19 January 2016


Thomas Vellacott

Thomas Vellacott BA MBA MPhil FRSA (4 March 1971) is CEO of WWF Switzerland, the conservation organisation. WWF Switzerland has 260,000 supporters and forms part of WWF's global network. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the planet's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. Thomas holds degrees in Arabic and Islamic Studies from Durham, in International Relations from Cambridge and in Business Administration from IMD. Previously, he worked in private banking for Citibank and as an engagement manager for McKinsey & Co. Prior to taking on the role of CEO in 2012, Thomas spent 9 years heading up WWF Switzerland's programme division and was responsible for the organisation's national and international conservation projects. Thomas has been a member of WWF since he was 8 years old.

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Prof. em. Dr. Silvio Borner

Silvio Borner (1941) professor emeritus for Economics and Politics at the University of Basel and Program Director of the “Summer School for Law, Economics and Public Policy”, which he founded. He is also a senior advisor at Hoffmann & Partner, a founding member of the Carnot-Cournot Network for economic studies for economic studies, member of the program commission of Avenir Suisse and columnist for the “Weltwoche” magazine. After studying at the University of St. Gallen and Yale (USA), he qualified as a lecturer at the University of St. Gallen in 1973 before becoming a tenured professor in Basel in 1978. There, he taught economics for over 30 years, with spells as a visiting professor at Stanford University, Vancouver, Buenos Aires and Sydney. He was instrumental in establishing the Centre for Business and Economics (WWZ) at the University of Basel and in setting up the university’s own Faculty of Business and Economics. He has been a Professor emeritus since August 2009 and now serves as the Director of the WWZ Summer School for Law, Economics and Public Policy, which he founded. As the author of some twenty published books and over 150 academic articles and essays, Professor Borner has always been in close contact with the business world and public life.

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Stephen Tindale

Stephen Tindale has 26 years of experience working in various roles within the energy and climate sectors. He is currently the Director of the Alvin Weinberg Foundation, advocating innovation and delivery of safe, secure and sustainable nuclear power. He does consultancy work for Tidal Lagoon Power and for the ReEnergise Group, and is an adviser to the Shale Gas Task Force. Stephen also runs the website Climate Answers (www.climateanswers.info), which tries to present information on climate issues in an accessible way, and to identify what should be supported rather than simply what should be opposed, as most NGOs do. He tweets @STindale. Stephen has long been in favour of community energy having co-authored, with Prashant Vaze, "Repowering commmunties: Small scale solutions to large scale problems" (Earthscan, June 2011). Previous roles have included: Head of Communications and Public Affairs for RWE npower renewables; Executive Director of Greenpeace UK and Chairman of the Greenpeace European Unit; adviser to Environment Minister Michael Meacher; founder of IPPR Environment Group; adviser to Shadow Environment Secretary Chris Smith, diplomat at UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

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Daniel Ben-Ami

Daniel Ben-Ami has worked as a writer for over 25 years, during which he has contributed to numerous national, specialist and international publications. Ferraris For All, his book defending economic progress, was published in 2010. A paperback edition, including an additional chapter on the inequality debate in the West, was published in 2012. His book on global finance, Cowardly Capitalism (Wiley, 2001), was recommended by the Baker Library of Harvard Business School. Daniel writes regularly for the Financial Times on wealth and related topics. One day he hopes to untangle all the different ways in which the term “equality” is used.

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chaired by:

Sabine Beppler-Spahl

Sabine Beppler-Spahl studied economics at the University of Hamburg. She went to school in Hong-Kong and Germany. She currently works in adult education in Berlin and lectures at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam. She speaks English, French (Diplome approfondi in 2001) and Spanish. She is also a regular contributor to the German magazine NovoArgumente and has published articles in Die Welt, Berliner Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Zeitschrift Merkur and other publications. She is married and has two children.

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Are greens the friends or enemies of progress?

Greens worry that the Earth cannot sustain our desire for more, more, more. Do their worries halt progress?

We are living longer, healthier and richer lives than ever before. These trends have already spread to billions of people in poorer countries. But are the costs of all this progress beginning to outweigh the benefits?

Some believe that environmental concerns have gone too far, putting a brake on growth, especially in poor countries. Are the world’s poor only allowed to experience ‘sustainable’ development? Lately, a new brand of greens is emerging. These so-called ‘eco-modernists’ believe the planet can be ecologically vibrant even with many billions more people living a good life – if only we would use our scientific knowledge to steward the world’s resources. But can science also tell us what kind of balance is desirable between allowing humanity to flourish while preserving the natural world? Maybe in the end, most people simply do not care that much about nature. And what is a good life anyway?

Has the modern idea of progress outlived its usefulness? Do we need new ways of understanding progress, or is it environmentalism that needs an overhaul? And what role do greens play in this debate? Do they want to halt progress, or simply to redefine it? Or might their redefinition be another way of halting development? Is progress ultimately a myth?

Recommended reading:

  1. Climate campaigners should learn to be more pragmatic
    Stephen Tindale
    Global warming needs urgent action – but activists should accept they can’t change the world overnight. We cannot afford to reject effective, achievable climate solutions because other, less attainable, solutions are better. These best solutions cannot be achieved in time. Climate campaigners should learn to be more pragmatic.
  2. Pope Francis calls for urgent action on climate change in White House speech
    The Guardian
    Addressing a crowd of nearly 15,000 on the south lawn, pope invokes Martin Luther King Jr in speaking of the moral need to protect our ‘common home’. “Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” said the pope, who invited contrast with the civil rights struggle by invoking the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr in support of his argument.
  3. Pre-Judging Paris
    By Bjorn Lomborg
    The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this month is being billed as an opportunity to save the planet. It is no such thing. As I show in a new peer-reviewed paper, even if successful, the agreement reached in Paris would cut temperatures in 2100 by just 0.05° Celsius. The rise in sea level would be reduced by only 1.3 centimeters.
  4. Argument: Is it time to ditch the pursuit of economic growth?
    New Internationalist Magazine
    Economist and author Dan O’Neill and journalist and author Daniel Ben-Ami go head-to-head.
  5. Paris 2015: getting a global agreement on climate change
    A report by Christian Aid, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, RSPB, and WWF
    Vitally, a strong climate deal will help to meet international development aims, which are at increasing risk from rising global temperatures. Eliminating poverty, improving health and building security are all outcomes linked to tackling climate change.
  6. The Anthropocene: a manmade epoch
    Alex Standish is a senior lecturer in geography education at University College London.
    Have humans become a ‘geological force’, capable of influencing the natural environment on a planetary scale? Are we now responsible for so-called natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, droughts and even earthquakes? Have we changed the climate beyond its natural variability, pushing the Earth into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, where ‘humanity has become a planetary force, on a par with the geological or climatic forces used to define phases of Earth history’?
  7. Ignore the belt‑tighteners: growth is good
    Christopher Snowdon director of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs.
    The rise of environmentalism and the emergence of the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s saw a resurgence of ‘growth sceptic’ beliefs which were intertwined with concerns about population growth and inequality. When William Nordhaus and James Tobin wrote their influential article ‘Is Growth Obsolete?’ in 1972, their answer was ‘not yet’, but the Club of Rome’s The Limits of Growth, published in the same year, heralded the return of Malthusian pessimism. When the New Zealand Values Party, which later became the Green Party, contested the 1972 election, it did so on a ticket of ‘zero economic growth and zero population growth’.
  8. Benefits far outweigh costs of tackling climate change, says LSE study
    The Guardian
    “The majority of the global emissions reductions needed to decarbonise the global economy can be achieved in ways that are nationally net-beneficial to countries, even leaving aside the ‘climate benefits’,” says Fergus Green in his paper for the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the LSE. He cites improved air quality, increased energy efficiency and better energy security among the potential benefits to individual countries that more than justify the costs of cutting carbon emissions. Furthermore, investments in low-carbon energy are likely to be more than paid back by the falling cost of renewable sources, such as solar and wind, and by reduced spending on fossil fuels, Green predicts.
  9. Kernkraft und Gentechnik für die Umwelt
    Servan ist Master-Student in Biostatistik an der Universität Zürich: NZZ on Campus
    Mit ihren unkonventionellen Ideen bringen die «Ökomodernisten» neuen Wind in eine festgefahrene Debatte. Ob Gentechnik, Kernenergie oder Aquakulturen – neue Technologien werden nicht als Gefahr gesehen, sondern sollen dabei helfen, die Umwelt zu retten.
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