The Steady Stater

In Memoriam — Steady Staters Who Left Us in 2021

January 10, 2022 with Brian Czech Season 2 Episode 14
The Steady Stater
In Memoriam — Steady Staters Who Left Us in 2021
Show Notes Transcript

In our first podcast episode of the year, Brian Czech takes a moment to remember some of the steady staters who left us in 2021: David Schindler, Valerius Geist, Mason Gaffney, Dick Lamm, Thomas Lovejoy, E.O. Wilson, and Lisa Vandemark. Brian lists their achievements, shares personal encounters, and reflects on life, death, and limits.

Our conversation with Dick Lamm: The Almost Steady-State President (October 2020)


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Pat Choate:

From the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, this is The Steady Stater, a podcast dedicated to discussing limits to growth and the steady state economy.

Brian Czech:

Welcome to the show, I am your host, Brian Czech and speaking for all of us at CASSE, our board, staff, interns, chapter directors, and volunteer network. Happy New Year! Now I don't need to tell you Steady Staters that 2021 was another year of destructive ecological overshoot. Thanks to the bloating GDP, which globally has pushed back into the $90 trillion territory, things have never looked less sustainable. I also don't need to tell you that changing that trajectory, putting us on a path toward a steady state economy -- degrowth toward a steady state economy -- is a task far beyond the capability of any one individual. But I wanted to take a few minutes this week to eulogize a few individuals with outsized contributions. These are men and women that we lost in 2021, who spent much of their lives working for conservation, sustainability, and a steady state economy. Now, of course, given the venue -- I mean, The Steady Stater podcast --these are individuals with some connection to CASSE. In some cases, the CASSE connection provides for the only personal observation we have. So I hope it's in good taste mentioned that. The last two to leave us in 2021 were, you probably heard, Thomas Lovejoy and E. O. Wilson, who died on Christmas Day and the following day respectively. But I think it's appropriate to start at the beginning moving along with the sands of time. So then, David Schindler died on the fourth day of March at the age of 80. Dave was an American Canadian limnologist par excellence. He was Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta, and rose to prominence for his extremely innovative, long-running experiments on entire lakes at the famous and aptly named Experimental Lakes Area of Ontario. Dave earned over 100 awards and honors, culminating perhaps in the 2016 Rachel Carson Award from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, which a lot of us know as SETAC. In his 2008 book The Algal Bowl - Overfertilization of the World's Freshwaters and Estuaries, Schindler warned that [quote] "the fish killing blooms that devastated the Great Lakes in the 1960s and 1970s. Haven't gone away. They've moved west into an arid world in which people, industry, and agriculture are increasingly taxing the quality of what little freshwater there is to be had here. This isn't just a prairie problem. Global expansion of deadzones caused by algal blooms is rising rapidly." I can see why Dave won that Rachel Carson Award -- he didn't just write, didn't just report his findings and leave it at that. He was an active and intentional agent of change. And like Carson, he was that rare ecological scientist who ended up making a big difference in the regulatory framework of the American and Canadian environmental agencies. I met him at a society for conservation biology conference in 2010. That was in his backyard and Edmonton, Alberta. And there was a group of us -- the working group for ecological economics and sustainability science -- that was trying to get SCB to take a position on economic growth. We were using the CASSE position as a template. Dave read it and was immediately all over it. He loved it. In fact, he got all charged up about it. He emanated this great store of energy and passion that allowed him, maybe even pushed him, to accomplish so much in his illustrious career. Valerius Geist left us on July 6, at the age of 83. Val was known as a Canadian biologist and professor at the University of Calgary. Val was actually born in the Ukrainian Republic -- as it was at the time, Ukrainian republic of the USSR -- and grew up primarily in Austria and Germany. Quickly though, as a young, adventurous scholar, he took to the wilds of British Columbia, then Alberta, eventually settling into retirement on Vancouver Island. For decades, Val was a world authority on the biology, behavior, and social dynamics of North American and really circumboreal large mammals, such as elk, moose, bison... but, most of all, bighorn sheep and wolves. One time I was in Limerick, Ireland for a conference of the international fund for animal welfare, and I had the great good luck of joining Val over dinner in a dining hall where, lo and behold, an ancient pair of Irish elk antlers were hung, spanning much of a wall, in fact. Now if you don't know the Irish Elk, Google it up now -- so you will have an idea of the majesty we're talking about here. In fact, just Google up "Irish elk antlers" and go straight to the photos. While there in Limerick, Val absolutely regaled me with everything you possibly want to know about Irish elk evolution, social behavior, physiology, population, dynamics, and their eventual extinction. Furthermore, he took me on a tour of the natural history of this particular specimen based on the shapes, and textures, and battle scars on these antlers from millennia past -- kinda like a great forester can tell you about the life of a tree from its rings. Here's the thing I remember the most -- the proverbial, everything I could possibly want to know just kept expanding because of the intelligence, the intrigue, and the drama Val applied and evoked. Yeah, Val was like a walking encyclopedia of natural history with an insatiable intellectual appetite that eventually brought him to a highly respected level of expertise on Neanderthal people and their behavior. Well, like Dave Schindler, Val received numerous honors often stemming from his 20-some books. Val was old-school too, add a unique nexus of academia and wildlife adventure. He was the only North American hunter to be honored with professional membership in the Boone and Crockett Club, and its European counterparts, the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation. You know, I can't help but to see Val up there right now, chasing that elusive Irish elk through some Pleistocene step. Now, we can't cheat death, death, taxes are limits to growth. But I'm going to cheat here just once by bringing in another July death, but this one from 2020 -- because we didn't have a memorial episode last year. So on July 16 of 2020, the iconoclast economist Mason Gaffney died. Mason was one of the leading Georgists, an adherent to Henry George's 1862 masterpiece Progress and Poverty. Mason's own book from 2007, The corruption of Economics, is the most thorough stripping of an emperor's clothes you will ever read. Gaffney was an economist and a historian, and he documented blow by blow how the bellwether Economics departments of the USA, Columbia, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and eventually the University of Chicago were built to fight against the Georgist paradigm, thus the corruption of economics -- that is the American Neoclassical school of economics as it developed in the early decades of the 20th century. Few students today are aware that what Karl Marx was to the capitalist in Europe, Henry George was to the landlord in the USA, and a few other parts of the world as well. George would have financed the polity with a single tax on land, and for the full rent, essentially socializing land. And this at the zenith of land baron power among the likes of Rockefeller, Carnegie Mellon, and Morgan -- the man had guts, and so the Gaffney, a World War II volunteer. Of all the labeled schools of economic thought out there aside from ecological economics, the Georgists are perhaps most allied with we steady staters. It's no coincidence that Gaffney was -- and so many other Georgists are -- CASSE signatories. We all recognize the profound and distinctive importance of land as a factor of production, kind of in the vein of the 18th-century physiocrats. One thing I especially appreciated about Mason Gaffney is that until I read The Corruption of Economics, I'd never really found any political explanation for how the landless production function came about -- you know, that ecologically ignorant equation at the center of neoclassical growth theory that tells us production is a function of capital and labor, with no acknowledgement whatsoever of land. While ecological economics was fine at describing the shortcomings of the production function, it was the investigatory Georgist, Mason Gaffney, that figured out why. You might say he brought us all the way to the neoclassical Wizard of Oz and pulled back the curtain. Well another July death -- back to 2021 now, happened on the 29th, when steady staters are saddened to hear of the passing of Richard Lamm at the age of 85. Dick was a three-term governor of Colorado who, if you can believe it, won that office in 1974 on a platform largely of limiting growth. We spoke to Dick on The Steady Stater in October of 2020 and asked him, how the heck did he pull that off?

Richard Lamm:

I did talk about growth. I had led the fight against the Olympics. Colorado had bid to host the Olympics and they won. And I went against that, and led a statewide, an initiative that defeated the Olympics. And so a lot of that was around grow -- Colorado was growing too fast. And so the growth issue was part of my political platform. I was fighting in the legislature for land-use planning. But the biggest thing where I got my constituency is I led the battle against the 1976 Olympics. In the 1972, Colorado elections, we defeated the Olympics. And somebody at the victory party held me up to the top of the sea leader and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, the next Governor of Colorado."

Brian Czech:

Dick also co-founded and presided over the nonprofit Zero Population Growth, now known as Population Connection. He was always a friend of CASSE and helped us with advice and networking. Let's not forget to that Dick was nearly nominated as the Reform Party's presidential candidate in the 1996 election. The Grim Reaper seemed to go on hiatus through the late summer and fall but came back with a vengeance in late December. Thomas Lovejoy left us right on Christmas day. You know, I doubt there's ever been a fellow whose countenance better matched his surname. I didn't know him well, but he seemed to love the art of joy. Google him up Thomas Lovejoy, and you can see it in his smile. The joy just emanates. And that's something for a fellow so thoroughly knowledgeable about biodiversity, and therefore the plate of biodiversity. Among other things, Tom was the president of the Amazon Biodiversity Center, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation, and a professor at George Mason University. He was the World Bank's chief biodiversity advisor, and the lead environmental specialists for Latin America and the Caribbean. He was president of the prestigious Heine Center. He gets credit for coining the very term "biological diversity" back in 1980. We could go on and on about his titles, achievements and awards, but I have it from Herman Daly that Lovejoy was influential at the World Bank in helping protect the Amazon from what could have been worse despoiling. I know too that love joy was quite interested in limits to growth and the steady state economy. Although we never quite got the chance to follow up on our encounter at a conference in D.C.. It's definitely one of my bigger regrets with regard to steady state networking. And for that matter, networking period, I feel I missed out on knowing not only an effective conservationist, but a wonderful joy loving human. One fellow I did get to know fairly well though was E. O. Wilson. He left us the very day after Tom on December 26th, at the age of 92. Known as the modern day Darwin, Ed Wilson was a biologist, naturalist, evolutionary ecologist, and, of course, the world's foremost authority on that massive slice of life on Earth called ants. He was a generational talent, coming up with big ideas on big issues on a regular basis. He was the author of such books as On Human Nature, The Social Conquest of Earth, Consilience, Letters to a Young Scientist,

and Half-Earth:

Our Planet's Fight For Life. Ed received more than 150 awards and medals and was an honorary member of more than 30 prestigious organizations, academies, and institutions. Several animal species have been scientifically named in his honor, mostly ant species, of course, as well as one bird and one bat. Well, I got to know Ed while working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I was the conservation biologist for the National Wildlife Refuge System. And I caught wind of the fact that Ed was hoping to get a national park established in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. This massive meandering Delta along the Gulf of Mexico and Alabama takes in the waters of the Mobile and Tensaw rivers and turns them into a flowing labyrinth of shape shifting mazes, as complex ecologically, as it is hydrologically. I set about to persuade Ed that, in fact, the Delta would be more fitting as a national wildlife refuge than a national park. And I'd do my best to promote it as the potential crown jewel of biodiversity in the national wildlife refuge system. There were excellent reasons for taking this route, and Ed was interested. So I went to meet him at his Harvard laboratory, met him again in Washington D.C., and ended up spending several spectacular days in the field with him that summer in the Delta. Ed took quickly to the idea of a Mobile-Tensaw Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Our meetings and escapades also led to some serious discussion of a topic he'd largely avoided till then, namely the conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation. I discovered that Ed had been -- we might say -- somewhat victimized by the win-win rhetoric of the conservation bigs. You know, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife Federation, and really, almost all of big green. You know, that win-win rhetoric that there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment. But to Ed's credit, once he was presented with the concepts of ecological macroeconomics, the fundamental conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation resonated quickly and strongly with him, and he didn't worry about offending any of the win-win rhetoricians from big green. He signed the CASSE position on economic growth right away, and that became a turning point in the dialogue on growth among the conservation community. He went on to say that destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal. Ed also served as the figurehead for the Half-Earth Project. Few projects would square as neatly, as precisely with the CASSE mission. What I mean by precisely is -- well have a look at the CASSE logo sometime, you'll know precisely what I mean by "precisely." I'd like to end this collective memoriam by recalling one of my closest friends in life. Lisa Vandemark. She actually left us nearly a year ago on January 17, way too young, in her case at 61. She's not a household name and ecological economics or sustainability science, but she would have been if she'd wanted to. She had the brains in spades and she could shift the paradigm by personality alone. I think of her a lot, but I guess I'm remembering her now especially because she was at my side the first time I met Ed Wilson, back in 2000 at a conference in D.C.. I was new to Fish and Wildlife headquarters, new to the beltway, in fact, and she was a scientist with the National Research Council. But soon after, she took a circuitous path with research in Thailand, leading very circuitously to a second career back in the states in social psychology. A real Renaissance woman she was. Lisa Vandemark, a couple days before she died of cancer, I told her I'd be looking up in the clouds for -- by God she said she'd wave. Well, folks, that's about wraps us up. We've been memorializing some of the best the world had to offer. I am sorry if we overlooked one of your favorite steady staters, much less the loved one. You know, these remarkable, energetic, brilliant, charismatic individuals we talked about today and ones we didn't too, well, it just goes to show what we all know in our hearts. There are limits. And really, they're not so bad. Let me try an analogy -- without the cold, would we ever know how it feels to be warm? Same with limites. Without limits, would we ever even sense any growth. So it's life, death, those dang ol' taxes, and limits to growth. I'm Brian Czech, and you've been listening to The Steady Stater podcast. See you next time!