Past Event

Scarcity: A History from the Origins of Capitalism to the Climate Crisis

April 15, 2024
5:15 PM - 7:00 PM
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Fayerweather Hall (Room 513), Columbia University, 1180 Amsterdam Avenue, New York

Event Description 

Modern economics has entered a turbulent moment. While the field has achieved a dominant position in the political realm as a trusted authority on matters of markets and growth, it has largely failed to engage in a serious manner with the looming planetary crises: the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. In Scarcity: A History from the Origins of Capitalism to the Climate Crisis, the authors suggest that the neoclassical assumption of scarcity locks us into a particular understanding of the nature-economy nexus that fails to reckon with the central role of the earth system and biodiversity in human flourishing. The next generation of social scientists will need to develop a more holistic understanding of the relation between the economy and the biophysical envelope of life on Earth. To inspire fresh thinking, the book takes the reader back five centuries and shows how people in the past have theorized the interplay between economy and nature. The book offers a genealogy of both Cornucopian thinking (ideas of infinite growth in American and European tradition) and Finitarian thinking (discourses about limits of desire and limits of nature), showing when and how distinctive notions of scarcity have emerged over time. 

This event will explore the present and future of the neoclassical scarcity postulate; the prospects of “sustainable” qualitative economic growth; the challenges of global justice and human flourishing within planetary boundaries; and the relationship between “generic” economic growth and the science/practice of climate mitigation and the protection of biodiversity. 

Event Speakers

  • Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, Associate Professor of History and Conceptual and Historical Studies in Science at the University of Chicago
  • Caroline Flammer, A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Economics at Columbia University
  • Suresh Naidu, Professor of International and Public Affairs and the Jack Wang and Echo Ren Professor of Economics at Columbia University
  • Pamela Smith, Seth Low Professor of History and Founding Director of the Center for Science and Society at Columbia University
  • Carl Wennerlind, Professor of History at Barnard College

Event Information

Open to Columbia University ID holders; Registration required. Please contact [email protected] with any questions. 

The Center for Science and Society makes every reasonable effort to accommodate individuals with disabilities. If you require disability accommodations to attend a Center for Science and Society event, please contact us at [email protected] or (212) 854-0666 at least 10 days in advance of the event. For more information, please visit the campus accessibility webpage