Rigo Melgar is a Ph.D. Candidate in Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont and Gund Institute for Environment, and a fellow of the Leadership for the Ecozoic program. He holds dual masters in environmental science (with an area of focus on biophysical and ecological economics) and public affairs from the State University of New York – ESF and Syracuse University. Rigo has been involved in biophysical and ecological economics for 10 years and will complete his Ph.D. in 2022. Since 2012 he has also been a successful activist helping SUNYESF, Syracuse University, and the University of Vermont to divest from fossil fuels during his time at each academic institution. Rigo has experienced some of the best and the worst of academia while also doing activism, which gives him a different perspective than others might have by also playing an outsider role.
Many considered 1989 the year that the field of ecological economics was officially born with the first issue of its transdisciplinary journal. From everything I’ve heard and read, this was a momentous time since this was a first of its kind academic journal and field with an ambitious vision of initiating a paradigm shift in economic thinking to address the root causes of socio-ecological crises.
As I turned 32 years old this past November, I couldn’t but reflect that although the field of ecological economics has come pretty far, sometimes losing track of its vision, during my lifetime it has yet to realize its paradigm shift vision of moving beyond only valuing everything with money and towards an economics that respects the energy and material basis that makes socio-ecological wellbeing possible. Many of my young peers, alongside many others from time past that have been alienated and have gone to create their own groups, (and others that are currently part of EE) agree that for ecological economics to achieve its paradigm shift vision it needs to actually focus on tackling the root causes of unsustainability by moving from theory to action in helping to transform our fossil fueled socio-economic system rapidly.
These root causes are biophysical and socially driven in nature and requires the field to take seriously issues of resource depletion which will continue to drive inflation and make democracies unstable in the long-term. Moreover, the IPCC has warned us that the global north and other big fossil energy consumers have 10 years to initiate an energy transition to transform their socio-economic systems away from fossil energy to avert the worst impacts of climate change on humanity (especially the global south) and whatever ecosystems remain. Either way because of depletion and climate concerns we need to develop intelligent ways to conserve and distribute resources more equitably between the global north and south, and to educate the public (including policy makers and economists) on the basics of energy and how it impacts their well-being.
As someone who has lived half of his life in the global south and half in the global north, I see a lot of opportunity in what ecological economics has to offer to make the world a more just and sustainable place for future generations to live in. However, I believe the time has come for the ISEE to modernize its platform to give voice to younger hybrid (academic/activist) voices (especially from the global south) and to engage across the board with a variety of stakeholders to push for the implementation of its theories to achieve real as opposed to greenwashed sustainability. We also need to be honest and balanced about the need for objectivity in recognizing that our social circumstances shape the questions that we ask and how we approach our research. The challenge is to move beyond the ivory tower of academia to fill the void that exists today in the planning of the sustainability transition.
If I were to be elected, I want to be clear that I am not running for the purpose of status seeking, but because I believe that we need younger, energetic, and dynamic voices that intend to work collaboratively to engage in radical pragmatism within and with other allies of our goals to push towards achieving the paradigm shift vision that the world so desperately needs.