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Apr 7


6:00 PM–7:30 PM


Beyond Piketty (and Before the Deluge): Natural Capital in the Twenty-First Century

6:00 PM–7:30 PM    East Gallery, Buell Hall


Beyond Piketty (and Before the Deluge): Natural Capital in the Twenty-First Century

A panel discussion with Claude Henry, Geoffrey Heal, Peter Kelemen, and Stephen Cassell

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a major contribution to economics, economic history and our understanding of fundamental social and political issues we face today. Equally fundamental, as far as capital in the twenty-first century is concerned, is the condition of those components of natural capital – biodiversity, water, soil, energy, climate – that will shape the future of mankind on earth. (Piketty acknowledges their importance in chapter 16, but he doesn’t have room to elaborate.)

At present the conservation and maintenance of natural capital are neglected to the point that expected increasing demands on it will prove unsustainable even in the short term, say the next 25 years; a rather short span indeed in historical time, an imperceptible one in geological time. Why in such circumstances does humankind look like a guinea-pig mesmerized by a boa? Certainly not for want of ingenuity. The range of instruments – whether scientific, technological, legal, economic, even socio-political – immediately available, or soon to be available, is astounding.

We do have the means to restore a tolerable balance and preserve our future, but it is far from clear that we can muster the collective will and skills needed to mobilize these means into effective action for the common good.

This distinguished panel will discuss natural capital from the perspectives of a physicist turned economist, geochemist, architect/urban planner, and professor of public policy and corporate responsibility. 

This event is sponsored by the Columbia Maison Française and Alliance Program, with support provided by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.  It is part of a series of events on Paris Climate 2015 presented in anticipation of the next major international climate conference, the  21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), that will take place in Paris in December 2015.


Claude Henry is currently professor of sustainable development at Sciences Po Paris and at Columbia. He is president of the Scientific Council of IDDRI. He is also a member of Academia Europea, and a Fellow of the Econometric Society. Physicist turned economist, Claude Henry worked for the École polytechnique for thirty years, as head for research in economics and professor of public and environmental economics. He was also a member of the Conseil d’Analyse Économique in Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's office for five years (1997-2002).  He is completing with colleague Laurence Tubiana a book on the use and misuse of natural capital to be published by Columbia University Press.  He is a visiting professor at SIPA in spring 2015.

Geoffrey Heal is the Paul Garrett Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility at Columbia Business School, and is noted for contributions to economic theory and resource and environmental economics. Author of eighteen books and about 200 articles, he is a Fellow of the Econometric Society, Past President of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, recipient of its prize for publications of enduring quality and a Life Fellow, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Environmental Protection Agency and a Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Recent books include Nature and the Marketplace, Valuing the Future and When Principles Pay. He chaired a committee of the National Academy of Sciences on valuing ecosystem services, was a Commissioner of the Pew Oceans Commission, and is a Director of Petromin Holdings PNG Ltd., co-founded and Chairs the Advisory Board of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations and was a member of President Sarkozy's Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress.  He has been a principal in two start-up companies, one a consulting firm and the other in software and telecommunications.

Peter Kelemen is Arthur D. Storke Professor and Chair of Columbia’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He received his AB from Dartmouth College, and his MSc and PhD from the University of Washington, spent 17 years at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and moved to Columbia in 2004. He was a founding partner of Dihedral Exploration, consultants specializing in mapping and sampling mineral deposits in extreme terrain. In addition to research at sea, he has worked in India, Canada, Alaska, Pakistan, Greenland, and Oman, from 5500 meters below sea level in a submersible to 7500 meters above sea level on the Pakistan-China frontier. His research focuses on reactive flow of fluids, from lava transport in the Earth’s mantle to weathering on the surface. Most recently, he has been studying natural uptake of CO2 from the air and surface water to form solid carbonate minerals, in order to design engineered systems for CO2 removal via enhanced, geological CO2 capture and storage. At Columbia he teaches the popular course Earth Resources and Sustainable Development. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Geochemical Society, and the Mineralogical Society of America, a recipient of the AGU Bowen Award, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Architecture Research Office is a 25-person New York City firm led by Stephen Cassell, Kim Yao and Adam Yarinsky.  Founded in 1993, ARO has earned a reputation for elegant, innovative and imaginative architecture born out of relentless exploration and engagement. Architecture Research Office developed, in collaboration with Dlandstudio, solutions for Lower Manhattan as part of MOMA exhibition on global warming, published in book form as Rising Currents: Projects for New York's Waterfront. To prevent incursions by water, Mr. Cassell and his team imagined ringing Lower Manhattan with a grassy network of land-based parks accompanied by watery patches of wetlands and tidal salt marshes (see "Protecting the City, Before Next Time," in The New York Times).



Beyond Piketty (and Before the Deluge): Natural Capital in the Twenty-First Century