All posts by Erin Lennox

Maryland’s Experience in Measuring “Genuine Progress”

Anders Hayden

Associate Professor, Dalhousie University

anders.hayden@dal.ca

 

Gross National Product “measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans,” Robert F. Kennedy, 1968.

“I always remembered that quote,” said former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, explaining one reason why he supported introduction of a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). His administration began calculating the GPI in 2010 to complement but not replace GDP. By including monetary estimates for a range of environmental, social, and economic costs and benefits ignored in GDP calculations, the GPI provides a more comprehensive picture of wellbeing.

The idea that the state should examine alternative prosperity indicators came from Maryland’s Office for a Sustainable Future and its sustainability policy director, Sean McGuire, who was trained in ecological economics at the University of Maryland (where, years earlier, Herman Daly had developed the GPI’s predecessor, the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare). While moving beyond GDP as the leading prosperity measurement has been, for some supporters, a key part of the project of dethroning economic growth as the dominant societal priority, the idea has also gained ground in recent years in the political mainstream among those who see it as a tool for better policymaking without directly questioning the growth paradigm.

In our recent article on the Maryland GPI, Jeff Wilson and I examine the following questions: What have the impacts been of Maryland’s GPI initiative? Is there any evidence to date that the GPI has shaped policy and public priorities in ways that live up to supporters’ expectations, whether for better policymaking or more radical transformation? What key obstacles exist to fulfilling those expectations? To answer these questions, we draw on semi-structured interviews with elite respondents—including Governor O’Malley, senior public servants, academics, non-governmental organization employees and foundation leaders—involved in producing, advocating and using the GPI, along with analysis of relevant documents and media articles.

We found that Maryland’s GPI initiative revealed promising possibilities for policymaking that gives greater weight to ecological and social considerations—potentially helping to level the playing field that has been tilted toward conventional economic values—although these possibilities are still some way from being fully realized.

The GPI can help to show net societal benefits of policies such as investing in public transit, increasing the minimum wage and reducing GHGs—giving policymakers and advocates additional ammunition for political battles over such issues. In other words, the potential for what some theorists call the “political use” of indicators was evident with Maryland’s GPI.

Less evident so far is any direct impact of the GPI on policy decisions—or “instrumental use.”

Indeed, researchers have often struggled to find evidence of direct policy impacts from other “beyond-GDP” measurement initiatives around the world and from sustainable-development indicators.

To their credit, key players working on the Maryland GPI took steps not only to produce a new indicator, but also explore how to integrate it into policymaking. Some GPI-impact analysis of policy ideas occurred within the state bureaucracy. The non-governmental Center for a Sustainable Economy also produced a prototype “GPI note” on the GPI impacts of a minimum-wage increase (Talberth 2014), providing a more complete picture than a conventional fiscal note outlining a proposed policy’s effect on government finances. One promising offshoot of the GPI initiative was a pilot study of the use of Net Present Value Plus (NPV+) analysis, which goes beyond conventional cost-benefit analysis to include, like the GPI, social and environmental considerations that typically go uncounted. It showed, for example, that when the value of ecosystem services are considered, the state would derive more value from purchasing wetlands and forests and protecting them than by allowing sprawling suburban development (GFN 2015).

One main obstacle in Maryland was that the clock ran out on officials who were working behind the scene on innovative GPI applications before a new Republican governor took office in 2015. (Although there has been, in one interviewee’s words, a “de-emphasis on the use of the GPI” since 2015, the state’s Department of Natural Resources has maintained its GPI web pages and continued some GPI work.) Other obstacles included the commonplace challenge of resistance to new ideas, including some bureaucratic resistance; the need for training to use the GPI and related policy tools; and concerns over cost and time involved in producing the data needed to apply the GPI to policy decisions.

Although both the initiative itself and political opposition to it had a low profile, ideologically driven opposition could be found on the margins of public debate.  For example, former Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich (2015) called the GPI “liberal snake-oil for what ails anti-business states,” while another right-wing critic went further, likening it to the “propaganda” that supported Lenin’s New Economic Policy and Mao’s Great Leap Forward (Pettit 2012). Should the GPI or other beyond-GDP indicators become more prominent and shift policy decisions in a greener and more socially progressive direction, they will likely attract more fire from opponents, suggesting a need for further work to build up the base of political support for alternative prosperity measurements.

The Maryland case also raises some questions about the GPI’s own limits, especially for those who hope that moving beyond GDP can support a post-growth, post-consumerist economic narrative. While GPI is an improvement in important ways on the use—or misuse—of GDP as a wellbeing measurement, it remains dominated by personal consumption expenditures. This can lead to surprising results. In 2015, for example, Maryland saw increased costs from income inequality, crime, and environmental degradation, including a 3 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the GPI rose nearly 4 percent—due mainly to a large increase in household consumption. There remain grounds for debate over how to further refine the GPI (e.g. to reduce the prominence of consumption expenditures and increase estimates of environmental costs), whether the GPI deserves to be the main beyond-GDP alternative, and which other indicators are needed to supplement it.

One final lesson from Maryland is that achieving a significant impact through beyond-GDP measurement is a long-term process. Governor O’Malley referred to the initiative in terms of “planting seeds,” while some theorists have emphasized potential long-term impacts from the “conceptual use” of indicators, i.e. by changing mental models and encouraging new ways of thinking. As a pioneer and host of two national GPI summits, Maryland also contributed to encouraging GPI initiatives of various kinds in other states, including Vermont, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, among others. There may yet be impacts to come in Maryland from increased awareness among non-governmental organizations of the need for efforts to make the policy sphere friendlier to non-economic values and, hopefully, a future revival of efforts to apply beyond-GDP measurement to policymaking in innovative ways.

The full article is available (open access):

Hayden, Anders and Jeffrey Wilson. 2018. “Taking the First Steps beyond GDP: Maryland’s Experience in Measuring ‘Genuine Progress’.” Sustainability 10(2):462. http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/10/2/462

 

References:

Ehrlich, Robert. 2015. “Kitzhaber and How the Left Cooks the Books.” National Review, February 17.

GFN. 2015. “Making the Economic Case for Sustainable Investments in Maryland.” Oakland, CA: Global Footprint Network.

Pettit, Jim. 2012. “Redefining American Progress.” National Review, October 25.Talberth, John. 2014. HB 295: Maryland Minimum Wage Act of 2014. Washington, D.C.: Center for Sustainable Economy.

2018 Board of Directors Nominees

The USSEE Board of Directors is pleased to announce the nominees for the 2018 Board Elections. The following nominees are for 3 available positions: President-Elect (1 nominee) and 2 At-Large Member Positions (4 nominees). Nominees are presented by position in alphabetical order. Elections will open Wednesday May 23rd and run through Friday June 8th. Please note, your ISEE/USSEE membership must be up-to-date to vote!

To vote, use the following link: https://goo.gl/forms/zhyzxdgjJMF72uSx2

Candidate for President Elect

Robert B Richardson, Michigan State University

Dr. Robert Richardson is an ecological economist and Associate Professor at Michigan State University with interests in the study of the environment and development, particularly the contribution of ecosystem services to socioeconomic well-being. He holds a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Resource Economics from Colorado State University. His research, teaching, and outreach program focuses primarily on sustainable development, and he uses a variety of methods from the behavioral and social sciences to study decision-making about the use of natural resources and the values of ecosystem services. He has conducted research related to agricultural-environmental linkages, household food and energy security, and tradeoffs in decision-making about environmental management in southern and eastern Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia, as well as in various regions of the USA. His work has been published in Ecological Economics, Journal of Environmental Management, and World Development.

Dr. Richardson is a former member of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and former chairperson of the subcommittee on Sustainable and Healthy Communities. He is a former officer and board member of the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics, and a member of the International Society for Ecological Economics. He is an affiliate faculty member with MSU’s Environmental Science and Policy Program, Center for Advanced Study of International Development, Center for Regional Food Systems, African Studies Center, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Candidacy Statement: My academic career has been informed and inspired by the tenets of ecological economics, and I would be honored to serve on the USSEE Board as President-elect, and later as President. I have been a member of the International Society for Ecological Economics since 2000, after having attended an ISEE conference as a doctoral student, and I have been a member of the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics since its founding in 2001. The Society has been my primary scholarly community since the formative years of my academic career until the present. I previously served on the USSEE Board as Secretary-Treasurer from 2009 to 2015, and I served as Chairperson of the Conference Committee for the 2011 biennial conference, and as Chairperson of the Scientific Committee for the 2017 conference. As President, my vision for the organization would involve expanding its membership base in regions of the USA where there is high potential but few clusters of members, through outreach to universities and regional organizations. I would focus on the development of education in ecological economics and on elevating the academic profile of the field through outreach with academic institutions, government agencies, and other organizations. Interdisciplinary departments and degree programs are increasing in number across the USA, and I believe that USSEE can make valuable contributions to the curricula and scholarly foundations of those institutions. At a time when scientific knowledge about global challenges is rapidly expanding, there is an increasing need for ecological economics to have a voice in public discourse and policy dialogue, and I would like to see USSEE play a leading role in that effort.

Candidates for Members at Large

Christa Court, University of Florida

Dr. Christa Court is currently an Assistant Scientist in the Food & Resource Economics Department at the University of Florida (UF), Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). She serves as Assistant Director of the UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program, which conducts regional economic analyses for funded research projects, industry organizations, and government agencies. She also holds affiliate faculty status with the UF Water Institute, the UF/IFAS Institute for Sustainable Food Systems, and the Regional Research Institute at West Virginia University. Her research interests include regional economic modeling, the energy-water nexus, environmental accounting, and connections in human and natural systems. Dr. Court has been involved in numerous funded projects involving regional economic modeling and the integration of environmental data and models within these models over the last decade and has a growing list of related publications. She has undergraduate degrees in Economics and Spanish from Middle Tennessee State University and a Masters and Ph.D. in Economics from West Virginia University. During her time at West Virginia University, Christa held the position of Graduate Research Fellow at the Regional Research Institute after which she spent four years as a contract economist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Candidacy Statement: I am interested in joining the Board of Directors of the USSEE because I would like to become a more active member of the USSEE.  My personal interests are in the areas of ecological economics, industrial ecology, and integrated modeling of human and physical environment systems. I believe that it is important to integrate otherwise compartmentalized models of individual systems to synthesize and expand research in economics and environmental science simultaneously and to enhance the information available to policymakers as they tackle societal issues including natural resource depletion, climate change, and sustainable development. The USSEE is making strides in all of these areas through its transdisciplinary approach to sustainability science and I would very much like to play a larger role in this group. I believe that my research experience in academia, industry, and government will help the USSEE bridge the gap that often exists between academia and the industry and public policy arenas and will aid the USSEE in putting the concepts of ecological economics into action.

Georgia Mavrommati, University of Massachusetts Boston

Dr. Georgia Mavrommati is an Assistant Professor of Ecological Economics in the School for the Environment at University of Massachusetts Boston. She received her Master in Economic Theory and Policy from University of Crete and her PhD in ecological economics from Panteion University where she served as the Greek contact point of the European Society of Ecological Economics. After completing graduate school, Georgia was a Postdoctoral scholar in the Center for Water Sciences at Michigan State University and afterwards in the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth College. Her research focuses on the interface of the economy with the environment. In particular, the dependency of socioeconomic process on ecosystems and the provision to society of ecosystem services attracts her main interest. In her work, she is collaborating with scientists from a variety of disciplines (e.g. decision scientists, aquatic ecologists, forest ecologists, climate scientists) to characterize and value ecosystem services at the watershed level. This research addresses some practical challenges of conventional valuation methods through the development and application of a novel framework based on a deliberative multicriteria method into which sustainability considerations are incorporated and community engagement is ensured. Her teaching is concentrated in the fields of environmental policy and management, sustainable development and coupled social-ecological system dynamics. Her work has been published in several peer-reviewed papers and she recently founded the Ecological Economics and Systems Lab at UMass Boston.

Candidacy Statement: I am excited by the possibility of serving the US Society of Ecological Economics as a board member. Reaching out to new potential members is and will continue to be one of the main goals of the society’s board. One of my main aims as a board member of the society is to work hard towards this vital-for the future of the society-goal. I would like to direct my efforts towards scientists from relevant disciplines, undergraduate and K-12 students, where I think there is the greatest opportunity to expand the society’s outreach and relate ecological economics to various transdisciplinary subjects. I would also be an advocate for programs designed to increase the participation of members of underrepresented groups in the field of Ecological Economics.

Madhavi Venkatesan, Northeastern University

Dr. Madhavi Venkatesan is a faculty member in the Department of Economics at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Her present academic interests are specific to the integration of sustainability into the economics curriculum and she is currently pursuing scholarly interests in sustainable economic development. She serves as the Executive Director of Sustainable Practices, a 501(c)3 non-profit she founded in 2016. Sustainable Practices is focused on increasing financial and economic literacy to facilitate sustainability and thereby promote environmental and social justice as well as economic equity.

Prior to re-entering academics, Madhavi held senior level positions in investor relations for three Fortune 250 companies. In this capacity, she was a principal point of contact for investors and stakeholders and was instrumental in the development of socially responsible investing strategies and corporate social responsibility reporting. Madhavi started her financial services career after completing her post-doctoral fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned a PhD in Economics from Vanderbilt University, a Masters in Environmental Management from Harvard University, and a Masters in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School. She is the author of numerous peer reviewed articles and book chapters on the subject of sustainability and economics as well as the text Economic Principles: A Primer, A Framework for Sustainable Practices and forthcoming Foundations in Microeconomics, A Framework for Sustainable Practices and Foundations in Macroeconomics, A Framework for Sustainable Practices. In 2017, Madhavi was granted the Fulbright-SyCip Distinguished Lecturing Award to the Philippines where she gave lectures in the host country in February of 2018 on the role of economics in fostering sustainable outcomes and ultimately, a culture of sustainability.

Candidacy Statement: I appreciate your consideration to serve on the board of the USSEE for the 2018-2020 term. My interest in the position is related to my strong belief that ecological economics needs to be integrated into the mainstream discussion and teaching of economics. I have spent the past few years, writing and speaking on this topic. I have written textbooks that assist in the dissemination of this integration within the high school, community college and university systems and I have responded to solicitations and invitations to speak on the subject. Further, I have leveraged my marketing and communication strategy skills, which were developed during my tenure as an equity analyst and investor relations officer, to channel my communications and thereby extend the range of the ecological economics message to a significantly wide audience as represented by age, education, nationality and income among other demographic characteristics.  Specific to organizational skills, policymaking, collegiality and experience as a volunteer, I have developed, created, established and been an active participant, respectively. I have volunteered my time to numerous organizations over the past 20 years and am presently a board member of the ISEE and serve as the Executive Director of my own non-profit, Sustainable Practices (sustainablepracticesltd.org). As a USSEE board member, I would use my skills and the experience I have gained in my own pursuits to further the goals of USSEE, including increasing the transparency and dissemination of the organization’s focus. Additionally, I would seek to strengthen and establish relationships to promote the significance of the focus of the organization. There are many parallel organizations as well as further increasing sensitivities related to the mission of the USSEE, making the present time a significant opportunity for the organization. Finally, and related, I would work with fellow members to promote both membership and governance functions, both of which I have experience with through past affiliations.

Phillip Warsaw, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dr. Phillip Warsaw is a postdoctoral fellow with the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also completed in Ph.D. in Economics. As a master’s candidate in Environmental Studies, Phillip first began his engagement in ecological economics through his thesis work, titled “Beyond Distribution: Moving Towards a Power-Structures Approach to Environmental Justice in Ecological Economics.” As a doctoral candidate, Phillip continued his work in environmental justice in developing his dissertation, “Essays on the Economics of Food Access”, which developed a microeconomic approach to investigating food insecurity in Milwaukee. As a postdoctoral fellow, he has continued to develop his research agenda of building an economic paradigm centered around environmental justice, using a variety of traditional and non-traditional economics tools, as well as interdisciplinary approaches to his work. Phillip has also been involved in building a broader ecological economics agenda on the UW’s campus, developing and participating in a number of ecological economics reading groups, as well as developing a graduate course in ecological economics in Fall 2017.

Candidacy Statement: In my time as a graduate student and now postdoctoral fellow, I have seen a growing passion among my colleagues for transdisciplinary work to build a new economic paradigm which recognizes social and ecological truths, which ecological economics is uniquely positioned to address. As such, I believe now is a crucial time to recruit a diverse set of young and passionate scholars into the field and provide them with the tools to contribute to the field, both in their research and teaching. As a nominee for the USSEE board, I welcome the opportunity to help contribute to the society on these issues.

In Fall 2017, I was offered the chance to create and lead a graduate course in ecological economics. The course attracted students from several disciplines, including sociology, environmental studies, and agricultural economics. Among the many insights I gained teaching this course, two stand out. First, I believe there is a continued need for support in developing course syllabi. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the course I developed was to my knowledge the first of its kind. As such, I found myself relying heavily on the resources available through the USSEE to develop my syllabus. That said, given the interdisciplinary nature of the field, I believe the society would benefit from continued efforts to provide support to aspiring instructors of ecological economics from varied academic backgrounds. To that end, I would be interested in working with the syllabi subcommittee to continuing to provide these vital resources.

The second insight I gained in my teaching is the importance of a justice-centered message in recruiting a diverse group of scholars to the field. As an academic of color who received his Ph.D. training in neoclassical economics, one of central factors which drew me towards ecological economics is its focus on environmental justice. That said, in speaking with students of color at the UW, all of whom were outside of economics, a common refrain I heard was that they were unaware that a subfield of economics that considered environmental justice even existed! This indicates to me that there may be significant gains in emphasizing these aspects of the field, not only in syllabi, but also in outreach efforts to continue to attract a diverse group of scholars into ecological economics. As such, I would also be committed to working with the membership subcommittee to find avenues to bring such a messaging approach to efforts to grow the USSEE.

The USSEE has provided valuable resources to me as a developing scholar in ecological economics. I am excited about the possibility of working with the USSEE to continue to maintain its current influence and expand its reach to a rising generation of academics ready to contribute to the field.

 

Postdoctoral Fellow: Insurance Value of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Lund University: Center for Environmental and Climate Research, Sweden

Closing date: 9 April 2018

For information and application visit https://lu.mynetworkglobal.com/en/what:job/jobID:197971/

ABOUT US

Lund University was founded in 1666 and is repeatedly ranked among the world’s top 100 universities and has 40 000 students and 7 400 staff. We are united in our efforts to understand, explain and improve our world and the human condition.

The Center for Environmental and Climate Research, CEC (http://www.cec.lu.se) conducts research, education, and communication on environmental science and climate research at Lund University. A central part of the activities is the coordination of the strategic research area Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in a Changing Climate, BECC (http://www.becc.lu.se), based on interdisciplinary collaboration between more than 200 researchers and doctoral students at universities in Lund and Gothenburg. BECC brings together natural and social science research to increase knowledge about the direct and indirect effects of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services and how this knowledge can contribute to sustainable ecosystem management.

JOB DESCRIPTION

You will be part of the multidisciplinary research project ”Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services as Insurance against risks of Future Weather Variability (BioInsure)”, and collaborate with scientists from agricultural and environmental economics, ecology, and soil, agricultural and climate sciences. You will be stationed at CEC.

Climate change has been heralded as presenting agriculture with opportunities, particularly a longer growing season, new crops and higher yields. However, the risks associated with crop production will increase if the weather (e.g., daily rainfall and temperatures) becomes more variable because it could bring about more frequent dry or wet conditions, as well as more intense weather events. Conserving soil biodiversity (natural capital) and associated supporting ecosystem services (ES) can though provide farmers and society in general with insurance against future risks.

DUTIES

The overriding aim of this research is to evaluate the implications of climate scenarios that explicitly consider weather variability, for the optimal management of natural capital. This will be done using multiple methods: a) estimating statistical crop production functions that include weather variables and indicators of natural capital from long-term experimental data; b) developing climate scenarios including weather variability; c) Optimizing natural capital using dynamic programming; and d) Evaluating the insurance value, implicitly associated with the conservation of natural capital, using real-option pricing techniques. The project will be based on existing data and modelling frameworks. We will focus on statistical and analytical modelling to develop fundamental knowledge of climate risks as related to natural capital. We expect to demonstrate that natural capital provides insurance against the risks of climate change by buffering yield effects of adverse weather events and reducing reliance on costly inputs, as well as providing guidance to policymakers.

To develop statistical models of crop production, climate scenarios, dynamic programming models and real-options techniques you will collaborate with experts in these fields who are engaged in the project.

Your main duty will be to carry out research in an active research environment including several postdocs, Ph.D. students, and thesis students investigating research questions in similar themes, with generous opportunity for collaborative work. You are also expected to actively participate in the BECC environment, by e.g. participating, initiating and contributing to seminars, workshops, and thematic research meetings. The postdoc may also participate in teaching on a limited basis.

QUALIFICATIONS

  • Ph.D. in environmental or agricultural economics, ecology, physical geography, environmental, agricultural or forestry sciences or similar. Candidates with a Ph.D. in other sciences (e.g. statistics, mathematics or strong quantitative interdisciplinary field) and with documented skills in one of the disciplines listed above may also qualify.
  • Strong quantitative skills, e.g., statistical estimation or modelling, mathematical modelling, mathematical programming (optimization), or the like.
  • The applicant needs to be able to pursue independent research and participate in interdisciplinary teamwork.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills are required.
  • The candidate must be excellent in spoken and written English.

Apply at: https://lu.mynetworkglobal.com/en/what:job/jobID:197971/

 

 

 

John Gowdy Webinar

To view John Gowdy’s February 28th, 2018 webinar on incorporating ecological economics into a standard economics course, see the link below to the video on the USSEE YouTube page. In this webinar, John covers some of the core principles of ecological economics, and describes how he incorporates them in his natural resource and environmental economics courses. The webinar follows his previous blog post here on the same topic.   The target audience is anyone interested in learning more about ecological economics, with a particular emphasis for faculty and students on how to supplement the content in their current courses.