What can prosperity possibly mean in a world of environmental, social and economic limits? This is the overall question that the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) led by Professor Tim Jackson from the University of Surrey and participated in by York University’s Peter Victor and a network of experts is addressing to develop pragmatic steps towards a shared and lasting prosperity. The guiding vision is one in which people everywhere have the capability to flourish as human beings—within the ecological and resource constraints of a finite planet.
Funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) since 2015, the project takes the form of a rich network, drawing together expert partners from academic and non-academic institutions as co-producers of the work programme that includes producing working papers, journal articles, blogs and holding public events as well as responding to government inquiries, media interviews and debates, commissioned essays, and publication of reports. CUSP is also involved in numerous cooperative research activities with other institutions.
The interdisciplinary research programme is organised around five core themes: 1) Meanings and Moral Framings of the Good Life, 2) The Role of the Arts & Culture in Delivering Prosperity, 3) Political and Organisational Dimensions of Sustainable Prosperity, 4) Social and Psychological Understandings of the Good Life, and 5) System Dynamics Modelling.
Victor and the York university project team including Peter Timmerman, Martin Sers, Carmen Victor, and Mojgan Chapariha are working on ecological economics systems dynamics modelling, film making , and the relationship between the Anthopocene and colonization. The project team is exploring the economic underpinnings of existing narratives of sustainable prosperity as well as investigating the economic, social and environmental implications of a wide variety of narratives using qualitative research and macro-economic models.
In a paper on “The Transition to a Sustainable Prosperity—A Stock-Flow-Consistent Ecological Macroeconomic Model for Canada,” Jackson and Victor present a stock-flow consistent (SFC) macroeconomic simulation model for Canada. The model generates three stories about the future of the Canadian economy, covering the half century from 2017 to 2067: a Base Case Scenario in which current trends and relationships are projected; a Carbon Reduction Scenario in which measures are introduced to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions; and a Sustainable Prosperity Scenario which incorporates measures to improve environmental, social and financial conditions across society. The results show that in the Sustainable Prosperity Scenario, improved environmental and social outcomes are possible even as the growth rate declines to zero.
Notably, this CUSP research has informed work on the recently published White Paper from the Office of Canadian Senator Rosa Galvez on ‘Building Forward Better’, outlining key recommendations for a clean and just recovery from the Covid-19 Pandemic, to shift the concept of growth to centre around sustainable prosperity. In a blog about COVID-19 and its implications for carbon emissions and carbon budgets, Victor introduced his illustrative carbon budget simulator that can be used to explore different approaches to achieving an emissions target to address climate change. Earlier in a CBC article on the coronavirus lockdown, Victor noted that “Things you couldn't imagine happening are now happening.” He describes COVID-19 pandemic as a living experiment and expects that the current crisis to have a lasting impact, reminding people there is a lot more to life than the rat race.
In an interview in The Agenda with Steve Paikin on the question “will endless economic growth end us?” Peter has this to say: “I think the record is pretty clear that economic growth to the extent that we’ve pursued it has done much damage to the biosphere, and the future looks a lot worse if we continue on this path. So I think it’s quite possible for an economy such as Canada’s to manage without growth and still provide people with a very satisfactory standard of living and reduce the pressure on the biosphere.”
Critically appraising the monetary valuation of nature, Victor challenges the view that decisions made by people acting alone or collectively can be improved if they are based on monetary valuations of ecosystem services and natural capital. While approach to valuation has been embraced by economists, policy makers, environmental activists, and others concerned about human impacts on the environment, he argues that monetary valuations of nature should be used with great caution or not at all in informing decisions and driving public policy the outcomes of which have environmental consequences.
Victor and EUC PhD, now postdoctoral researcher, Martin Sers, co-authored a paper on the energy-emissions trap. They constructed a mathematical model, named EETRAP, that uses the energy return on investment (EROI) metric and the energy characteristics of renewable generation in a macroeconomic framework. EETRAP is used for simulation analysis to test how differing assumptions about the EROI of intermittent renewables will affect the time-path of renewable investment necessary to escape the energy-emissions trap. Sers has finished his doctoral dissertation titled “Towards an Ecological Macroeconomics: Linking Energy and Climate in a Stock-Flow Consistent Input-Output Framework”.
This March, Victor delivered the Annual Gideon Rosenbluth Memorial Lecture based on his book Slower by design not disaster: Managing without growth (2ndedition, 2019). In the lecture, he paid tribute to Rosenbluth who supervised his PhD dissertation at UBC in the late 1960s. Rosenbluth was an esteemed professor in the UBC Department of Economics and a research associate at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), BC Office. Thirty years later they teamed up again and in 2002 wrote a paper titled “Saving the Environment: How Canada Can Abolish Poverty and Unemployment Even in a No-Growth Economy”. After a couple more articles with Rosenbluth that deepened his analysis, Victor was ready to write the 1st edition of Managing without Growth (2008).
Peter A. Victor is Professor Emeritus at York University. He has worked for 50 years in Canada and abroad on economy and environment issues as an academic, consultant and public servant. His work on ecological economics, notably on environmentally extended input output analysis, ecological macroeconomics, and alternatives to economic growth, is widely cited. He is one of the founders of the emerging discipline of ecological economics and was first president of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics (CANSEE). He has served in various capacities: as chair of the Greenbelt Council of Ontario, a member of the Club of Rome, and a member of Advisory Committee on Environmental Statistics for Statistics Canada, the Academic Advisory Panel of TruCost, the Board of the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Advisory Board of the New Economy Coalition. Victor’s contributions to ecological economics have been recognized through the award of the Molson Prize in the Social Sciences by the Canada Council for the Arts in 2011, the Boulding Memorial Prize from the International Society for Ecological Economics in 2014, and election to the Royal Society of Canada in 2015.