Wednesday, 6 June 2012

2012 Kenneth E. Boulding Memorial Award

Initially, my plan for this week's post was to start reflecting on some of the issues raised by Peter Selby's lecture (excerpts published here two weeks ago and last week).

But I'm postponing that for a week to post something highly topical that was just announced yesterday - and perhaps, in any case, it isn't too far away from the concerns raised by Peter Selby.

The International Society for Ecological Economics is responsible for the Kenneth E. Boulding Memorial Award, and the 2012 award has been given to Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, co-creators of the Ecological Footprint concept, and Global Footprint Network, the organisation that promotes the use of the concept.

I'm devoting a post to this event because Kenneth Boulding was a Quaker and the Footprint idea is something very important, that I've posted about before on this blog.

The award will be presented at the ISEE Conference 2012 in Rio de Janeiro on June 19, where Wackernagel and Rees will deliver the keynote Boulding Award lectures.

Mathis Wackernagel has promoted sustainability on six continents and lectured at more than 100 universities..

William Rees is an ecologist, ecological economist, Founding Director of the One Earth Initiative, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the University of British Columbia's School of Community and Regional Planning.

The International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE) is a not-for-profit, member-governed, organisation dedicated to advancing understanding of the relationships among ecological, social, and economic systems for the mutual well-being of nature and people.

Ecological economics exists because a hundred years of disciplinary specialisation in scientific inquiry has left us unable to understand or to manage the interactions between the human and environmental components of our world. How is human behaviour connected to changes in hydrological, nutrient or carbon cycles? What are the feedbacks between the social and natural systems, and how do these influence the services we get from ecosystems? Ecological economics as a field attempts to answer questions such as these.

Global Footprint Network (established in 2003) is a USA nonprofit organisation working to enable a sustainable future where all people have the opportunity to live satisfying lives within the means of one planet. Humans are the most successful species on the planet, but we are using more resources than the Earth can provide. We are in global ecological overshoot.

An essential step in creating a one-planet future is measuring human impact on the Earth so we can make more informed choices. The Ecological Footprint is a resource accounting tool that measures how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what. It is a data-driven metric that tells us how close we are to the goal of sustainable living. Footprint accounts work like bank statements, documenting whether we are living within our ecological budget or consuming nature’s resources faster than the planet can renew them.

Kenneth E. Boulding (1910-1993) was a leading systems thinker who integrated social theory with the natural sciences and moral philosophy. He was a provocative critic of the fragmentation that characterises modern scholarship. Yet his creativity, seminal ideas, and constructive engagement with the scientific community were widely recognised, resulting in his being elected President of the American Economic Association and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Kenneth and his wife, Elise Boulding, herself a renowned sociologist, were Quakers who actively contributed to the international peace movement. The award is given in honour of people who exemplify aspects of the special character of Kenneth E. Boulding with the hope of perpetuating his many individual strengths that combined into wisdom among ISEE members and beyond.

A memorial note, published when he died (in 1993) tells us:

Kenneth E. Boulding was a most extraordinary economist. The narrow bounds of the economics discipline could not contain his interests and talents. In addition to economics, Professor Boulding made important contributions to the fields of political science, sociology, philosophy, and social psychology. His forays into subjects outside the usual concerns of economists were not an intellectual dilettantism; rather, they were a result of his conviction that an understanding of human behavior can only be accomplished by studying man in his totality.

Kenneth Boulding was born in 1910 in Liverpool, England. He graduated with a Oxford first in economics in 1931. That same year, a short paper he had written on displacement costs was accepted by John Maynard Keynes for publication in the Economic Journal. Following a year of postgraduate work at Oxford, Boulding used a Commonwealth Fellowship to study at Chicago and Harvard. After some years at Edinburgh, he settled in the United States for good, eventually at the University of Colorado.

Raised a Methodist, Boulding became an active Quaker and a committed pacifist. In 1942, he composed a circular opposing World War II, and in 1965 he helped to organise the first anti-Vietnam War teach-in. However, merely witnessing against war was insufficient. Boulding believed that war could only be eliminated by understanding why it occurs. Conflict and Defense is his major contribution to peace research, and he also was instrumental in the founding of the Journal of Conflict Resolution.

Boulding's belief in the Inward Light found expression in the concept of integrative systems. He identified three types of social systems: (1) exchange systems, in which activity is organized through the market mechanism, (2) threat systems, in which desired behaviour is brought about by the threat of losses in welfare, and (3) integrative systems, or love systems, in which an interdependence of utility functions produces a situation where ‘what you want, I want’. These three systems are driven by different motives. Self-interest is the motive behind exchange systems while fear and love are most important in threat and integrative systems. It is in the integrative systems that our heroic nature - passionate, selfless behaviour - is exhibited.

All three of these are necessary for society to flourish. Our economy is dominated by exchange. A threat system supports the legal order necessary for social stability. Our economy also depends on integrative relationships. For example, trust and honesty are needed for the development of the financial system. One of the insights to which Boulding's emphasis on love systems leads is that the failure of the integrative system of a country to develop concepts of mutuality, trust, honesty, and community beyond the family is one of the major obstacles to economic development.

One of his most interesting later works, Three Faces of Power, employs these three social organisers as the three categories of power. Contrary to the presumption of deterrence theory, threat power is not effective unless it is reinforced by economic and integrative power. And whereas he had earlier expressed a mistrust of the coercive power a world government would enjoy, Boulding now sounded optimistic about the possibility of a world government based largely on integrative power.

The book, Three Faces of Power is probably the one of his publications most well-known to Quakers. Kenneth and Elise were Friends in Residence at Woodbrooke during the summer term of 1989, a few months after I first arrived to work here.

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