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Modelling alternative economic and environmental futures

Modelling alternative economic and environmental futures

Peter Victor

The Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change is celebrating the launch of Professor Emeritus Peter Victor’s latest book, Escape from Overshoot: Economics for a Planet in Peril (2023).

Faculty members, staff and students are welcome to attend the book launch event on Wednesday, April 12th, from 5:30-7:00 PM, either in person at the Centre for Social Innovation located at 192 Spadina Avenue, or virtually via livestream. To attend, please register for the event here.

As a precursor to the event, Dr. Victor met with graduate student researcher Danielle Legault to answer several questions about his new book.

Q: Can you speak to how the longer trajectory of your academic work inspired you to write "Escape from Overshoot"?

A: I began exploring the dependency of the economy on the environment for all its materials and energy requirements as a student at UBC in the late 1960s and have continued with that theme ever since then. My work on alternative economic futures during the past two decades suggests that an intentional escape from overshoot will be a lot more attractive than continuing to over stress nature and suffer the consequences.

Q: What is Earth Overshoot, and how does your book tackle the challenges associated with it?

A: When any organism, including humans, exceeds the capacity of its environment to sustain it, it is in overshoot. The accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that could be irreversibly changing the climate means we are in overshoot. If more fish are caught than are reproduced by the remaining stock, we have overshot. Overshoot can happen to ecosystems at all scales from a single pond to the entire planet and to any species. Humans are no exception.

To tackle the challenges associated with Earth overshoot, my book summarizes the evidence for overshoot, gives an approach to thinking about the future, draws from relevant insights by leading economists, explains how the current economic system works, describes trends that are leading us into an uncertain future, explains why 'green 'growth is a dangerous distraction, looks at post-growth possibilities, presents an escape scenario for the Canadian economy over the next 50 years, and closes with ideas and examples for planning an escape from overshoot.  

Q: Why is your book a must-read for York students and faculty?

A: This is a book for the general reader. It is highly illustrated and avoids technical language. We are all threatened by overshoot, and we all contribute to it. If we are to escape from overshoot, everyone has a part to play.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your book in terms of actionable steps for promoting a more sustainable and equitable future on Earth?

A: I hope that readers find the book useful for understanding overshoot and its implications for all species including humans; that they appreciate the seriousness of the risks we are facing, and that they discover useful ideas about what can be done to escape from overshot that recognizes differences in culpability and vulnerability. I would also like them to come away with a sense of hope and a commitment to help. 

Q: Having completed this book, how do you see your work moving forward in the future?

A: My immediate focus will be a resumption of my work on modelling alternative economic/environmental futures, collaborating with the excellent team at York that produces the annual National Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts for more than 200 countries, and working with as many people as I can on finding an escape from overshoot.


Peter A. Victor  is Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar at York University with 50 years of experience in ecological economics, alternatives to economic growth. He served as Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University from 1996 to 2001. He has authored six books, including Managing without Growth, and is a member of the Honorary Board of the David Suzuki Foundation and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He has been the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Molson Prize in Social Sciences and the Boulding Memorial Prize.