves and with the World Bank Group and others, using methods that have continued functioning to this day. Commercial banks became interested too, and Robert worked with a group of bankers called the “Gnomes of Zürich,” and with others in London and New York. He also organized workshops for major engineering and consulting firms that would have to comply with the policies.

The World Bank established a Projects Policy Department, and Robert served as Senior Environmental Affairs Officer from 1983 through mid-1987. Then the Bank created the Environment Department, and Robert became Division Chief for Latin America. He recruited specialists including George Ledec, now Lead Ecologist in the Bank’s Africa Region, and Maritta Koch-Weser, who went on to become President of IUCN. Next came a role for Robert in the Central Environment Department, where he recruited ecological economist Herman Daly.

Robert’s work on indigenous peoples led the institution to hire a cadre of anthropologists. They took up the issue of preventing forced resettlement, and mitigating its adverse impacts when it did occur. Robert also worked to complete the “Environmental Assessment Sourcebook,” which became a crucial worldwide reference on various aspects of environmental assessment. As a capstone to Robert’s work on the principles of environmental and social assessment, he served a term as president of the International Association of Impact Assessment in 1994-1995.

Robert developed ways to bolster his policy initiatives with sectoral work. This included stopping the World Bank Group from financing projects involving tobacco and asbestos. It also included avoiding the most destructive types of agricultural and forestry projects, such as those featuring transmigration, logging, and ranching in tropical forests, as well as land colonization. When internal resistance arose within the World Bank Group, Robert and his colleagues got their work published for a worldwide audience in the 1984 book Environmental Management of Tropical Agriculture. Later, after he analyzed the impacts of some of the world’s largest hydroelectricity projects, he played a key role in the establishment of the World Commission on Dams in 1997, led by Achim Steiner (who later became the head of IUCN and then of UNEP).

In the 1990s, when Robert had become Lead Environmental Advisor at the World Bank, he sought practical ways for the institution to “walk the talk” that it delivered externally, by improving its own environmental and social performance. So he volunteered to chair the Staff Association’s environmental working group. He motivated the Bank’s facilities management to commission an independent audit of their environmental and social performance. The world-renowned energy expert Amory Lovins led the audit. Based on its results, Robert successfully pressed senior management to offer staff incentives for using public transit and bicycles for commuting. He also helped implement coordinated internal sustainability programs.

Robert wanted project proponents to be held accountable to people adversely impacted by development projects. So he helped advance the work of the World Bank’s Inspection Panel, and he was shortlisted to become the first Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman in the International Finance Corporation. He also tried for many years to get the International Monetary Fund to do something about the adverse social impacts of its operations, which tend to have much broader reach than do most projects financed by the World Bank Group.

Robert cooperated with Salah El Serafy , Herman Daly, and Roefie Hueting to develop a series of conferences throughout the 1980s on “Greening the UN System of National Accounts.” Robert also worked with Herman and Salah in addressing their concerns over the draft 1992 “World Development Report” on development and the environment. Because the draft was rather bland, they developed a parallel, but more forceful publication entitled “Environmentally Sustainable Economic Development: Building on Brundtland.” They managed to get this published by UNESCO even before the “World Development Report” came out.

Robert obtained major grant funding from the government of Canada to help the government of Indonesia develop its environmental ministry, under the stewardship of Emil Salim. After Robert’s official retirement from the World Bank in 2001, Emil was appointed to head the independent Extractive Industries Review at the World Bank Group. Emil recruited Robert to play a key role, and they recommended various ways to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. Also after Robert’s official retirement, he served as a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, where he co-authored a report on human rights. In retirement he worked all over the world as a consultant, often pro bono, in protection of the environment and indigenous peoples. He once remarked that in retirement he was doing much the same things as when in the World Bank, but the difference was that now the people he worked for were more appreciative.

Robert also continued to build on his previous work that had gotten the World Bank to agree in 2001 that development finance should no longer fund large-scale livestock projects. He co-authored with Jeff Anhang a 2009 article entitled “Livestock and Climate Change,” which assessed how replacing some livestock products — and reforesting land thereby freed from livestock and feed production — could be the only pragmatic way to stop climate change before it might be too late. This work became widely cited by many prominent sources, including Bill Gates and Paul McCartney’s Meat Free Monday campaign. Robert was invited by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to speak about this work in Rome and Berlin, and also invited to deliver a keynote speech to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. To develop further awareness, Robert worked to launch a website called “Chomping Climate Change,” and worldwide interest in this work seems likely to grow well into the future.

In the1980s Robert married Jonmin. Their son Arthur is studying for his PhD in renewable energy at Leeds, England. Robert enjoyed mountain trekking and had recently completed his favorite trek in Nepal, with Jonmin and Arthur, when he died, December 28, 2013.


Steady Statesmanship Goes Global

by Jon Rosales

On Earth Day this year I was honored to represent CASSE at the 67th Meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Based on my views from the meeting, we have finally reached a point where UN member states and staff, including Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, are open to consider models for economic development beyond business as usual. A real opportunity exists to put the steady state economy on the UN’s agenda, but doing so will require that we partner with other interested networks and organizations that have common perspectives.

To understand why this window of opportunity has opened, it is helpful to take a brief tour of the UN’s history of addressing environmental health and human development. Three key meetings punctuate this history — the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, the Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, and the Rio+20 conference in 2012. The meetings generated two decisive initiatives, Agenda 21 and the Millennium Development Goals, that guide the UN’s work on sustainable development.

In 1972 when environmental policy was in its infancy, or in many places did not exist, the Stockholm Conference solidified the environment as a key component of economic and social development within the UN. As the idea of sustainable development emerged in the 1980s, UN member states began to consider new ways to pursue environmental and economic interests in tandem. At the Rio Earth Summit, sustainable development took center stage, as the conference participants laid down principles for achieving both environmental and social goals in a blueprint called Agenda 21. Unsatisfied with the progress of implementing Agenda 21, member states began working on more specific development goals in the 1990s that evolved into the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The eight overarching goals include efforts to eradicate poverty, reduce child mortality, and achieve environmental sustainability by 2015, with numerous target indicators designated for each goal.

Despite all this effort, a variety of critical environmental indicators have declined over the last forty years. The failure to make strong progress on many of the MDGs is terrible news, to be sure, but it provides an avenue for radical change. The UN is now gearing up for what comes after the MDGs in 2015, and member states are embarking on a re-visioning process that includes the Harmony with Nature (HwN) initiative of the Secretary General.

The seeds for HwN were planted, I suggest, with Bolivia’s election of an indigenous president, Evo Morales, in 2006. With a 60% indigenous population, Bolivia represents the strongest voice for the recognition of Mother Nature’s rights. In 2009 Bolivia introduced a resolution to declare April 22nd as International Mother Earth Day. In 2010 the UN began the Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature with speakers on alternative economic models and comments from member states (the fact the CASSE president Brian Czech and I were invited to speak provides proof that the UN is willing to consider steady state economics). Although many member states have used the dialogues for posturing, the devoted HwN staff ensures that they are productive by writing yearly reports that are, in my experience, the most hopeful documents to emerge from the UN since the Stockholm Convention in 1972. The Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature is a chance to insert ideas into the global development agenda that actually address the profound environmental and social problems we face.

In my presentation, I suggested two ideas to pursue. First, science can help us identify specific limits to growth and establish a scarcity signal for the economy, both prerequisites for understanding the thresholds of a functioning steady state economy. Scholars in the area of sustainability science have been working on these thresholds. Johan Rockström and his colleagues at the Stockholm Resilience Center have attempted to compile “the pre-conditions for human development” using nine ecological thresholds that can serve as targets for decision makers (1). Kate Raworth has added development variables under these limits (see diagram). Such researchers are helping to define “a safe and just space for humanity” (2).

Source: Raworth 2012.

Source: Raworth 2012.

Sustainability science provides useful information for establishing a steady state economy by identifying where to remain steady (inside the green donut in Raworth’s diagram) and further quantifying biophysical limits. Scholars in this field, such as Rockström and Raworth, are obvious partners for the construction of the steady state economy.

My second point was that we need to gather wisdom from those cultures and individuals already living sustainably according to the flow rates provided by nature. Steady state economics begins with a budget — the energy input of the sun. Subsistence cultures (and increasingly the solidarity economy movement) align their production and consumption with the seasonal pulses of that solar budget. Now is the time to promote and replicate the efforts of sustainable cultures and individuals.

In Alaska I have researched indigenous cultures that have avoided exceeding limits for thousands of years. Such cultures exist all over the world, yet they often go unnoticed even though they represent powerful examples of life in a steady state economy.

The ultimate goal of subsistence is the production and regeneration of life. Subsistence cultures rely on the land, not only for gathering food, but also for establishing identity and meaning. These cultures live within the green ring in Raworth’s diagram. Their economies respond to the cycles of nature, the seasons, migrations of fish and caribou, and the blooming of tundra plants. These cycles provide a budget that indigenous people understand and incorporate into their traditions. They respect ecological thresholds, having already absorbed what sustainability science seeks to discover. Their traditional knowledge and cultures “are something for the future, not the museums”(3).

But these cultures are also under threat. For example, security networks among pastoralists in Kenya once reallocated surpluses in times of need. Now with the introduction of the cash economy, surpluses are sold. Structures such as the Suqe, or “big men,” of Vanuatu have been abandoned. The Suqe once accumulated “wealth” in the form of shell money or pigs donated to them and assumed responsibility for distributing this wealth in times of need, but the practice fell away with the introduction of the cash economy, religious conversion, and Western-style economic expansion (4).

Destruction of subsistence cultures is destruction of steady state economies, the very purpose of the dominant, neoclassical economic agenda. Not unlike its predecessor (colonialism) neoclassical economics, with its incessant pursuit of growth, works to supplant subsistence economies. This type of “development” devalues subsistence skills, tradition, wisdom, freedom, and knowledge, and even redefines those traits as indicators of something that needs to be changed. Subsistence is often seen as regressive — the ideology of Luddites or a temporary escape for hippies — but it is actually a progressive way of life.

Many people retain or have relearned elements of subsistence, and many young Americans have become interested in it. Communities are reclaiming subsistence culture with community gardens, farmer’s markets, and community power cooperatives, but they are hampered by, among other things, land-use regulations, health regulations, and restrictions to the commons. There’s a role for governments in disassembling these restrictions and supporting those communities and cultures that are interested in developing and maintaining steady state economies.

With advancements in sustainability science and the wisdom we can gain from subsistence cultures, we have an opportunity to establish steady state economies that work for both people and the planet. We also have an opportunity to gain more attention for the steady state economy among member states of the UN. The question is whether we can strengthen our partnerships and muster our best efforts to take advantage of these opportunities.

(1) Rockström, Johan, et al. 2009. A Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Nature 461: 472-5.

(2) Raworth, Kate. 2012. “A Safe and Just Space for Humanity: Can we live within the doughnut?” Discussion Papers, Oxfam International.

(3) Vladimir Sangi, Saami reindeer herder presenting at the 2013 Arctic Science Summit Week in Krakow, Poland on April 18, 2013.

(4) Ibid., p. 309.

Jon Rosales is CASSE’s Director of International Affairs and an associate professor of environmental studies at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.

Finding Real Economic Leadership in the Wake of Rio+20

by Brent Blackwelder

Twenty years after the seminal “Earth Summit” on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil once again has hosted a “fate-of-the-earth” meeting (Rio+20) focused on the themes of a green economy and institutional change.  In the aftermath of the 1992 meeting, too many nations, including the United States in particular, failed to reverse the downward trend in planetary ecosystem health. Today, with a global population of 7 billion consuming resources beyond the ability of the earth to replenish itself, we’d better hope there’s a better attempt at the transition to a sustainable economy after this meeting.

Change must begin with the structure of the economy because a nation’s economic policy is also its social and environmental policy. National economies all over the world are failing — failing to provide economic stability, failing to secure resources for future generations, failing to protect ecosystems and non-human species, and failing to achieve social justice.

In anticipation of the Rio+20 summit, Foundation Earth published a report called “The Economic Rethink: Who Does It Well?.” It challenges leaders to adopt big changes and gives them examples to follow from a variety of nations.  In preparing the report, Randy Hayes, founder of the Rainforest Action Network, and I reviewed over a dozen scorecards that grade nations on their performance — some focus on corruption, others on empowerment of women, still others on environmental protection.

In our 16-category analysis, Brazil, the host of the Rio+20 meeting, receives a failing grade, missing the boat in 13 categories of action toward a sustainable economy. Brazil’s political leadership is intending to make the nation a global powerhouse in agricultural exports, an intention that would mean sacrificing the world’s greatest tropical rainforest, the Amazon, to accommodate industrial plantations for food and biofuel exports.

But the report goes beyond the question of accountability for Brazil. It highlights significant positive steps that some nations are taking to shift to a new economy. In most of the 16 categories, at least a few nations are taking leadership roles. The twin goals of an environmentally restored earth and a socially just civilization are not part of a utopian fantasy: people have adopted inspiring policies and taken forward-looking actions in real places around the globe. The challenge is to make sure that the following examples become the rule rather than the exception:

  • Bhutan is leading the way in development of new indicators of progress. The “gross national happiness” measures deeper values that cannot be captured by GDP.
  • The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with deforested Haiti, is demonstrating leadership forest restoration. Since 2003, forest cover in the Dominican Republic has increased from 32% to almost 40%.
  • In the energy sector, several leaders are stepping forward. Sweden, Costa Rica, and British Columbia (Canada) have instituted carbon taxes to include the ecological cost of energy use in its price. And Germany has blazed a clean energy trail with outstanding results in solar and wind power.
  • Cuba is an innovator in organic community agriculture. Havana grows 50% of its fresh produce within the city limits.
  • In a world awash with financial scandals and offshore tax havens, New Zealand has become the “least corrupt nation” because of its effective legal framework, fiscal transparency, and accountability.
  • Bolivia and Ecuador have put a rights-of-nature provision in their legal codes as have several cities and towns in the United States.
  • Iceland, number one on the Global Gender Gap rankings, is a nation of empowered women. Women in the Land of Fire and Ice hold the majority of jobs in university education and have nearly equal representation in parliament.
  • In contrast to Brazil’s determination to fill the Amazon with massive dams, the United States has led the world in one category: restoration and protection of rivers. Over 1,000 dams have now been removed in the U.S. to restore fisheries and water quality. Furthermore, more than 250 rivers have been safeguarded in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
  • In the Netherlands, “repair cafes” are beginning to address the problem of over-consumption. Such cafes encourage reuse of broken and weathered possessions, providing free repair services.

These examples of leadership are well worth celebrating, but many challenges remain along the path to a sustainable economy. The biggest challenge is that no nation adequately addresses carrying capacity, planetary limits to growth, or sustainable economic scale. All nations must overcome this challenge to ensure a healthy planet and flourishing civilization for future generations.

It remains to be seen what progress will flow out of the Rio+20 meeting, but examples of real leadership in “The Economic Rethink” offer hope that we can dispose of the “disposable economy.”   There’s no longer room for an economy that treats the earth like it’s the site of a liquidation sale.

Rio+20 Needs to Address the Downsides of Growth

by Herman Daly

Note from the editor:  The Natural Resources Forum (vol. 35, no. 4) asked 29 experts, including Herman Daly, “What do you think should be the two or three highest priority political outcomes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), scheduled for Rio de Janeiro in June 2012?”  His answer succinctly sums up the steady-state perspective.

Herman DalyThe conclusion of the 1972 Limits to Growth study by the Club of Rome still stands 40 years later. Even though economies are still growing, and still put growth in first place, it is no longer economic growth, at least in wealthy countries, but has become uneconomic growth. In other words, the environmental and social costs of increased production are growing faster than the benefits, increasing “illth” faster than wealth, thereby making us poorer, not richer. We hide the uneconomic nature of growth from ourselves by faulty national accounting because growth is our panacea, indeed our idol, and we are very afraid of the idea of a steady-state economy. The increasing illth is evident in exploding financial debt, in biodiversity loss, and in destruction of natural services, most notably climate regulation. The major job of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is to help us overcome this denial and shift the path of progress from quantitative growth to qualitative development, from bigger to better. Specifically this will mean working toward a steady-state economy at a sustainable (smaller than present) scale relative to the containing ecosystem that is finite and already overstressed. Since growth now makes us poorer, not richer, poverty reduction will require sharing in the present, not the empty promise of growth in the future.