Letter from Outgoing President of ISEE

Letter from Outgoing President of ISEE

Olinda (Brazil), December 23rd, 2019.

When I accepted to be the ISEE president-elect candidate, I explained that my desire had always been to challenge the conventional economics I learned at the university (Yale, among them). I also said I followed what Georgescu had indicated. My understanding is that Ecological Economics is the ecological view of the economy; it is therefore not a branch of economics. Economics means the economic view of the economy. And environmental economics is the economic vision of the environment.

What I would like to do as president-elect was to contribute in the best possible way for ISEE to effectively represent a force to introduce a new way of seeing the world within the scope of science, with respect to the relations between the economy and nature. My perspective coincides with Herman Daly’s, Joan Martinez Alier’s, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen’s. I think we should promote a science committed to human well-being, to the pursuit of happiness  – the enjoyment of life, in Georgescu’s words. ISEE has everything to fulfill that role, in line with what Daly proposes with respect to the steady-state economy; in line also with Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’. And the 40-year experience of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness philosophy.

Somehow I think we have advanced this task. The theme of the 2018 ISEE conference – “Ecological Economics and socio-ecological movements:  science, policy, and challenges to global processes in a troubled world” – represented an achievement. In fact, thanks to the efforts of our engaged colleague and Board member David Barkin, along with his efficient Autonomous University of Mexico (UAM) – Xochimilco campus group, which organized the conference, this was a great success. I am happy to have been the ISEE’s acting president during its realization. At the opening of the Puebla meeting, I said that I agree with David Barkin’s view that a deeper and more radical epistemological and ethical rupture is required of ecological economics and the premises of Neoclassical economic rationality.

The reality of the threat of an unprecedented species extinction at the present time, along with the failure of the COP-25 of the Climate Convention in Madrid this year, highlights the need for a more militant ISEE. In this sense, our esteemed colleague Stuart Scott, with the support of ISEE, ran a series of programs in parallel with COP-24 with Greta Thunberg, who he took to Katowice, helping to give visibility to this amazing girl. It is worth stressing that Stuart has been using money from his own pocket to promote such climate summit-related activities, which can be viewed on the website with his participation and support from ISEE.

Clovis Cavalcanti and Stuart Scott at the Vatican, furthering ecological economicsWith a view to my announced commitments, during my term, I sought an involvement with the papal encyclical Laudato Si’, whose ecological-economics credentials seem to be straightforward. In this context, on behalf of ISEE and with the agreement of the Board, I approached the Roman Pontiff and the Holy See in order to show how close we are in terms of the proper use of Nature for the promotion of human well-being. To this end, I met Pope Francis in Rome on November 23rd, 2016, together with Stuart Scott, a member of ISEE and a pro bono strategic consultant to the Board (my wife, Vera, accompanied us). After that, we had several contacts with Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Integral Human Development. One such contact was a meeting that Stuart and I had with Cardinal Turkson on November 30, 2016. Another meeting took place, of Stuart Scott and Joan Martinez Alier with His Eminence, in April 2017.

As president of ISEE, I took an attitude of letting the coordination of routine activities go on under the knowledgeable and reliable command of ISEE’s admirable executive secretary and treasurer, Anne Carter. I started my term in January 2018 having one week of meetings with Anne in Massachusetts (Cape Cod). From then on, we worked in permanent cooperation, establishing a line of coordination that allowed ISEE’s business to be conducted smoothly. Anne actively participated in the preparation of the Puebla meeting, and in this, she had the cooperation of the UAM team, with María Luisa Serrano Islas at the head, another extraordinary collaborator for the smooth course of my administration.

The regional Societies of Ecological Economics, in turn, did a first-class productive work, with very good meetings in 2018 of the Meso American, and in 2019 of the Andean, Brazilian, Argentinean-Uruguayan, USSEE, INSEE, RSEE, ANZSEE. I wish I had personally participated in them, but I took the decision of restricting my air travel due to the carbon footprint associated with it (although I, as an organic farmer, have already added a 10-ha area of ​​woodland on my 27-ha farm since 1976).

Our journal, Ecological Economics, of which I was a member of the advisory editorial council in 1989-1998 and which is co-edited by R.B. Howarth and S. Baumgärtner, has been much sought after for the publication of articles. Some of them, without strong connections with our core subject. This has been hard work for Rich Howarth and Baumgärtner. Both of them have done their best to handle the work, which is why I am so grateful to them. Much has yet to be improved, though. The journal’s focus on ecological economics needs to be sharpened.

To be president of ISEE, I had the support of many people, starting with my colleagues who made me a candidate (without asking me in advance if I accepted such a mission) and those who voted for me. I am grateful to all. To fulfill my mission, Anne Carter’s work, cooperation, and friendship were critical. I also counted on the whole Board – Bernardo Aguilar, David Barkin, Eva Cudlinova, Josh Farley, Richard B. Howarth,  Jasper Kenter, Tatiana Kluvankova, Volker Mauerhofer, Peter May, Madhavi Venkatesan – to act as president. My thanks go to all of them. And also to the presidents of the regional societies. I also want to thank Paul Safonov, who brought to Puebla a well-crafted proposal for the ISEE2020 conference to be in Moscow. He did it at my request. But the Board decided later for Manchester – whose proposal was developed after the Puebla meeting. My thanks to Sabine O’Hara, now out of Past-President status, who hosted the 2016 ISEE meeting in Washington, DC. I wish my friend Josh Farley who now takes my position on January 1st to materialize the proposals we have been discussing over the years, sometimes with Herman Daly. And I wish the new President-Elect, Roldán Muradián, an old friend, that has a determined and courageous involvement in ISEE mission. Today’s troubled world demands a science committed to the well-being of all human beings and all other life forms, along with a sober and prudent use of Mother Earth’s resources. Our mission – in the ISEE Board and Executive Committee, including myself as ISEE Past President – resides there.

Best wishes for the New Year,
Clóvis Cavalcanti.


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