1. Editorial

  • Alexandra Köves: Ecological economics in policy and politics

2. News from ESEE and its members

  • Call for applications: ESEE Ecological Economics  Training Institute
  • Environmental Policy and Governance Journal - current issues

3. Hot topic

  • ESEE Board: From jet-set to mindful travellers: ESEE stays grounded (A proposal for the future of our society)

4. Student spotlight

  • Roberto Pasqualino: The need for exploring the relationships between ecological modelling and business decision making

5. Events, jobs and publications

  • Project announcement: New project to bring ecological economics community together to deliberate on post-pandemic economy, University of York and SDG Transformations Forum
  • Upcoming conference: 7th International Degrowth and 16th ISEE Joint Conference: ‘Building Alternative Livelihoods in times of ecological and political crisis’, University of Manchester, week-commencing 05 July 2021
  • Call for abstracts: Workshop entitled ‘It’s the (bio)economy, stupid! The future of growth and the promise of the bioeconomy’, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany, 7 to 9 October 2020


1. Editorial

Ecological economics in policy and politicsbdaf1201-285b-4814-a08f-0d1106e9f05f.jpg

Alexandra Köves, Assistant Professor, Corvinus University of Budapest and ESEE Board Member

During the 2019 ESEE conference in Turku there seemed to be widespread consensus among ecological economists that our scientific community needs to take steps to be more involved in policymaking and politics. The former seems less of a problem. For all those who have taken the concept of post-normal science as a guiding principle in how they approach research – and many of us do – are highly familiar what it means to have policy relevant findings. We have a lot to say on how necessary transformations may be induced by adequate policy measures and we know how to be critical to mainstream interventions that lead us in directions our societies should be diverting from. However, policymaking has a lot to do with politics and that is exactly where we shy away.

In the last year it seems we have reached a certain critical mass that we so often mention. We reached critical mass when it comes to people actually fearing climate change. Maybe we also reached critical mass to some extent in people who are disillusioned with the directions politicians are taking in tackling their fears. At this point in time this critical mass consists of many who are facing what the American psychologist Robert Gifford calls “dragons of inaction”. A myriad of psychological phenomena that in the face of climate threats lead humans to completely freeze like rabbits in the headlights. Therefore, even though this critical mass makes us seem less ‘hippyish’ in introducing our ideas of social and economic transformation, it is not enough to achieve the rapid change necessary to slow down degradation. For that we need an active critical mass, active at least in questioning some of the fundamentals and narratives we as humans have relied on for so long. Action is encouraged when people have a vision of the future where what they think, what they do and what they opt for in their individual and collective spheres matters. And this is where politics comes in. Offering narratives is the very foundation of politics.

And narratives we have. Alternative future visions we also have. We have plenty of things to offer and this is the basis for starting a dialogue on being more active in the political sphere. However, we are facing huge dilemmas. Firstly, our visions of a sustainable and just society are mostly - and may I say quite rightly - being placed into a deliberative context where participation, dialogue and cocreation rule the day. Having to provide this narrative within the power games of today’s realpolitik hardly suits us. It creates cognitive dissonances and many of us feel that entering this field even with the best of intentions corrupts the very fundamentals of our message. So, we tend to shy away and continue to believe that our cocreational bottom-up initiatives will one day reach critical mass. Whether this day is close enough to save our souls is a serious dilemma. 

Secondly, those who get their hands dirty and enter the political arena never seem to be radical enough to be called an ecological economist. Those invited to mainstream events tone down their criticisms to an extent that would be considered almost cowardly in our scientific community. These events – where the ‘alternatives’ are being invited – are organised in such a way that even those who are willing to be radical and raise their voices are automatically toned down. A good example was the ‘Beyond Growth – Indicators and politics for people and planet’ invitation-only conference that was an official event of the Finnish presidency in October 2019. It brought together 150 people from decision-making, administration, civil society, business, and academia to develop recommendations to the EU on introducing wellbeing and sustainability indicators to policymaking. When in a ‘beyond growth’ conference degrowth perspectives came up, the organisers managed to put a ‘politics filter’ on the results by focusing on what can or cannot be sold to politicians. This self-induced censorship of what is presentable and what is not to the wider public or politicians makes radical narratives harder to infuse into even reformist discourses. This feeling of submission or compliance and to what extent this is acceptable is also a dilemma we face.

The third dilemma we may encounter is that of party politics. The rules of the game in representative democracies make it difficult to get involved with politics without taking sides. But none of us are willing to legitimise party politicians who may pick upon some policy ideas or narratives while also pursuing other policies that are incoherent with our idea of systemic change. The fear of co-optation is surrounding us whenever we enter these spheres. Who we support or to what extent we support them with our scientific findings is a dilemma that we meet whenever we present them in political settings. Of course, there is also the option of joining local politics that seem to suit us more in our pursuits but that is also risky business for a scientist.

If I had adequate answers to these questions or had heard convincing solutions to these dilemmas, I would not raise them in an editorial. All I know is that there is a rising need for our scientific community not to shy away from these questions in times when it is crucial which alternative narratives are put on the table. The demand for our involvement is intensifying but the ways are unclear. The hot topic in this issue is to do with no-flying policies. Again, to most of us the aim is clear. The options are also clear. But when we get down to the nitty-gritty details we realise that even this problem involves large scale policy issues on how we organise science; how higher education is founded; how gender equality is achieved; how technological innovation is encouraged; whom our taxation systems favour and a myriad of other systemic problems. As a community we can take stances and add a little to the critical mass of active citizens but just imagine how much further we could get if we could influence the narratives around an issue like this. Therefore, we need to induce further dialogue on ecological economics and politics and share any experiences and the benchmarks we may have. As usual, we may only find clumsy solutions, but we know those usually are the answers to complex problems.


2. News from ESEE and its members

Call for applications: ESEE Ecological Economics Training Institutes

ESEE board is pleased to open its call for a series of transdisciplinary and collaborative training institutes on ecological economics aimed at early career researchers, practitioners, and decision-makers in Europe. Events can be focused on any of the diverse range of topics associated with ecological economics but will share a common participatory approach and structure. Local organisers can (annually) bid for up to 2000 euros for events that meet a number of criteria, as detailed below:

Event criteria

- Highly collaborative and participatory; not just a series of lectures and presentations
- Transdisciplinary: including participants beyond academia, e.g. decision-makers, practitioners, community representatives, etc.
- Involvement of one or more ESEE board members to guarantee criteria are met and to further year-on-year learning regarding format and engagement.
- Students are heavily involved in organising the event.
- Zero or low cost for participation, with some kind of bursary opportunities for those in a low-income situation 
- The organisers have to record participant feedback on the event and make this available to ESEE
- Environmental awareness: a plan to minimise (and potentially compensate) the carbon footprint and other environmental costs 

Further guidelines and suggestions

In addition to mandatory criteria, ESEE suggests the following guidelines for the events. These guidelines will also be used to decide between competing applications if more than one application is made for sponsorship in an annual round.

- Duration: 2 days for pre-conference events, 3-5 days for other events
- Number of participants: 20-30 participants; a relatively small group of students helps to build group cohesiveness and identity.
- A mix of student and post-doc with at least a third post-docs.
- Provide opportunities for publication of outputs.
- Provide opportunities for ECTL credits associated with courses.
- Remote locations preferred to maximise engagement.
- Family friendly with childcare options available.
- As the decision on competing proposals is taken by the ESEE Board, active ESEE Board members are excluded from submitting applications for competition. However, they are still free to submit applications, but these will only be considered in the case of no other eligible application(s) being made from applicants outside the ESEE Board for the next year to come.
- ESEE membership: participants must be told about ESEE, and provided the opportunity to join ESEE (or ISEE) as part of the event.

Procedure for applications

Candidates can apply annually for up to 2000 euros towards the cost of an event to be held within the following two years, provided it meets the criteria, but are responsible for the remainder of funding. Applications will include a short rationale for the meeting including a description of the meeting format (max 2 pages), a budget, an indication of what budget items ESEE funds will be spent on, and an overview of other (potential) funding sources.

Please direct any queries or applications to Nina Janasik:

The deadline for applications for events in 2020 has now passed, however applications for 2021 can be submitted at any time by October 31st, 2020, and will be decided upon in November 2020.

Environmental Policy and Governance Journal

Table of contents for current issues January/February (vol30/01) and March/April (vol30/02)

3. Hot topic

From jet-set to mindful travellers: ESEE stays grounded

A proposal for the future (of our society) by ESEE Board:

Erik Gómez-Baggethun, Tom Bauler, Eszter Keleman, Pinar Ertör-Akyazi, Elke Pirgmaier, Ernest Aigner, Sarah Hafner, Timothy Foxon, Juha Hiedanpää, Nina Janasik-Honkela, Jasper Kenter, Alexandra Köves, Daniel O’Neill, György Pataki, Anke Schaffartzik

Vivianne Rau, student assistant at the Institute of Social Ecology (SEC), University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU) contributed greatly to researching and writing this article.

Every time we take an aeroplane, we’re pushing the boundaries of our planet, claiming its resources and sinks to get somewhere faster. Every time we take an aeroplane to get to a conference, a project meeting, a lecture, a summer school, a PhD defence, or a research site, we’re claiming those resources and sinks for ecological economics, as part of what ecological economists do. We’re upholding this inherently unsustainable and unjust form of transportation as acceptable or necessary.

Despite the efforts of individuals and collectives advocating – as Clive Spash did in our 2019 Summer Newsletter  – and practicing climate safe travel, air travel has remained ‘normal’ in our community and we believe this needs to change.  As members of the ESEE board, we propose a concerted deviation from this ‘normal’ for our society. We are explicitly not looking to shame individuals who fly but to encourage and empower all of us to avoid flying whenever and wherever possible, and to denounce the systemic support for air travel and constraints on other forms of travel and communication. Together we can achieve the following:
  • Substantially reduce our community’s fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Uncover the systemic flaws (in transport, in pricing, in care work, in criteria for academic promotion) that make it difficult to avoid flying.
  • Visibly communicate that we are personally and professionally as concerned with growth in resource use and emissions as our research clearly demonstrates we should be.
  • Acknowledge that we are simultaneously researchers and also the subject of our research.
Air travel has been growing at an ever-increasing pace, with growth both in revenue and in distance travelled, contributing increasingly to global greenhouse gas emissions and requiring expansion of transport infrastructure. In 2018, 2.4% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels or 918 million metric tons of CO2 were emitted directly through commercial flights, mainly related to passenger transport. Over one third of these were from short-haul flights (<1500 km). 423 new airports are currently planned or under construction and 1200 airport infrastructure projects are in the works. Governments heavily subsidize the aviation industry, requiring current and future populations to shoulder the economic, social, and environmental burden whilst a tiny number of ‘frequent flyers’ benefit disproportionately. Carbon-neutral or sustainable flying is increasingly being raised as a smokescreen and as greenwashing. Technological innovations like hydrogen or bio-fuelled aircraft will only become an option at the large scale after it is too late, if they do at all. Biofuels are linked to very high indirect emissions through land-use changes, in addition to manifold other environmental and social impacts.

Through air travel, academia contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions and to the extractive expansion that encroaches on local livelihoods and the habitats of other species. We want to foster the discussion about our role in the climate crisis, in line with the scientific facts while also unveiling ‘green’ smokescreens so that we can develop visions for future mobility that is socially just and respects planetary boundaries.

On the one hand, academia can appear to be locked-in to the aviation industry. Air travel is often still the benchmark for travel costs. The US National Science Fund stipulates, for example, that “[…] if such travel [“train, bus or other surface carrier”] could have been performed by air, the allowance will not normally exceed that for jet economy airfare.” As we all know, air travel is still often cheaper than train travel with air fare in no way reflecting the true environmental and social cost of this mode of transportation. On the other hand, a growing movement of students and scientists is urging academic institutions to realize their responsibility to act as role models. Academic institutions are encouraging their staff to sign onto agreements to stay grounded, to thoroughly consider all possible alternatives before booking a flight, or are even taking blanket decisions: Any distance that takes 6 hours or less by train may not be flown by employees of the HTW Berlin, the same goes for distances under 1000 km by the staff of HNE Eberswalde.

Conferences and meetings can also be greatly improved in terms of being accessible without requiring air travel, mainly by: “(1) selecting a more centrally located conference venue, (2) promoting low-emission land-bound travel options so that attendees choose these carbon friendlier means of transportation even if this comes along with longer journey times and (3) introducing the option of online participation, particularly for colleagues from far away.” We additionally propose that (potentially) longer travel time must be considered in conference scheduling to minimize the need for weekend travel. Available resources for conference organization (also applicable to other academic events) include a white paper on a nearly carbon-neutral conference (NCN) model and best practice examples such as the online #WeDontHaveTime Climate Conference 2018 (the first public global no-fly climate conference), the Society for Cultural Anthropology’s 2018 hybrid virtual and in-person conference, and the 2018 International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition (ICMPC) that took place on different continents with a shared virtual space connecting the participants. Neither the conferences nor the winter/spring schools in ecological economics which ESEE endorses can be found among these best practice examples. Past ESEE conferences (in Leeds, Budapest, or Turku, for example), have emphasized vegetarian and vegan food, measures to curb waste, carbon-offsetting options, offered recognition to the person who travelled the longest distance without flying but arriving there by plane nonetheless remained ‘normal’.

On an individual level, ESEE members are or have been committed to staying grounded. As a society, we could offer them (and others who will hopefully make an effort to stay grounded) more support by making a public statement and signing on to Stay Grounded and/or No Fly Climate Sci. Such visible gestures must also be accompanied by institutional measures making it feasible for university employees to uphold their commitment to climate safe travel. It has to be easier (or at least just as easy) to secure (compensation for) climate safe travel by train, bike, or bus as it is for air fare. Academic institutions that sub-contract travel agencies must ensure that these can offer the full range of services for international climate safe travel. Further support for staying grounded can be lent by grant applicants and principal investigators who can stipulate that no project funds may be used to cover (short-haul) air fares. Within their institutions, academics can lobby for creating a work place that encourages avoiding flying, not only through effective IT infrastructure but also through measures such as removing promotions criteria related to speaking at international conferences. The need to fly is often related to cultures of heavy workloads that are in conflict with slow travel; ecological economists can build coalitions with unions to reduce work pressure and to promote an academic culture that is about genuine intellectual creativity and curiosity and knowledge exchange rather than about ‘productivity’.

We are tasked with changing how we implicitly and explicitly communicate about flying. Rather than one of the unquestionable practices of our trade which it is currently often made out to be, travelling by plane is a privilege that few people share globally. It is estimated that only 5-10% of the world population flies every year. The negative consequences of flying, including air and noise pollution primarily affect those who don’t fly. Under the (perceived) imperative of internationalization, academics are increasingly part of that segment of the population that does fly, and we must critically examine not just the social and environmental impact from the privileges of the aviation industry but also those from our own academic privileges. Even though successful academic careers need not depend on air travel, we may be supporting the narrative that air travel is good/acceptable/necessary through the stories we tell – in conversations, presentations, articles and other publications, reviews, lectures, etc. We could, however, also be telling the stories that contest this narrative and contribute to an alternative way of viewing and experiencing the world.

In summary, we propose that as the European Society for Ecological Economics we are tasked with:
  1. Taking a public stance on avoiding air travel whenever and wherever possible, by issuing a statement and signing on to existing initiatives as an organization.
  2. Aiming to make ours conferences and other events nearly carbon-neutral by choosing locations reachable by climate safe travel, enabling remote participation, not promoting (including through financial support) air travel, and promoting (again, also through financial support) climate safe travel.
  3. Supporting members in staying grounded, e.g. by offering letters of support for the choice not to attend a meeting only accessible by air travel, pooling information on climate safe travel in Europe, negotiating special rates with Interrail for ESEE conference attendees, exposing and opposing institutional norms, policies, and practices that discriminate against climate safe travel, and facilitating child care arrangements for attendants of all ESEE events.
  4. Re-telling the narrative. Air travel is not necessary or unavoidable, a thriving academic career does not invariably depend on making many trips by plane. Flying is not “green” or “sustainable” or “carbon neutral”; off-setting does not solve the problems of aviation. We must be mindful of the stories we tell.
  5. Changing the norm, including through greater inclusiveness of events across ableist, financial, gendered, and other constructed boundaries.
  6. Promoting ecological economics (including practices and behaviors with their corresponding claim to resources) not only as the executor but also as the subject of research. 
To support these initiatives, over the next three years, ESEE will offer grants of up to €1000 euro on a rolling basis to support any event or action within the scope of ecological economics that is nearly carbon neutral, particularly encouraging creative experimentation with new formats of (semi-)virtual workshops, conferences, trainings, and other events. In our existing summer school grant program (€2000 yearly) and in ESEE conference proposal evaluations, we will doubly weigh environmental criteria.

Finally, we acknowledge that the ‘stay grounded’ principles may affect people differently depending on their age, life circumstances, and geographical location, to name only a few factors, while the requirements of ‘academic success’ tend to be applied uniformly. As we transform the academic sphere, we must ensure that the diversity of our community is represented even as we strive to stay grounded.

4. Student spotlight

The need for exploring the relationships between ecological modelling and business decision making369267cc-dd0b-400e-83a8-7eacfe04920d.jpg

Interview with Roberto Pasqualino, Visiting Researcher, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge

Tell us about yourself.

I am a Visiting Researcher at the Global Sustainability Institute (GSI) at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. I recently completed my PhD in System Dynamics with thesis’ title ‘Economic Updates on the Limits to Growth – The Economic Risk Resources and Environment (ERRE) model’. With a background in Industrial Engineering I  developed my interest in sustainability during my MSc at Cranfield University (UK), and explored this further the following year as a Research Assistant at the University of Genoa (Italy). Here I worked with the World3 model for the first time and read 2052 (written by Jorgen Randers - one of the originators of the World3). This led me to start a PhD at the GSI in the attempt to expand the World3 model with social variables such prices and interest rates, while including the financial system in the limits framework. 

Within this time I had the chance to explore system dynamics modelling in detail, create a start-up (Exoshock  - London), and to get involved within the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity project led by the University of Surrey (UK). The final result was to embed the design of the System Dynamics National model (initially thought of by Professor Forrester) within the limits framework and create my newly developed ERRE global model. Most importantly I put system dynamics in perspective by demonstrating how and where the ERRE relies on both Ecological, Evolutionary, Behavioural, Post-Keynesian economics. All these finding will be available in the upcoming book: ‘Pasqualino and Jones (2020) Resources, Financial Risk and the Dynamics of Growth – Systems and Global Society, Routledge, Oxford’ in May 2020.

What are you researching?

My major interest is in finding practical ways to support the global transition towards sustainability. The ERRE model is a Globally Aggregated Impact Assessment Model developed to address the risks emerging from the interaction between economic growth and environmental limits under the presence of shocks. The model can be used both to provide long term fat tail extreme scenarios such as hot house climate effect on the food system, global energy transition away from fossil fuels, and define policies such as carbon taxes or technological transition.

My start-up (Exoshock) aims at using the model to influence decision making in large organizations spanning from energy finance to food systems. Allowing them to apply exogenous shocks to the overall global dynamics scenarios support them in taking better decisions to reduce critical business and wider society risks. 

The attempt to build a model that is capable of capturing both short term and long term dynamics could potentially support businesses taking decisions that bridge a gap between their short-term agenda and the sustainability needs of our planet. While expanding models towards multi-regional frameworks, the next step will be to develop an evolutionary shock platform to allow academics and businesses to test shocks and share ideas on how the world can be changed.

If you were in charge of the world economy for one day, tell me one thing what you would do and why?

Citing Nelson Mandela and many others before him: “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. The problem of education as today is that a little part of it comes from universities and school systems (often based on the principles of an industrialized society targeted toward production), and the vast majority comes from feedback from the real world events and interaction with media and society. Policies such as a carbon tax on oil are likely to cause riots in the population that is not well educated, rather than achieving desired outcomes.

If I could do one single thing that would be create a Global Ministry of Education for Sustainability and implement a system of a 4-day working week, with 1-day that people must use to educate themselves, at any age and in every nation. The Ministry would have the role of supporting people to develop critical thinking, while giving them the freedom to express their opinions and trust in government. 

Tell me one thing that you think many ecological economists don’t realise, but should.

One important element of the ERRE is the recognition that prices are not the result of computing equilibria, but rather the accumulation of path dependencies that are dependent on human perception and the perturbation to a system that are more characteristic of an evolutionary modelling approach. In other words, shocks (such as covid-19, or a financial crisis) have the potential to truly change systems going forward. My expectation is that the ecological transition will not be gradual, rather the result of non-linearity and feedback effects within the wider society. If I have something to say to an ecological economist is that you should pay attention to these shocks and be ready to push further when such shocks occur rather than expecting a steady system change. 

Interviewer, Sarah Hafner, ESEE Student Representative

5. Events, jobs and publications

Project announcement: New project to bring ecological economics community together to deliberate on post-pandemic economy, University of York and SDG Transformations Forum

The coronavirus is showing that the world can respond to global crisis with huge changes of assumptions, mindsets and habit and with decisive political action. Now is the moment to make sure those changes evolve into pathways that create a flourishing and just future for people and planet, addressing not just the coronavirus crisis but also the climate and nature emergencies. The University of York and SDG Transformations Forum are initiating a large-scale strategic initiative that will develop a rapid, radical response to the crises, proportionate to the scale and urgency of the planetary emergencies we are faced with, to be completed online with the first stage completed in four months. We will (1) establish an enduring partnership between those seeking to advance a new, ecological economy, through building a network of networks; (2) develop a common vision of a new, ecological economy through large-scale, rapid, online, expert deliberation; (3) develop a global deliberative public dialogue to support action.

Opportunities to register your interest in participating will be announced in the near future.

Contact: Jasper Kenter, ESEE Board Member and Senior Lecturer,

Upcoming conference: 7th International Degrowth and 16th ISEE Joint Conference: ‘Building Alternative Livelihoods in times of ecological and political crisis’, University of Manchester, UK, week-commencing 05 July 2021

Come to Manchester to meet with other activists, artists, policy-makers and scholars. The conference will explore how we might meet our needs in ways more relevant to the worsening ecological, climate and social crisis: “alternative livelihoods”. There will be workshops, debates and discussions, artistic performances, walking tours and installations on the themes of the conference. It will also seek to contribute to the local political debate. It will strive to demonstrate and explore cutting-edge thinking and practice and also encourage political mobilisation amongst academics, activists, artists and policy practitioners.

PLEASE NOTE: this conference has been postponed from it's planned date in September 2020. A new call for proposals will be launched in September 2020. If you had already submitted a proposal for this conference you should have been contacted by the organisers directly. If you have not been contacted, please write to the organisers to confirm the status of your submission.

Further information
Call for abstracts: Workshop entitled ‘It’s the (bio)economy, stupid! The future of growth and the promise of the bioeconomy’, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany, 7 to 9 October 2020

The aim of our workshop is to discuss the relationships between the bioeconomy and economic growth from a multidisciplinary and global perspective. The organisers are seeking to foster an exchange between debates on the ecological and social implications of the bioeconomy and critical debates on sustainable growth, green growth and degrowth. Contributions are welcome from different academic fields such as sociology, political ecology and economy, human and critical geography, social ecology, history, philosophy, economics etc. Contributions may be based on theoretical analyses, case studies, empirical investigations, comparative or in-depth studies.

Deadline: 30 April 2020
Further information