Presented by Stephen Macekura, Assistant Professor, International Studies, Indiana University. During the 1960s and 1970s, a wide range of environmental activists began searching for new ways to understand and measure development. They believed that the pursuit of economic growth as a policy goal and the reliance on quantitative measurements such as Gross National Product (GNP) ignored the broader social and ecological impacts of this process. In response, environmental thinkers drew heavily upon a strand of reformist thought popular among international development experts from the Global South to envision new ways of quantifying ecological change and economic prosperity. Their creation of the field of “ecological economics” proposed a solution for analyzing the interdependent evolution of human economies and natural ecosystems in pursuit of sustainable growth.
Stephen Macekura is a scholar of U.S. and international history, who focuses on political economy, international development, U.S. foreign relations, and environmentalism. He is the author of "Of Limits and Growth: The Rise of Global 'Sustainable Development' in the Twentieth Century" (Cambridge, 2015). The book analyzes how environmental NGOs struggled to implement environmental protection measures in the developing world in the 1950s and 1960s and then critiqued and reformed the development policies of the U.S. government, World Bank, and UN system in the 1970s and 1980s. Maekura is currently undertaking a new project that explores various critiques of economic growth since the 1960s by revealing how reformers have challenged and sought to rethink the ways in which the concept of “growth” has been defined, assessed, and measured.