The New Green Economy Day 2: Recap

It has been a whirlwind tour here at the NCSE New Green Economy Conference. I have been privleged to help out behind the scenes, but also attend some of the conference, including a break-out session yesterday. I have had very little time to write, as I have been busy round the clock with about 4-5 hours of sleep time. I do, however, have many things to write about – it’s just a matter of finding the time (and energy).

The second day of the New Green Economy Conference was exciting and enlightening. Over the course of the day I was lucky enough to meet many great minds. Just to name a few, they included Van Jones, Herman Daly, Tim Jackson, Jon Erickson, Brian Czech, Jim Tate, and more. The day started with round table discussions.

What follows is as, brief as I could make, a recap on the events of the second day of the NCSE New Economy Conference. Technically it was the first day, as Wednesday’s Workshops were hosted around the city by others. Today brought the near 1000 attendees to the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center to talk about the Green Economy and sustainable economics. The irony of the event is the building’s namesake’s quote on the main hall wall:

“There are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams.”

Morning Round table Discussions

The first Plenary Round table, “Growing the Green Economy or Greening the Grown Economy?” was amazing. I was busy here and there with my volunteer work, but was able to catch some good discussion from Van Jones on green jobs and Tim Jackson on the fallacy of continued growth delivering prosperity. Robert Costanza, Professor and Director of the Gund Institute in Ecological Economics as well as chief editor of the new Solutions Journal, moderated the group. Besides the two great people mentioned above the group also included Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres.

Unfortunately I missed the  second round table, “What is the Role of Science, Technology and Education in Greening the New Economy?” This discussion was lead by David Gergen, Director of The Center for Public Leadership at Harvard; and included Michael Crow, Richard Freeman, Martha Kanter, Congressman Ruch Holt, and Kyung-Ah Park.

Book Signings and Lunch

Lunch time came and my volunteer activities calmed down a bit. I made my way up the confusing stairways to find a book signing of Tim Jackson’s great book Prosperity Without Growth. Tim is a very intelligent man and incredibly personable – I would love to have the opportunity to sit down and have a pint or two with him. Did you know besides working for the UK Sustainable Development Commission, he is also an accomplished play and screen writer for the BBC?

Jackson’s book isn’t the only one I’ve had signed at this conference. My work with CASSE has connected me with Brian Czech, but it was not until arriving in DC that I was able to meet Brian in person. With a upper Wisconsin accent and friendly way about him, Brian is successful in getting ideas of economic growth across to most people. Wednesday’s workshop included a presentation and discussion with Brian that I will recant latter (sorry for the un-chronological postings, my head is spinning).

Herman Daly made an appearance to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award, and I was positively ecstatic when I fell into an opportunity to meet him and have my Beyond Growth copy signed. More about that below…

Break Out Session: “Green Accounting for the Green Economy: Improving GDP and the National Accounts of the United States”

Rob Dietz, the Executive Director of CASSE, and Jon Erickson, the Managing Director of the Gund Institute in Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont, lead the afternoon breakout session I attended. Our discussants included the aforementioned Tim Jackson, as well as Sean McGuire, Director of Sustainability Policies at the Office for a Sustainable Future at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources; Brent Moulton, Associate Director for National Accounts at the US Bureau of Economic Analysis; and John Talberth, Senior Economist of the People and Ecosystems Program at the World Resources Institute.

The discussants each talked about about 10 minutes to start the session, then we broke up into groups to formulate ideas and recommendations for greening out national accounts: deciding between alternatives, alterations, and supplements to the GDP. There was an incredible amount of phenomenal discussion over the topic, including the practical applications, obstacles (both political, logistical, and social), and benefits of various alternatives for measuring progress. Much of our discussion was focused on GPI and satellite metrics.

Maryland has just instituted one of the first state-level GPI programs (others have instituted studies into GPI or use various satellite indicators). Having Sean McGuire there was an insightful addition, which played well with John Talberth’s long history in GPI and Tim Jackson’s experience in Europe with the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare. Jon Erikson was the moderator for the group I joined. As Director of the Gund Institute he has experience in the academic side of the idea and brought a well researched and thought out background to the discussion.

Break Out Session Recommendations

In the interest of time, as well as your patience as a reader, I will simply list our final recommendations that will be presented as part of the conference recommendations to the Obama Administration. The group’s recommendations for Improving GDP and the National Accounts include:

  1. Request federal funding from Congress (target Congressional members from states that already have pilot projects in existence like VT, MD, MN, OH, and UT) to fund Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) pilot projects at the state level.
  2. A coalition of non-profits and professional societies should create a GPI network to increase capacity building and establish stronger data consistency and credibility.
  3. The GPI Network should create planning resources for government-led GPI studies.
  4. The GPI Network should compile a report that rates the state on multiple metrics to illustrate the advantage of adopting alternative metrics.
  5. Mayors and city governments should establish community level initiatives that tie job creation strategies to alternative economic indicators.
  6. The National Academy of Sciences should be commissioned to produce a meta-study of green accounting methods and applications.
  7. The Obama Administration should issue an Executive Order to create an intergovernmental committee on economic indicators.
  8. The Intergovernmental committee should interface with national and international efforts to establish alternative indicators.
  9. The GPI Network and the Intergovernmental Committee should work together to create a data clearinghouse.

The group included many variety of people and expertise, included those in NGOs, academia, government agencies, and one blogger (me!). The combination of these various backgrounds provided for a diverse and constructive formulation of the recommendations above. A big talking point was that change in GDP accounting could only come from funding. However, funding of the BEA comes from congress, which means there must be a political backing as well.

We hope to re-connect and continue to find ways of furthering this issue. One idea was to encourage state-level pilot programs (noted above), but to also engage private business looking to improve quality of life of employees and customers. Our belief was that a private-interest in this topic, as well as a environmental interest, would hit the political from both sides and prove to be more effective than just one side pushing the idea. Further refining of data collection and accounting will also be paramount to increasing the credibility and security of the GPI, which is the most likely indicator to be used and refined in the future.

Overall I took away quite a bit from the session and look forward to reconnecting with the process in the near future.

Herman Daly’s Lifetime of Achievement & Gus Speth’s Lecture

The evening went straight from break out session to speeches and lectures. The entire conference (about 900-1000 people) shuffled into the main hall to watch the great Herman Daly receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Daly is a tall man, with sparse, white hair, who carries a sense of humble dignity rarely seen in economists or professors.

I will post soon my notes from his speech, which was insightful, reflective, and hopeful for the future (not to mention directly mentioning CASSE!). The excitement for me came after the speech when Prof. Daly left the stage to join his wife sitting directly in front of me. I was beside myself with joy, honestly. Here is a man often called the “grandfather of Ecological Economics,” who has been instrumental in furthering the concept of uneconomic growth, biophysical limits, and especially the steady state economy – how could I not be as giddy as a school-girl?

Gus Speth, who carries a long list of environmental and social achievements I will not list here, author of The Bridge at the Edge of the World, and guest lecturer followed Daly. Gus’ lecture was very well done, mentioning the steady state economy as well as a wonderful section about a future where we transition to a sustainable society (again, will post something about Gus’ speech in more detail later). He was a bit long-winded, especially in his litany of problems with our world, but I would still say I was inspired by his speech.

After the lecture, Prof. Daly was getting up to leave and I managed to catch him on his way out to congratulate him and have a quick chat. Daly is a very humble man, with a kind disposition and was happy to hear about my work here and with CASSE (where he is now on the Executive Board). I also managed to get my third book signing of the conference. My highlighted and dog-eared copy of Beyond Growth is now signed by Prof. Daly to my son, Liam. I have been collecting a wide array of sustainability-oriented books signed by the authors to my son – because his is the future I fight for, as we all should.

The Tiring Expanse of Limited time

I have been going non-stop all week, this is the first time I’ve had a break long enough to do more than hit the restroom or stuff food in my mouth. It has all, by far, been worth it. From meeting personal heroes, to being part of policy discussions, to learning from experienced speakers. I have been on cloud nine the entire time, even if physically rundown and lacking sleep.

There are so many things to go on about this conference, but I am already late for a symposium and need more time and energy to write follow-up posts. So far this conference has been overwhelmingly hopeful! It is the first large group of policy-makers, academics, NGOs, and private business where post-growth and steady state economics is in open discussion. This, above all else, is the best thing to take away from the conference – the idea of infinite growth is dying and a sustainable society is being devised in it’s place!

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