Dr Robert Costanza on ecological economics

Dr Robert Costanza, Director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics gave a talk at Wellington’s Victoria University on the best response to the ecological and financial crises that are unfolding. Costanza was invited by the NZ Green Party to speak prior to last weekend’s Policy Conference.

It’s a long video, (55 min), but well worth the trouble if the topic interests you. A copy of his presentation, entitled The Global Recession: an opportunity to create a sustainable and desirable future is behind the link. (.ppt 27 Mb)

17 thoughts on “Dr Robert Costanza on ecological economics

  1. Also please explain why growth of the economy is un-sustainable, please note by growth i mean production growth of the economy. There is nothing ecologically wrong with a growing economy as long as you are using renewable resources.

    Turnip28, renewable resources are not infinite. Economic growth requires consumption of increasing quantities of resources. Even if those resources were renewable, we would, eventually, surpass the renewal rates of those resources.

    But try growing an economy without consuming non-renewable resources, never mind renewable ones.

    Economic growth is unsustainable. Economic growth requires increasing quantities of resources as it means making more stuff, selling more stuff and using more stuff, even if that stuff is services. Efficiencies can help reduce the intensity of resource use but will never allow unlimited growth.

    Sustainable growth is an oxymoron.

    Tony

  2. What me worried? Never. It is just interesting that the simple fact of over population and methods to control it are never mentioned. Yet it is the most effective way to control the environment.

    So what is your interpretation of the “trust” model? Another level of government below Parliament as we know it today but above say the regional council?

    Dont we have anough “trusts” now?

    And who has final say at ehat level of power the preciding “trust” has?

    And then it comes down to what level will the “trust” go to enforce decisions and by what force it will use to “get its way”.

    I think Constanza’s therories are all awry in that they sound good in a lecture and on paper, but when push comes to shove, they wont stack up.

    What you need to do is change the system from within, something I know the Greens are trying to do , but at 5-7% it is an uphill battle, not helped by theoretical and impractical ideals as espoused in the lecture.

    You are simply not winning the minds of the people with added levels of government.

    Now the tax changes are a different matter. Something that could be sold to the people IF you can show benefits. See people dont buy on a fear of something happening, the buy for the rewards.

    Simple marketing of concepts are letting the Greens down yet again. The Dr is trying to sell the concepts of “trusts” to distribute “revenue” but cannot paint a picture of how they will come into being, how they will function in a democratic society and how useful they really will be.

  3. For Canterbury water, mostly local.

    My interpretation of Costanza is that he has floated a trust model, but understands what might work locally may not globally.

    If you can accept so casually a calamity the size of many billions dying, I’d hardly think you’d be worried about the goals of a few Greens.

  4. Valis

    So you want Canterbury water allocations done in Parliament?

    Yes, are you suggesting local level only? or world body only? Where would you vote be held?

    The Drs’ speech sort of hinted at an world “trust” body. Is that your interpretation?

    And yes, I think there will be a “shootout” for the last drop of oil, water, resources as a means of culling the world population to a manageable and sustainable roughly one billion people.

    At which point the whole shambuzle starts again. That is the nature of the human animal.

  5. “Problem the Greens have in New Zealand is that a vast majority of people (93%) do not believe the Green party message.”

    We’re trying at least. And its not that everyone has to vote for us. When the desire for change gets strong enough, even the Nats will start to listen.

    “We all have this inate desire to improve ourselves (move up a level on the hierachy scale). How will you curp this? Because what you are saying is that some may not get what others have.”

    That’s a hard one. Got any ideas? I’d hate for us all to end up shooting it out for the last drops of water, oil, or whatever.

    “The Caterbury water situation is an interesting point. If the community decides that it would like the farmers to use the water to grow crops for food, will the Green party oppose this idea?”

    Sure, but we would council against. Do you think people would choose to give up fishing and fresh water generally to provide milk for others?

    “We already have a “trust” called the Parliament of New Zealand. Are you suggesting we need another?”

    So you want Canterbury water allocations done in Parliament?

    “A worse example of world government is the UN.”

    Bad in many ways, but not sure about worse. At least most of its decisions are made in public, unlike those I mentioned.

  6. Valis

    Of course, if you don’t believe like Costanza that we’re on a doomed path, then such change isn’t needed. If you do, then you have to deal with the problem somehow. Costanza strikes me as very open to the discussion about how.

    Problem the Greens have in New Zealand is that a vast majority of people (93%) do not believe the Green party message.

    If this speech is typical of the reform planned by the 7% to persuade the remaining 93 to take on board the message, then you wont get far.

    Plus this devilish Maslows theory of hierachy comes into force when trying to limit peoples expectations. I think you got my point wrong. We all have this inate desire to improve ourselves (move up a level on the hierachy scale). How will you curp this? Because what you are saying is that some may not get what others have.

    The Caterbury water situation is an interesting point. If the community decides that it would like the farmers to use the water to grow crops for food, will the Green party oppose this idea?

    We already have a “trust” called the Parliament of New Zealand. Are you suggesting we need another?

    A worse example of world government is the UN.

  7. Oh, sorry. Great idea, but would have to get the Speaker on board or they wouldn’t hardly get started before being arrested. That’s still a headline of course.

  8. Valis – On the Beehive lawn! It’s dramatic, symbolic, inspirational! Grab the headline, take the first positive step! It will blow the ‘cycle path’ idea right out of the water. Do it today! Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease!

  9. “I’ve put this idea to some of our MPs personally but none have taken up the opportunity.”

    So far as I know, most already do. Jeanette has a farm for goodness sake.

  10. “The last 10 minutes (the pertinent part) of the speech are so mumbled I had to keep rewinding to hear what was being elocuted. Painful.”

    He’s not the best speaker, but I was there and he wasn’t that bad either. Unfortunately the video made from the Uni’s in house system is lousy and makes Costanza seem worse than he was.

    “Scary stuff if you are not part of the community.”

    Perhaps, but worse than we have now? Take Canterbury water. The regional council is not even able to take cumulative effects into consideration when considering new allocation applications. It is currently managed for the benefit of a very few. I don’t know the details of how Costanza’s trust idea would work in such a case, but we have to consider new models that actually recognise that resources like water need to be managed for the public good at least as much as the private good. A trust may not be the answer, but we need to explore these ideas. And Costanza was very aware of the difficulties of doing trusts at an international level. He did not pretend to have the final answer for this.

    “He questions the materialistic goals of people and if only we could “retrain” those desires to levels of “sustainability” (who sets those levels of “sustainability’ – the world government?) .”

    Of course, if you don’t believe like Costanza that we’re on a doomed path, then such change isn’t needed. If you do, then you have to deal with the problem somehow. Costanza strikes me as very open to the discussion about how.

    “Obviously never heard of Maslows levels of heirachy that are preprogrammed into every human. So are we all to be brain washed first and if so will we be able to elect our own government.”

    Its brainwashing if you don’t believe there’s a problem. But if there is a problem and its in our nature to ignore it, do we just stop their and give up?

    “How does one go about electing a world government?”

    Don’t fool yourself, we have one now in the workings of the WTO, IMF and World Bank.

  11. Because there is no General Discussion thread …. you’ll have read that Michelle Obama has planted a garden in the Whitehouse lawn and inspired Americans across the United States. GREEN MPs! DO THIS NOW!!! Get out your spades and dig for victory. If you don’t Key will and we will have lost the best advantage we could have in these special times. I’ve put this idea to some of our MPs personally but none have taken up the opportunity. DO IT NOW! DIG FOR VICTORY! (Can you sense that I’m passionate about this :-)
    Here’s an article re. Michelle Obama

    Michelle Obama just became the hero of parent-gardeners across America by spading up a corner of the White House South Lawn and planting lettuce, chard, and kale. She’s not alone; seed companies across the nation say they’re swamped with orders from first-time gardeners eager to grow their own. And why not? Homegrown veggies are cheaper, they’re local, they can be organic, and they are less likely to have food-safety issues. The first lady also pointed out that making a family effort to raise vegetables emphasizes the importance of healthy eating at a time when childhood obesity is a national epidemic. Plus, homegrown veggies are way yummier. So it’s time to join Sasha and Malia in the garden. (Michelle joked that she expects to have the whole family, including the president, out there pulling weeds. We’ll see.)

  12. Will the green movement ever get a speaker who can deliver a message simply, succintly and eloquently?

    A mumbling effort that most of the target audience (the unbelievers or non greens) would not bother with.

    The last 10 minutes (the pertinent part) of the speech are so mumbled I had to keep rewinding to hear what was being elocuted. Painful.

    The scary bit is that he is an Al Gore like moneyman (The “TrueCost” company he is involved with is mentioned how many times?).

    My final take on the speech content is that if only we had a world government or dictatorship (those “trusts”) to distribute “revenue” into the right areas to relieve “poverty” and create “sustainability” we would all be better off.

    Lost for me any good points on tax reform he made. In other words the “revenue” will not be distributed to individuals but to the “community”.

    Scary stuff if you are not part of the community.

    Good luck the green movement and the Green party if that is your end vision.

    But maybe that is why the likes of the Locke’s and the Bradford’s are in the Greens.

    He questions the materialistic goals of people and if only we could “retrain” those desires to levels of “sustainability” (who sets those levels of “sustainability’ – the world government?) .

    Obviously never heard of Maslows levels of heirachy that are preprogrammed into every human. So are we all to be brain washed first and if so will we be able to elect our own government.

    How does one go about electing a world government?

    Very poor effort to convince the world that the green movement is serious about reform. Pity as the tax changes mentioned were for the good, just the “revenue” distribution system is distrubing to say the least.

  13. I’m with Valis on this, the current ‘free’ market just doesn’t price many unsustainable factors directly to the source. If it did I suspect things might work rather differently.

  14. “How come the Greens say they care about the economy and the enviroment yet they don’t seem to have a policy position on the NZD a debt based fractional reserve currency.”

    Its just too scary? Seriously, fractional reserve banking is an acknowledged gap in policy that will be addressed at some point. But I’ve no prediction on just what that policy might be. Changing from a fractional reserve system would seem to be more than difficult for one small country to do, but I’m no expert.

    “Also please explain why growth of the economy is un-sustainable, please note by growth i mean production growth of the economy. There is nothing ecologically wrong with a growing economy as long as you are using renewable resources.”

    That sounds fine if you could achieve it. We’ve never been against growth in goods, only growth in bads.

    “What system is better at allocating resources than the free market??”

    None, but allocation of resources is not all we’re concerned about. How would you achieve production with all renewable resources in a free market? It would have to recognise all costs, including those externalised at the moment like pollution and resource depletion.

    “How can a central government allocate resources better??”

    Greens don’t advocate for this, but central govt can help force externalised costs to be recognised. A price on carbon is one example. I don’t see how the market would do this on its own.

  15. How come the Greens say they care about the economy and the enviroment yet they don’t seem to have a policy position on the NZD a debt based fractional reserve currency.

    As long as we have a debt based fractional reserve currency we will always need more growth to pay back the debt + interest.

    Also please explain why growth of the economy is un-sustainable, please note by growth i mean production growth of the economy. There is nothing ecologically wrong with a growing economy as long as you are using renewable resources.

    What system is better at allocating resources than the free market?? How can a central government allocate resources better??

  16. Yay!
    Kia ora, frog, I’ve been looking forwards to this going up all week.

    Now I guess I’ll spend all weekend trying to work out how to put a copy into my i-movie folder … ;-)

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