Aside from a few minor hitches with the sound, the two congresses in Nagoya, Japan and Davos, Switzerland managed to connect seamlessly through high-definition technology to make an impressive start to the conference. The two keynote speakers, one from Nagoya and one from Davos, portrayed contrasting strategies for limiting our natural resource use-surely a good start to a few days of debate!
Prof. Dennis Meadows, the acclaimed author of Limits to Growth, emphasised the need for a cultural and societal change, arguing that unless these issues were addressed the growth in consumption would continue to outweigh any increase in efficiency. Technology can buy us a little more time, but eventually our behaviour will have to change. Contrarily, Prof. Hiroshi Esaki from the University of Tokyo wanted ‘ not to restrain the human being’ and to focus on increasing efficiency. What do you think? Is it possible to increase efficiency to such an extent that no change in attitudes is necessary?
Meadows was also very critical about economists’ use of the discount rate- the relative value of an increment in consumption at a time in the future relative to now. He argued that none of the assumptions needed to use the discount rate are fulfilled in this debate, namely that the future consequences of our actions are known, that all of the consequences can be reduced to financial terms, that we are the right people to pick the discount rate and that if we do make a mistake we can buy our way out of the problem. The choice of a discount rate is always a controversial decision when doing a cost-benefit analysis of environmental problems, do you think the discount rate is a useful tool or is misguided and meaningless?