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GDAE Sponsors Conference on Growth vs. Sustainability

From November 9-11, 2006, GDAE brought together over 20 innovative thinkers for a conference titled "Growth vs. Sustainability? Economic Responses to Ecological Challenges" at the Pocantico Conference Center near New York City. The focus of the conference was the implications of taking environmental sustainability seriously for our understanding of economic systems. The starting point of the discussions was the assumption that we all share the ultimate goal of changing human behavior so as to reduce ongoing damage to the ecosystem.  However, some damages from global climate change and other environmental impacts are already inevitable or irreversible.  These new realities dictate that the macroeconomics of the 21st century must look beyond the traditional goals of economic growth and stability. While the coming decades pose emerging constraints on human societies, we also believe this presents a unique opportunity to redirect economic thought towards goals that are socially just and environmentally sustainable. The conference overview paper by GDAE co-director Neva Goodwin (distributed to conference participants beforehand) discusses the need to question several long-standing assumptions.

The "Growth vs. Sustainability" conference brought together academics, NGO members, and activists from ten countries including China, Sri Lanka, Poland, Thailand, Ecuador, Mexico, the U.S., Malaysia, and the Czech Republic. Learn more about the conference participants.

The motivation for the conference came from GDAE's ongoing work on the introductory text Macroeconomics in Context. While the text covers standard concepts and models, it also discusses other topics critical for improving human well-being, including distributional equity, the adequacy of living standards, and environmental considerations. It is the companion text to the Institute’s Microeconomics in Context.

The topics discussed by conference participants included:

  • The scientific basis behind 21st century environmental realities and the implications of these facts and projections for countries in the Global North and South. Kelly Sims Gallagher presented an overview of the current research on global climate change while David Seckler discussed current and future challenges for water supplies. Shiqiu Zhang presented a summary of China's efforts to address environmental problems while maintaining high rates of economic growth. Andrzej Kassenberg discussed the negative and positive aspects of Poland's implementation of sustainable development.

  • Implications of sustainability for the Global North. Betsy Taylor focused on the role of political discourse and the role of the core sector. Nadia Johanisova discussed how the prevailing economic assumptions of continual growth, unbridled free trade, and perfect market competition have exacerbated global environmental problems. Adam Seitchik presented his impressions on the ability of large institutional investors to influence social goals. Lance Taylor and Richard Howarth then discussed ideas for taking economic theory in new directions. Frank Ackerman summarized recent data on the economics of global climate change.

  • Lessons from, and implications for, the Global South. Presentations by Mohan Munasinghe, Sitanon Jesdapipat, and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, discussed the implications of sustainability for developing countries. Topics covered included the need to develop specific solutions to problems in different countries, the goal of meeting basic human needs while pursuing environmental objectives, and the importance of developed countries taking the initiative to reduce impacts and assist developing countries.

  • Where does macroeconomics go from here? The conference ended with a round-table discussion with commentary from Peter Dorman, Lance Taylor, Julie Nelson, Richard Howarth, Eban Goodstein, and Alejandro Nadal. Topics discussed included the need to direct macro theory towards long-term goals, the importance of an ethical basis for macro theory, the role of the public sector in making strategic investments, the imperative of reducing global poverty and inequalities, and the need to educate people in anticipation of future developments.

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