First E4A Grad Making Waves at World Bank

Phoebe Spencer, our first Ph.D. graduate from the Economics for the Anthropocene partnership, is making waves at the World Bank. Check out this short article about Phoebe’s new work:

Her Ph.D. research on feminist economics is currently under review.  Her full dissertation entitled “Shaping Policy in the Anthropocene: Gender Justice as a Social, Economics, and Ecological Challenge” is available for download at:

Pathways to Vermont’s Energy and Greenhouse Gas Goals

I was honored to help kick off the Vermont Energy and Climate Summit today hosted by Vermont Governor Phil Scott, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, and Burlington Electric General Manager Neale Lunderville, and organized by Vermont’s Energy Action Network. EAN’s Leigh Seddon and I presented current trends in Vermont’s energy mix and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to help frame the day’s conversations on policy and management options to achieve the Paris Climate Accord goals by 2025, a commitment made by Governor Scott as part of the U.S. Climate Alliance pledge.  We also discussed what would be needed to achieve Vermont’s own statutory GHG goals and stay on pace to renewable energy targets of the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan.

The full slide presentation is available for download here.


Building a Clean Water Economy

[Cross-posted from The Independent, Aug. 23, 2017]

Imagine an investment opportunity with a guaranteed return of at least 400 percent within a year. You put in a dollar and get back five over twelve months. Year after year. Guaranteed. Completely legal. No strings attached.

Would you take it? My hunch is many might jump at the chance.

But here’s the catch: you pay the upfront costs, but the benefits are spread out over the year in dozens of ways. For every $1 you pay now, you’ll get $5 back across savings on other purchases, avoided living expenses, and a myriad of less visible returns broadly shared with your community. Some people won’t pay, but still get the community benefits. Others will get back much more than you. Still interested?

A similar decision is at the heart of building a clean water economy. From essential uses for drinking, agriculture, fisheries, manufacturing, and recreation, to the lifeblood of nutrient cycling, complex food webs, and ecosystem health, clean water is at the base of a healthy economy. The supply, delivery, and maintenance of clean water is supported by extensive private and public infrastructure, and high return investments abound.

For example, our engineered water systems have leaks to plug, plants to upgrade, and septic systems to fix. The American Water Works Association estimates the cost of repairing our nation’s public water infrastructure at $1.3 trillion over ten years. Imagine the national jobs and income generated in a trillion-dollar national public works project. Restoration and conservation of soils, wetlands, and streams can be even more cost effective, restoring the ecological functioning of nature’s clean water infrastructure. Investments in open land, sustainable agriculture, and riparian corridors have the additional benefits to wildlife habitat, public recreation, and storm protection.

Such investments in clean water generate economic activity and business savings many times over capital costs. A 2016 assessment of our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers found a growing gap between current spending and need of $82 billion per year at all levels of government.

If the investment gap was closed, the study estimates over $220 billion of economic activity and 1.3 million jobs would be created over a decade. The avoided costs to business alone of providing clean and safe water to customers would more than offset the capital costs over the investment period, with sustained annual savings as high as $407 billion through 2040.

The political rhetoric around these investments is usually framed around costs, particularly the regulatory costs of enforcing current clean water rules or mandating new ones. However, historical analysis of environmental regulation also reveals high investment returns. The Bush Office of Management and Budget found historical benefits of environmental regulations outweighing costs by as much as 5 to 1. The Obama budget office followed with a similar study, finding benefit/cost ratios even higher for recent environmental regulations.

The economic logic for investing in a clean water economy is sound, but here’s the rub. When legislation such as the Clean Water Act was passed, access to clean water was viewed as a public right, not a private privilege. When clean water was central to a bipartisan political agenda, investing federal and state tax revenue in infrastructure and watershed protection was a public duty, not a private burden. Ultimately a clean water culture is required to build a clean water economy.

The challenge to communities that still hold clean water as a human right and moral obligation is that federal and state funding is a shadow of historic levels. Building and maintaining a clean water economy is falling increasingly on regional planning boards, local municipalities, and landowners and rate payers. Fortunately, these are the people who most benefit from safe drinking water, healthy streams and lakes, and local jobs and income created in communities worth visiting, raising families, and calling home.

Jon D. Erickson is an ecological economist and the David Blittersdorf Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy at the University of Vermont.

New Chapter on “Input-Output Analysis” in Ecological Economics Handbook


I’m proud to have co-authored a chapter with former graduate student Mindy Kane for the new Routledge Handbook of Ecological Economics. The handbook was edited by ecological economist Clive Spash and “demonstrates the dynamism of ecological economics in a wide-ranging collection of state-of-the-art essays.”  Our contribution on input-output analysis highlights “one of the early empirical bases for studying the relationship of the macro-economy and supporting institutions and environmental stocks, flows, and sinks.”

Waking the Sleeping Giant Premiere

My latest film collaboration, Waking the Sleeping Giant, premiered this month at the Thin Line Festival. We were thrilled to be honored with the Best Documentary Feature.  Check out the news story in the Denton Record Chronicle. Up next is our Canadian premiere at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver.

Thanks Denton, Texas for a fabulous kick off to our festival run!

The Medium is the Message

This is the title of chapter 2 from Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner. Published in 1969, it was described as a ” no-holds-barred assault on outdated teaching methods, with dramatic and practical proposals on how education can be made relevant to today’s world.” Well, unfortunately, it couldn’t be more relevant today.

Here’s an except from chapter 2 (pp. 20-21):

So, what students mostly do in class is guess what the teacher wants them to say.  Constantly, they must try to supply “The Right Answer.”  It does not seem to matter if the subject is English or history or science; mostly, students do the same thing.  And since it is indisputably (if not publicly) recognized that the ostensible “content” of such courses is rarely remembered beyond the last quiz (in which you are required to remember only 65 percent of what you were told), it is safe to say that just about the only learning that occurs in classrooms is that which is communicated by the structure of the classroom itself.  What are these learnings?  What are these messages?  Here are a few among many, none of which you will ever find officially listed among the aims of teachers:

Passive acceptance is a more desirable response to ideas than active criticism.

Discovering knowledge is beyond the power of students and is, in any case, none of their business.

Recall is the highest form of intellectual achievement, and the collection of unrelated “facts” is the goal of education.

The voice of authority is to be trusted and valued more than independent judgment.

One’s own ideas and those of one’s classmates are inconsequential.

Feelings are irrelevant in education.

There is always a single, unambiguous Right Answer to a question.

English is not History and History is not Science and Science is not Art and Art is not Music, and Art and Music are minor subjects and English, History and Science major subjects, and a subject is something you “take” and, when you have taken it, you have “had” it, and if you have “had” it, you are immune and need not take it again.  (The Vaccination Theory of Education?)

To Rome and Back Again

Last week I participated in an expert meeting between the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The 3-day meeting at FAO Headquarters in Rome was focused on the intersection of climate change, land use, and food security, in preparation for a special report in the forthcoming 6th IPCC Assessment. I spoke in the plenary session on the third morning to help frame the policy discussions for the day’s break-out groups.


UVM Stands

[I had the honor of speaking at the UVM Stands event organized by our students today. Below are my prepared comments.]

Well, we made it to January 20th.  And the weather today in Vermont is appropriately a bit mixed.  Depending on your perspective, inauguration day is partly sunny or partly cloudy.  For me, I keep repeating to myself, “With crisis comes opportunity.”

This is certainly a mantra that the president-elect knows all too well, “With crisis comes opportunity.”  On the side of crisis, today marks an identity crisis for our nation, a moral crisis in our leadership, and a climate crisis for the planet.  On the side of opportunity, gatherings like this are happening all across the country and we are witnessing the awakening of a sleeping giant that has history on her side.  As Martin Luther King first said in a sermon nearly 60 years ago, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

On the climate crisis, the arc is clear, and for now it bends around Washington DC. It starts in our states, where the majority of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions are already regulated by states like California, New York, and Vermont. In Vermont we have set out a clear path to lead the nation in energy conservation and efficiency, and the renewable power revolution. The opportunity to respond to the climate crisis is in our cities, like here in Burlington, the first city in the nation to reach 100% renewable electricity. And as so often happens in our nation’s history, the opportunity to confront crisis begins with progressive leadership from our college campuses.


At the University of Vermont, on a day like today, our actions speak louder than words. Our community’s path forward to learn by doing and lead by example is as plain as day. UVM is a proud signatory to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. With that agreement is a pledge and a climate action plan to be climate neutral, with zero net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2025 through energy conservation (using less), energy efficiency (doing more with what we use), and renewable energy investment.

We are working closely with our municipally-owned utility, Burlington Electric, to meet our pledge to be carbon neutral in our electricity consumption.  In recent years we’ve made dramatic improvements in buttoning up our older buildings, and through LEED certification of all our new ones, including the buildings that surround us today: LEED gold in Jeffords and Davis, and LEED platinum in Aiken.  But some of the hardest work is still ahead.

The opportunity is now to double down on these commitments; support and empower our campus leaders in the days and months ahead; each play our part to lead by example in our campus commutes, university facilities, and education mission; and ultimately pull our national leaders (some maybe kicking and screaming) into a more sustainable and just future.

Thanks so much to the student, staff, and faculty organizers for helping our campus community take a stand on climate change action on this partly cloudy … or partly sunny day.

3rd Annual Vermont Youth Climate Summit

[From WAMC Northeast Public Radio]

The University of Vermont brought high school students from across Vermont and northern New York to its campus today for its third annual youth climate summit.

More than 130 students from 16 high schools participated in the climate summit, set against a backdrop of probable changes in federal environmental policy following the federal elections.


Vermont Governor Signs Order Giving Preference to Climate Aware Businesses

[Excerpt from WAMC Northeast Public Radio]

UVM Professor of Ecological Economics Jon Erickson says state government policies such as the governor’s executive order often drive business practices.  “Government as a purchaser can really be the first big change in a marketplace and then everyone else jumps on board. When government said you know what we’re going to start purchasing recycled paper that created a market for recycled paper. Today we take it for granted that you can go to the store and buy recycled paper. The government has a big budget that can nudge the system in that direction. That’s huge. That’s huge. So what seems like a really small step we’re going to see years down the road tracing back to this moment that this drove innovation.”