Take aways from the NCSE Conference

March 6, 2010 at 9:55 pm Leave a comment

Written by Lorena Hildebrandt, SEN Steering Committee Member & Winthrop University Student.

Earlier last month, I was privileged to attend the National Council for Science and the Environment’s conference in Washington, D.C. on the creation of a new green economy with several professors and another student from my university. Scientists, academics, and policy makers gathered to discuss alternatives to our current economic system. It was incredibly exciting to participate in the dialogue of a new economic model that incorporates ecological principles rather than the externalization of the true costs of production at the expense of human health and the environment.

Many new ideas and innovative concepts electrified the air in the Reagan conference center, but there were some that remain especially prominent in my consciousness as an activist. One was a question posed by author and filmmaker John de Graaf, whose work criticizes the environmentally detrimental endless treadmill of consumption capitalism generates, otherwise known as affluenza. In a workshop designed to create policy recommendations to the Obama Administration, Graaf asked about a dozen of us, “what is the economy for anyway?” Graaf was questioning policy that places the market and GDP above all other considerations such as human health/well-being and the environment. I think this is an important question to keep in mind as we seek solutions to environmental problems through policy. What is our economy for anyway? Are there sacrifices we can make?

I was most struck by Gus Speth, former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and his closing speech. His message resonated with me as an activist and student studying environmental history and environmental political theory. Speth spoke about the history of environmentalism in the U.S. beginning in the late 1960s and early 70s with an orientation known as survivalism. Surivialism stresses the limits of growth in a world of finite resources. He spoke about how there was an outcry from the public, creating an imperative for action. This new ecological movement created momentum for new environmental policies in the latter part of the 20th century.

Speth warned however, that “early successes have locked us into patterns of environmental solutions” that are no match for the ecological crisis we have at hand.    After four decades of environmental work opting to work within the system rather than fix it, Speth explained, “here we stand at the brink of world destruction.” His inescapable conclusion? We need “a new environmentalism in America, the world.” This new environmentalism amounts to the incorporation of not just environmental reform but political, social, and economic reform – a new progressive movement holistic and conscious enough to act for solutions that are deeper than traditional models.  As an activist, I think this level of consciousness regarding the destructiveness of our current systems is good to keep in mind while engaging in political advocacy work.

For more information on the National Council for Science and the Environment and research on environmental issues check out: http://ncseonline.org/


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Entry filed under: events, government, national, opportunity, southern energy network. Tags: , , .

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