• Warenkorb
  • Kontakt
  • Login

Exclusively online: Series "12 Questions to ..."

GAIA 2/2017: 12 Questions to Jeroen van den Bergh

Jeroen van den Bergh, ICREA research professor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Honorary Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics, Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University Amsterdam.

Born 1965 in Ossendrecht, the Netherlands. Master in Econometrics and Operations Research from University of Tilburg, PhD in economics in 1991. Since 1997 professor of environmental economics, 2002 to 2007 professor of nature, water and space at VU University Amsterdam. 2003 to 2007 member of the Energy Councilof the Netherlands. Since 2007 ICREA research professor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. 2012 to 2015 deputy director for research at the Institute of Environmental Science andTechnology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

1. From your point of view, what are today's most pressing environmental problems?

Climate change stands out for me. It will influence the conditions of humans worldwide more clearly than any other environmental change phenomenon. And it will do so for an incredibly long period of time – for example through rising sea levels that will affect half of the population living in coastal zones. It will also affect both social issues and other environmental problems, like poverty and biodiversity. Some estimates by serious researchers suggest that half of expected future biodiversity loss will becaused by climate change if we don't manage to stop it.

2. When looking at potential improvements in our environment, what gives you hope?

The fact that more and more people are becoming aware of the seriousness of global environmental change. This is reflected by more communication about it, including in politics and the public media. Whereas many older people tend to remain sceptical of climate change, young people seem to question it less. Although climate change has only been on the rise as a public concern since the 1990s, we've already reached two agreements: the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. Another reason for hope is that the economy is tremendously flexible and can easily become far less pollutive.

3. Is there a particular environmental policy reform you admire the most?

We need a systemic policy which ensures that energy rebound, carbon leakage from countries with strict policies to those with weak ones, and countervailing fossil fuel market responses – the "green paradox" – are effectively controlled. Carbon pricing is the only instrument capable of accomplishing this. Moreover, by implementing carbon taxes, we could generate considerable revenues for funding complementary policies: subsidize low-carbon innovations, lower labour taxes to increase employment, and redistribute tax revenues to compensate poor countries and poor citizens in rich countries to prevent energy poverty.

4. Which trend in environmental policy and politics do you consider an aberration?

I think we should be realistic and not expect too much from voluntarism. It will never apply to a substantial proportion of consumers and firms, and it has unintended rebound effects. Voluntarism, due to a lack of good regulatory environmental policies, is exactly what has brought about our current environmental disasters. The voluntary behaviour we should aim for is the election of the right parties and policies. I believe that this can be matched most easily with human psychology, as some of our actions are driven by the selfish consumer mode and others by the altruistic citizen or voter mode.

5. Why environmental research?

I studied econometrics and operations research, and thought about doing a PhD in applied mathematics. But I got an offer to work in Amsterdam to be part of a multidisciplinary research team with economists and biologists on modelling sustainable development, which was a hot new topic at the end of the '80s. I felt it was a politically relevant and intellectually exciting issue to deal with.

6. What has been your experience when it comes to transferring scientific insights into practice?

I try to regularly contribute to newspapers and other popular media outlets about things that preoccupy me. But it's hard work.There seems to be a lot of competition for a scarce amount of space, notably in English-language media that reach a global audience. However, it's important to inform society about potential solutions to environmental problems and how to judge them.

7. Besides the one you're working in, what field of research in the environmental sciences do you find most exciting?

I value environmental psychology a great deal, as it clarifies what makes humans tick. This is relevant to environmental policy in two ways: first, by helping us to understand which policies can expect to receive public or voter support, which informs us about how we can improve political feasibility through policy design. Second, by improving our assessments of how consumers will react to specific environmental policy instruments, thus helping us to select instruments that guarantee effective solutions.

8. Can you name any person or event that has had a particular influence on your commitment to environmental issues?

Herman Daly has always impressed me. His focus on our society's obsession with economic growth and its social and environmental cost is more relevant now than ever. My work on "a-growth" has indirectly benefitted from Daly's subtle writings.

9. What knowledge about the environment would you like to pass on to young people?

That all life on planet Earth is connected through complex food webs and biogeochemical cycles, as well as through the natural history of the planet. The latter makes all existing organisms, including humans, each other's family. Evolution has created a fragile balance of life that is easily disturbed – with unknown consequences – if humans keep on dominating the biosphere and destroying large parts of it.

10. As a scientist concerned with sustainability, what contradictions do you face in everyday life?

We all live and consume energy and materials, generate waste, and travel many kilometres in pollutive transport vehicles. Moreover, when we vote, we notice that environmental problems are not the only issues that influence our decision.

11. What are you reading at the moment?

Steven Pinker's "The Sense of Style". I'm finishing writing a book on evolutionary thinking in the social and policy sciences, with applications to environmental and climate science, and I decided I want to make the language more attractive. Pinker's book is helping me, and it's a fun read.

12. Apart from the ones we've raised here, what is the most important question of our day?

How we can best trade off political feasibility and climate policy effectiveness? But this isn't a static issue, since, when it comes to policies, we scientists can influence the political debate to help improve the political feasibility of the most effective policies.

Toolkits for Transdisciplinarity
The series highlights existing compilations of methods useful for transdisciplinary research - now available for download!
Jetzt GAIA kennenlernen!
Feiern Sie das Jubiläum von GAIA mit dem 25% günstigeren Probeabo für nur 22.10 Euro inkl. Versandkosten weltweit!
GAIA bei Facebook
Schauen Sie bei GAIA-Facebook vorbei und geben uns ein Feedback, ob Ihnen die Seite gefällt.
GAIA bei Twitter
Aktuelle Neuigkeiten von GAIA gibt es problemlos über unseren Twitter-Kanal!
GAIA reviewers 2016
The peer-review process ensures the scientific quality of GAIA. Here you can find all experts who reviewed an article in 2016.
Journal Performance
Find out about GAIA's recent journal metrics!
GAIA new issue e-alert
Please sign in to set up a new issue alert for GAIA!