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Conference Discusses Environment and Economy

By JOE B. LERER, Contributing Writer

Inspired by the Occupy movement and the upcoming United Nations Rio+20 Earth Summit, Economy Futures—a group of environmentally-minded Harvard students—held a weekend-long conference on “The Transition to a New Economy,” bringing together 140 activists to discuss a transition to an economic philosophy that moves away from unsustainable economic practices.

The conference featured workshops in four areas—finance and business, poverty and inequality, environment, and governance and politics.

“[America is one of] the largest corporate run capitalist systems, [but] we have a chance to implement and set the foundation for changes that may prove irreversible,” said Gar Alperovitz, a conference speaker and a founding fellow of the Harvard Institute of Politics. “This is a very powerful period in history.”

In order to implement these changes, Alperovitz said, policy makers must redefine the metric by which government measures successful environmental sustainability.

The emphasis, he continued, should not be based on growth but rather on the happiness and well-being of the populace.

Richard Heinberg, a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute who spoke at the event, stressed a similar sentiment by comparing the national economy to the life of a rodent.

“What would happen if [a newborn] hamster continued to double its body weight every week for one whole year?” he asked. “It would be a nine-billion-ton hamster—that’s the kind of absurdity that arises from unending compound growth.”

Economy Futures founder Rina A. Kuusipalo ’14 stressed the importance of conceptualizing long-term solutions to confront problems in current economic policy.

“It is an ambitious vision to say that you can solve these large issues,” she said. “We have to start imagining in macro terms and create viable alternatives.”

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