When I was approached to become a candidate for president of ISEE, I was at first fairly reluctant.
In a situation of multiple crises and transformations, many people have lost trust in traditional economic recipes, looking upon economics more as a problem than a solution. Social movements, NGOs, but also international organizations and natural scientists in the field of climate change and the environment, seek for alternative ways of approaching economic, social and environmental problems. People have become increasingly aware of the systemic interrelations between these problems. Some of them turn to Ecological Economics to provide such alternative ways.
But is Ecological Economics up to this task? Can it provide sufficiently systemic perspectives that capture the interlinkages between societal problems, can it, beyond critique, also provide solutions? The grand figures of Ecological Economics generated a vision of respecting the biophysical foundations of economies, viewing them as strongly interlinked with their natural base. They were deeply critical of the apparent self-sustaining features of modern economies, building upon technological progress, markets and capital accumulation and blind for their natural base, thereby putting it at severe risk.
In the current situation, the ecological economics vision is more plausible to many people than before. There is now a window of opportunity for providing alternative interpretations of socio-economic and socio-ecological reality, for providing paths and tools towards alternative solutions. This vision refers as much to a new understanding of human history and globalization, to population dynamics, energy and labour, communication systems and technological learning, governance and movements, inequality and everyday practices, as it refers to planetary boundaries, natural resources, land and water use, climate change and biodiversity conservation.
Can the scientific community of ecological economics respond to these challenges in a forward-looking way? Can it link to and build upon the work of other communities to become a meeting ground?
My reluctance to accept this presidential responsibility was also related to my lack of formal education in economics. I received my PhD in sociology, and was then trained at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Vienna, in postgraduate courses across the social sciences. I learned to admire the 19th century political economy, Ricardo, Smith and Marx, in pursuing social theory broadly: economics, political governance, demography, class structures and the use of natural resources. Later, from and within NGOs, I learned that my spontaneous love for nature, wilderness, animals and physical adventures was deemed to frustration by a seemingly insatiable human species that treated the planet as its property to be eaten up.
Both my drives, understanding society in its interactions with nature in a conceptually integrated way, also historically, and my passion for preserving some remains of non-manipulated nature – do they fit for somebody with an office in Ecological Economics? And will I be able to contribute to the development of this scientific community in a productive way, within the short period of two years? I made up my mind to try; and my first challenge will be the ISEE conference in Reykjavik in August 2014.
I am aware that this office also includes the task of strategic organizational development of our Society. Years ago, I was elected president to the International Society of Industrial Ecology in an economically challenging situation, and struggles around ownership and future policy of the Journal for Industrial Ecology; all of this could be well resolved. But I am very happy now and grateful to my predecessor in office, Bina Agarwal, and to the perfect executive directorship of Anne Aitken as well as Richard Howarth’s exquisite editorial performance with the Journal of Ecological Economics, for confronting me with a well functioning organization without any threat of crisis that I would need to address immediately. Still, there is room for improvement,
intellectually, to bridge various strands of heterodox economics and broaden access to socio-economic theories that are critical and solid and up to dealing with the key future challenges of humanity
socially and culturally, by providing better conditions for the various regional societies to link up with one another and create shared perspectives, and
organizationally, by raising and administering resources well enough to be able to strategically invest in enlarging regional membership, education and high quality policy advice that might contribute to making things actually happen.
I am glad to build upon the support of an experienced and divers Board, and I ask you for your support as members, as motivated academics and as strategic actors in various policy contexts. We need to jointly improve our sense of direction, by debates and by finding consensus, in order to make ecological economics strong enough to have a major impact.
Looking forward to a fruitful collaboration,
The ISEE was founded in 1987. Its presidents have been Bob Costanza, Dick Norgaard, John Proops, Charles Perrings, Joan Martinez-Alier, Peter May, John Gowdy, Bina Agarwal and now Marina Fischer-Kowalski. The president-elect for 2016-17 is Sabine O‘Hara.