Community Colloquium: Ernst von Weizsäcker

The Bren School of Environmental Science & Management
at the University of California, Santa Barbara



Ernst von Weizsäcker
Dean Emeritus, the Bren School

Co-Chair, International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management

Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010
12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
Bren Hall 1414

"Decoupling Wealth from Resource Consumption"

See the Powerpoint presentation

Hosted by Bren School Dean Steven Gaines



Decoupling wealth from resource consumption is the core business of the (United Nations) International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management. According to Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, decoupling can be seen as the biggest challenge facing civilization in this century.

Factor Five, the new book by Ernst von Weizsäcker and Charlie Hargroves, shows that prosperity can be created with one fifth of the energy, water, and minerals inputs typically required for today's clumsy technologies. That's decoupling by a factor of five. And it is only the beginning.

Major policy shifts are necessary, however, to make the shift happen. Markets will continue to tell the deceptive story of the nearly unlimited availability of resources. The reason is that technical progress in mining has so far outpaced inherent scarcities. This deceptive story is likely to go on for another 50 or 100 years. If we wait until the signals of scarcity become overwhelming, time will be much too short to develop new technology and a civilization based necessarily on maximized resource productivity. The state and the international community of states will have to interfere in the markets and artificially make resources ever more expensive. It can be done a such a slow pace that no social hardship occurs.



Previously dean of the Bren School, Ernst von Weizsäcker currently co-chairs the United Nations International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management. He was the founder of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy in Germany, which became the largest climate policy think tank in Europe and earned von Weizsäcker recognition among the most respected climate policy experts on the continent. He attended several Conferences of the Parties (COP) of the Climate Convention, including the Kyoto COP 3 in 1997, from which the Kyoto Protocol originated. In 1998, von Weizsäcker became a member of the German parliament and was soon chairman of the Environment Committee, overseeing the establishment of the carbon-trading regime and the introduction of a powerful incentive system for renewable energies in Germany. His book Factor Four: Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use, co-authored with Amory and Hunter Lovins, was translated into 12 languages, including English, and has since become influential in making energy productivity a key element of climate-mitigation policies.


NOTE: Community colloquia are generally talks of broad interest geared toward a diverse, sophisticated audience. Their purpose is not only to enhance knowledge and understanding, but also to bring people together and promote interaction that will strengthen the community.


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