This summer saw me invited to present some research and participate in the summer school and conference of the European Society for Ecological Economics in Budapest. The setting was completely glorious, hosted in Corvinus Business School: overlooking the Danube, with the majestic Citadel on the hill towering above the rest of the skyline across from us. At night, spotlights illuminated the most impressive architecture in the city, which glowed like warm candles above the dark of the Danube’s waters. And within these astonishing surroundings, a group of 300 Ecological Economists came together to discuss how to transform the economy to create one explicitly focused on creating wellbeing, social equality and environmental sustainability whilst maintaining economic prosperity. I came into the conference excited, but entirely apprehensive at the scale of the challenges facing our society, and left buoyed by the incredible warmth and ambition of the like-minded group of researchers I encountered there. I am more optimistic as a result.
Broadly speaking, the focus of the conference and summer school was comprised of four main topics: how to increase the policy impact of your research; the degrowth economy; the emerging ecosystem services paradigm; and pressure points to initiate socio-ecological transformation. My research is in ecosystem services, which in essence aims to understand the value that nature provides the global economy through the services that it provides for free but are utterly neglected by our economic model and institutions, and at the summer school I presented some of my work investigating the hidden economic value of natural coastal habitats in promoting yields and stock health in commercial fisheries. The main take-away message of the summer school was that the linear model of visualising the science-policy interface – whereby scientists generate objective information that diffuses through to, and is implemented by policymakers, is dead. Instead, we are increasingly aware that policymakers are people, with agendas, pressures, and occasionally limits to their understanding, and as a result the most important way of generating policy impact is by actually giving policymakers a sense of ownership over your research by inviting them into the research question formation and project planning stages of research. The summer school taught me everything I know about the science-policy interface – it’s astonishing how little I had learned during my studies, given that the end goal for most ecological science is to influence policy. The rest of the conference was just as fascinating – in every room there were talks of huge interest and immense importance going on, and it was simply impossible to attend everything of interest.
Outside the conference, discovering Budapest was also a delight – most notably discovering the Kiraly baths, which closely resembled ancient Roman baths both in design and sociable nature. That, and sitting by the Danube at night, emerged as impressive cultural highlights from my trip. And the mixture of the sheer intellectual interest of the conference, coupled with the extraordinary setting and character of Budapest, have made me extremely grateful for the Go Abroad fund’s assistance in allowing me to experience this. What a delight!