2017 Leontief Prize Winners

James K. Boyce and Joan Martinez-Alier
“Economics, Equity, and the Environment”

On March 28, the Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) awarded the 2017 Leontief Prize to Dr. James Boyce and Dr. Joan Martinez-Alier for their ground-breaking theoretical and applied work that has effectively integrated ecological, developmental, and justice-oriented approaches into the field of economics. More than 130 people attended the ceremony and lectures in Ballou Hall on Tufts University’s Medford Campus.

Anthony Monaco, president of Tufts University, opened the event, affirming that the Leontief Prize “stands for one of our hallmark values as an institution: leveraging our intellectual and academic strengths to confront the greatest challenges facing the world.”

GDAE Co-Director Neva Goodwin introduced the prizewinners, who have both been at the forefront of developing a new understanding of economics that will enable both human development and environmental justice.

Ecological Distribution Conflicts

Dr. Joan Martinez-Alier, the emeritus professor at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB), centered his presentation on his current work with the EJAtlas Project, which researches ecological distributional conflicts. His presentation described some current ecological conflicts around the world, including examples from India, Honduras, the Philippines, and Japan involving issues of water, minerals and mining, fossil fuels, and nuclear energy.

Martinez-Alier presented the view from ecological economics that externalities are not small market failures that can be easily internalized into the price system but are inherent in the current economic and industrial system because of a lack of recognition for industrial liability. This absence of liability for environmental externalities has resulted in both an ecological debt from the Global North to the Global South, and the making of a global movement for environmental justice.

Martinez-Alier highlighted four specific cases from the EJAtlas Project but noted that he could discuss over 2,000 additional cases. In closing, he shared that the EJAtlas project will work to expand evidence and vocabulary about ecological distribution conflicts and to assess whether the Environmental Justice movement is helping to push society and the economy towards environmental sustainability.

Inequality and the Environment

Dr. James K. Boyce, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, focused on his work regarding inequality and the environment. Boyce reviewed lessons from his career, which started in the field of development. He worked for two years in India, living in a Bangladeshi village to write his book, Quiet Violence, then attended Oxford University for his graduate studies, returning to South Asia to research his dissertation.

Boyce posed three questions related to the political economy and the environment: “First, who benefits from the activities that cause the problem? Second, who bears the cost? Third, why is it that the winners are able to impose these costs on the losers?” Boyce then provided three possible answers to the last question: “One is that the losers do not yet exist: they belong to future generations who are not here to defend themselves. The second possibility is that those who bear environmental costs lack information. The third possibility is that those who are harmed are alive today and are well aware of what’s happening, but they lack sufficient wealth and power to prevail against those who benefit from environmentally degrading activities.”

Boyce concluded that “We will not safeguard the environment without addressing the inequalities of wealth and power that perpetuate pollution and natural resource depletion. And we will not achieve a more equitable society without protecting the environment.”

The awardees closed the event by engaging the audience in a short Question & Answer Session, dealing with issues of gender inequality, the future of climate policy including local, national, state and international responses, and conflicts related to fossil fuels. The reception after the event was co-sponsored by the Tufts Institute for the Environment.

The event was also covered in an article in The Ecologist.

Watch interviews with the 2017 Leontief Prize Winners

Interview with James K. Boyce – coming soon.

Dr. James Boyce spoke with GDAE researcher Brian Roach about the links between inequality and environmental degradation, how power imbalances are linked to environmental costs, and policies such as carbon taxes, cap and dividend, and cap and trade.

Interview with Joan Martinez-Alier
Dr. Joan Martinez-Alier spoke with GDAE researcher Anne-Marie Codur about his groundbreaking book, The Environmentalism of the Poor, bridging the gap between academia and activism, and his current work with the EJAtlas Project. 

About the Leontief Prize
GDAE inaugurated its economics award in 2000 in memory of Nobel Prize-winning economist and GDAE advisory board member Wassily Leontief. The Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought recognizes economists whose work, like that of the institute and Leontief himself, combines theoretical and empirical research to promote a more comprehensive understanding of social and environmental processes. The inaugural prizes were awarded in 2000 to John Kenneth Galbraith and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen.

GDAE was founded in 1993 with the goal of promoting a better understanding of how societies can pursue their economic and community goals in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner. The Institute develops textbooks and course materials, published on paper and on its website, that incorporates a broad understanding of social, financial and environmental sustainability. The Institute also carries out policy-relevant research on climate change, the role of the market in environmental policy, and globalization and sustainable development.

In addition to Amartya Sen and John Kenneth Galbraith, GDAE has awarded the Leontief Prize to Paul Streeten, Herman Daly, Alice Amsden, Dani Rodrik, Nancy Folbre, Robert Frank, Richard Nelson, Ha-Joon Chang, Samuel Bowles, Juliet Schor, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Stephen DeCanio, José Antonio Ocampo, Robert Wade, Bina Agarwal, Daniel Kahneman, Martin Weitzman, Nicholas Stern, Michael Lipton, C. Peter Timmer, Albert O. Hirschman (posthumous), Frances Stewart, Angus Deaton, Duncan Foley, Lance Taylor, James K. Galbraith, Amit Bhaduri, and Diane Elson.


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