What does buying a latte do to the environment? What about a new phone? How about just taking the bus? Some of the greatest North American minds in economy and the environment will discuss these questions and more at Pathways for Change: Towards a Just and Sustainable Economy.
Presented by the Canada & United States Societies for Ecological Economics (CANUSSEE), Pathways for Change will begin with a keynote address called Rethinking Economics, featuring environmentalist David Suzuki, and ecological economist Dr. Peter Victor.
Victor is one of the founders of ecological economics, and has spent the last 40 years studying the impact economies have on the environment. From heating your home to buying a bike, the flow of materials and energy involved makes a mark.
“If you buy a bike, it doesn’t seem like a very polluting activity,” Victor told Vancity Buzz. “[But] the frame had to be made, the wheels had to be made, the tires had to be made, and those activities generate pollutants.”
This week’s conference marks the first time both Canadian and U.S. ecological economists will meet for the same conference, something that Victor says promises a move forward itself.
“It’s a great opportunity for younger scholars and young academics to meet their counterparts in other countries and continue to work together,” he says. “That’s important.”
The impact of rich countries on the environment is what drives ecological economics. According to Victor, policy has failed to change with changing nations, leading to challenges nations aren’t prepared for.
“We’ve fixed local air problems in the cities of most rich countries. We’ve improved water quality. At the same time our economy has grown so much over that period, that the overall impact we’re having on the biosphere keeps getting bigger,” he says. “Now we’re seeing more and more impact on the massive regional level, and the global level. But the large scale widespread loss of biodiversity around the world is just further evidence that humans are putting increasing pressure on the biosphere.”
To find opportunities for change, Victor says every option needs to be considered, even the impact of seemingly simple public programs.
“For example, we’ve got a really serious traffic problem in Toronto. To fix that we’re looking to more public transit, but that will also help us reduce greenhouse gasses coming from the transportation system,” he says. “The thing is, people may be more inclined to deal with the traffic problem as a traffic problem, because it affects them day to day, than if you were to say ‘we think we should change the transportation system as our contribution to the global climate problem.'”
While it may seem that many people simply aren’t interested in environmental issues, Victor says that isn’t the case. The problem seems to be that they once were, but aren’t any longer.
“Children come into the world with a great curiosity about it. They’ll cover themselves in dirt, and dig holes in the ground, and look at insects, and have this wonderful curiosity,” he says. “So I kind of wonder what is it that we do to kill that? It’s not that we have to some how to become enthusiastic, because that’s a problem – we start with that and we somehow, through our socialization processes, or the amount of time they spend in front of screens, we take that away from them.”
“We’re closing outdoor education schools,” he says. “We should be opening them.” Since Rethinking Economics is a public event, Victor says he hopes to see not only ecological economists, but also people in the community attending, and taking lessons out with them.
“If we come out of that event with a better understanding of the paths that are before us, and what needs to be done, and some ideas of what we need to get on with, that will be good,” he says. “Everybody can take that message in their own way. Some of us have been working on these issues for far too long. It’d be nice to come out of their thinking there’s a lot of public support for the work we’re doing.”
When: Thursday, October 1
Time: 7 to 10 p.m.
Where: The Vogue Theatre – 918 Granville Street, Vancouver