The Intersection of Economics & the Natural World with Marc Conte, Associate Professor of Economics at Fordham University
Aligning actions with the true cost to society is crucial.
Marc Conte is an Associate Professor in the Economics Department at Fordham University, a faculty research fellow at New York University, and a recent Visiting Associate Professor at the Yale School of the Environment.
As an environmental economist, his research pursuits often explore how market prices fail to accurately reflect the impacts of market actions on the environment (and the resultant implications for society) and how market interventions can be used to achieve more desirable environmental and social outcomes. Prior to his arrival at Fordham, he was a post-doctoral research fellow at Stanford University, where he was a key contributor to the Natural Capital Project. Marc earned his Ph.D. at the Bren School at UCSB, as a trainee in the NSF-funded IGERT Economics and Environmental Sciences program.
Marc developed an interest in the environment at a young age, thanks to time spent outdoors with his family, notably exploring the ponds and beaches of Cape Cod. He developed an academic interest in economics and ecology while an undergraduate at Dartmouth College. He continues to be an active hiker and is an enthusiastic amateur birder, whose 2020 highlights include a Lapland Longspur, Snow Buntings, and a Snowy Owl (the first in Central Park since 1890!).
Marc gave host Raj Daniels a lesson in environmental economics on episode 142 of the Bigger Than Us podcast. He also reflects on the early days of his interest in the natural world, how it intersected with his foray into economics, and his observations and objectives as an economics professor.
The Intersection of Economics and the Natural World
Excerpts from a conversation with Marc Conte on the Bigger Than Us podcast. These quotes have been edited for brevity and readability.
When many people hear the term economics, they are drawn to the idea of business and the economy, and maybe even finance. But economics is a social science that attempts to understand people’s behavior. And the lens that is used there is thinking about how people make decisions when they face trade-offs.
The idea of markets or the kind of tantalizing potential of markets is that sometimes under very strict conditions if we allow people to engage in trade in a market, they will make society as a whole as well off as it can possibly be. This is a pretty astonishing result that suggests that setting up markets is all you need to do.
Then, regulators and governments can stand back. They don’t need to intervene in our daily lives.
This is, of course, something that’s very appealing — the laissez-faire attitude and the idea of libertarianism and freedom to make our decisions.
But that result only holds under specific conditions. And one of those conditions is the idea that the price of an individual for engaging in some behavior is equal to the cost to society. So this private cost is equal to the social cost.
Economics is a social science that attempts to understand people’s behavior.
We know with environmental issues, this is not the case. Because the thing about the cost of manufacturing, any good you consume really — sneakers or your iPhone or something like that — that comes with the emission of some type of pollution. That pollution imposes a cost on society through health effects directly to people, and also the impacts on the ecosystems where the pollution is absorbed.
What Would More Government Involvement Look Like?
I think the government can play a role in society and in the economy by providing some assurance about people taking risky behavior.
What I mean by that, and why that’s important for the environment, is we have developed a society that is very dependent on energy from fossil fuels. A lot of our infrastructure is built around this, especially in the United States with our dependence on private vehicles for transportation.
You can look at the success of a company like Tesla that received several million dollars in loans from the government to get started, and I think it should be credited with motivating these major car makers — we heard the recent announcements from GM and Volkswagen is committed to electric vehicles — to adopting these new technologies.
I think that happened because the government provided funds that made the development of these new products less risky for these companies.
Now that we know the challenge posed by climate change and the damages caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, we need to introduce new technology into these markets. We need firms who are willing to take the risk of developing new products so that consumers can maintain their lifestyles while having less of an impact on the environment.
Some policies that seem well-intentioned can actually lead to undesirable outcomes.
We have centuries of experience with hurricanes in the US, and we know where they tend to happen. We know what portions of the continent are at risk from these damages.
You might think you could make an argument that the property values should capitalize on that risk. So places that are at risk should have a slightly lower value.
But maybe the infrequency of these events prevents that risk from being at the fore of people’s mind, or from being as salient as it could be. We might think of insurance—these monthly payments, or these biennial payments, every six months—they might serve as more of a reminder about these risks.
The area around Miami has some of the highest coastal property values in the world. There’s a huge incentive for policymakers there to keep property values high because that’s the tax base for property taxes. But there’s also the challenge of having to deal with all of the implications of damages from these tremendous storms.
So there is a desire probably from policymakers in the short run to look out for their constituents. “Let’s keep housing affordable, let’s provide insurance at rates that are reasonable.”
But that’s a little bit in conflict with the welfare of the constituents in the long run.
There are examples of that from around the country. There’s a National Flood Insurance Program that the government runs. People live in homes that keep getting flooded and they get money to repair it but they can’t sell the home because they can’t afford to move, or because people don’t want to buy the house because of that risk.
I believe in the potential of well-designed policy. The challenge is, of course, that people are very good at responding to changes in the way the game is played. Some policies that seem well-intentioned can actually lead to undesirable outcomes.
Policy for Environmental Stewardship
I think that the one essential policy that we may be coming to is a price on the cost of carbon — to have some dollar amount that corresponds to the damages to society, whether through health effects, natural disaster damages, impacts on the environment that have welfare effects for people, because of our interaction with nature and the happiness we get from it.
That’s a critical step to help us work through this transition, where we are really having a huge shift in the technologies that drive our society and moving away from our dependence on fossil fuels, and thinking about being great managers and stewards of the remaining ecosystems.
Evidence-Driven Decisions for the People
[We must] really be mindful about the value of different perspectives.
I think the balance that we have to strike when trying to address these problems is our willingness to be careful. And, to really think deeply about issues and think deeply about other people’s experiences, because some advice you give to someone whether it’s in our research context or in any other context may come from a good place but may not really resonate with them.
As we’re trying to come up with solutions to make life on this planet as pleasant for all organisms living on it as possible, [we must] really be mindful about the value of different perspectives.
I think we want to be evidence-driven in our decisions. That relates to data and policy, but it also relates to interactions, and it requires people to relax some assumptions that they have about other types of people.
The Full Transcript: Episode 142 with Marc Conte
This transcript has been lightly edited.
Host Raj Daniels 00:18
If you were asked to share something interesting about yourself, what would it be?
Marc Conte 00:19
This is not a professional note, but I’ve become over the last 20 years of my life, a rather interesting birdwatcher. I get great joy in seeing usual birds as they migrate through where I live in the New York area. But I also take great pleasure in seeing unusual birds. This winter, I was very fortunate to be able to see the first snowy owl that has visited Central Park since 1890. That was the first snowy owl I’d seen in my life after several years of looking around for them during the winter. And it was a very exciting moment for me.
Host Raj Daniels 01:09
How did you become interested in bird watching?
Marc Conte 01:12
My childhood was not an extreme outdoors experience and never went backpacking or camping with my family. But we did a lot of walking outside, I spent a lot of time outdoors. And I think that developed in interest in the natural world which carried over into my pre-graduate and graduate studies. I had been a management consultant in Manhattan for about a year and a half after college and found that the lifestyle didn’t really suit me and what I felt was a bit of a lack of rigor with the analysis that had to be provided on short notice to clients.
So I applied to be an intern on the Farallon Islands, banding elephants seals and tracking nesting birds have a few different species. So I spent four months living on this island with two other people. And that’s where I really developed my appreciation for birds and as representatives of the great diversity of life on the planet.
Host Raj Daniels 02:24
What were the most popular birds on the islands?
Marc Conte 02:27
The most prevalent was the common murre. It’s the northern hemisphere equivalent of the penguin in its coloration. It’s a black and white seabird, although they can fly. But they do look equally formal, shuffling around on land as they’re nesting their river. It’s a dignified bird. But I think some other highlights for me were a Puffin, the only Puffin I’ve ever seen.
And then in the nonbird area, there’s just lots of wildlife out there. That’s where I saw my first killer whales, several different other whale species that are a little more common, the gray whales migrating by and humpback whales. It was just a terrific opportunity to be out in a place that felt pretty wild at a time when there aren’t that many places, certainly in the US that feel that way. And I think that’s the appreciation for the natural world that you really need to have to understand the impacts that our everyday behavior has on these other animals we share the planet with.
Host Raj Daniels 03:34
So how did you go from management consulting and birdwatching, to teaching at Fordham University?
Marc Conte 03:42
I don’t think we have enough time for the full track on that conversation. But I will just say that this interest, which I had a double major in economics and ecology as an undergraduate student, and I tried management consulting as a path that seemed natural after the economics major. But I realized that my interest in the natural world was going to lead me and my interest in analysis and kind of precision and curiosity led me to an academic career.
I found out while I was on the Farallon that I’d been accepted into my graduate program. Although my mom had to tell me when I got back to land. We had communication only by letters delivered by boat at the time. But I was thrilled to find out that I would attend graduate school on a national science foundation fellowship at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. There I really got introduced to, of course, the technical details of economics in the Ph. D program there as well as seeing fascinating connections between economic theory and our interactions with the natural world and goals of habitat conservation and preventing species extinction, along with supporting health and welfare of people in the communities and around the world.
Host Raj Daniels 05:17
Can you share more regarding the intersection of environmental theories and economics?
Marc Conte 05:25
Many people, when they hear the term economics, are drawn to the idea of business and the economy, and maybe even finance. But economics is a social science that attempts to understand people’s behavior. And the lens that is used there is thinking about how people make decisions when they face trade-offs.
So you have limited income, and you’re trying to make yourself as happy as possible through the purchase of food, and shelter, and clothing, and other market goods. And the idea of markets or the kind of tantalizing potential of markets is that sometimes under very strict conditions if we allow people to engage in trade in a market, they will make society as a whole as well off as it can possibly be. Which is a pretty astonishing result, that suggests that setting up markets is all you need to do. And then regulators and governments can stand back. They don’t need to intervene in our daily lives. And this is, of course, something that’s very appealing, and the laissez-faire attitude and the idea of libertarianism and freedom to make our decisions.
But that result only holds under specific conditions. And one of those conditions is the idea that the price of an individual for engaging in some behavior is equal to the cost to society. So this private cost is equal to the social cost. And we know with environmental issues, this is not the case.
Because the thing about what is the cost of manufacturing, any good you consume really — sneakers or your iPhone or something like that — that comes with the emission of some type of pollution. And that pollution imposes a cost on society through health effects directly to people, and also the impacts on the ecosystems where the pollution is absorbed.
And so that difference between the efficient market and markets that have impacts on the environment, that’s where they’re my interest in the natural world and the economic perspective really got me excited about exploring, how can we change policies to change market behavior to get to better outcomes for society?
Host Raj Daniels 08:09
So my understanding is that we’ve been under this neo-liberal economic model for about 40 years now. How do you see things changing in the future, if you do?
Marc Conte 08:22
That’s a great question. I’m not very well suited to know what the winds of change are in terms of policy. But I think what you’ve seen in some of the movements in the United States and around the world over the past few years, is a bit of a hunger for more government action. And not just any type of government action, but well constructed, well thought out government action and the potential of this type of government action and government programs to make people better off.
You’ve really seen this potential embraced in the first few days of this Biden-Harris administration, with the COVID relief bill and subsequent bills, where we’re talking about lots of money being spent to provide support for people who need it in these very trying times.
Of course, some of it will be temporary. But also some of it is efforts to increase the social safety net, the support programs that exist because we understand that these unexpected events happen that can really challenge us and pose problems that are difficult for individuals to solve on their own.
So I think what we’re going to see is, as you mentioned, there have been 40 years and there’s been evidence that this kind of free-market approach doesn’t do what we thought it would do, and the trickle-down supply-side economics there’s actually empirical evidence especially from recent experience that we don’t get the results that people had said we would.
Now we’re reverting back to a different direction where well-designed government programs are probably likely to be adopted. I think the government can play a huge and important role in society and in the economy by providing some assurance about people taking risky behavior. What I mean by that and why that’s important for the environment is we have we’ve developed a society that at this point is very dependent on energy from fossil fuels. A lot of our infrastructure is built around this, especially in the United States with our dependence on private vehicles for transportation.
So now that we know the challenge posed by climate change and the damages caused by the emission of greenhouse gases we know that we need to introduce new technology into these markets, and we have to have firms who are willing to take the risk of developing new products so that consumers can maintain their lifestyles while having less of an impact on the environment. That’s a role that the government can play it has played successfully we hear about counter-examples where they make investments that don’t pan out.
But you can look at the success of a company like Tesla that received several $100 million dollar loans from the government to get started and I think it should be credited with motivating these major car makers — we heard the recent announcements from GM and Volkswagen are committed to electric vehicles — to adopting these new technologies and I think that happened because the government provided funds that made the development of these new products less risky for these companies.
Host Raj Daniels 12:14
What are some of the benefits in your mind and that you convey to your students of avoiding climate change?
Marc Conte 12:23
There’s so much uncertainty around this issue that it is easy for people to say because of that maybe we can learn a little bit more and we can delay taking that costly action right now. But I will say what we’ve seen just over the past five or 10 years when I was being taught about climate change in graduate school in the early 2000s, it was described as a problem that would really come to bear in decades or at the end of this 21st century. And now we’re seeing reports that things could be dramatically difficult in five to 10 years or 10 to 15 years, so in much shorter time spans.
I think some of these benefits, it’s hard to know with certainty but I think we’re talking about increased extinctions for loss of species. We’re talking about dramatic changes in coastal areas around the world. There’s this term of climate refugees. We’ve seen some people in very low line pacific islands relocate already. They’ve abandoned the island that they called home because it’s been inundated by too many storms and by large tides on a daily basis it’s just unlivable. So I think there’s a lot of potential conflicts and a lot of potential suffering that can be avoided if we make efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.
Host Raj Daniels 14:07
Staying on the topic of climate change for a moment, have you seen an interest or perhaps a change of mind amongst your student body over the years?
Marc Conte 14:18
New York is probably not the first place you would think there would be interest in climate change, but my first year at Fordham was 2012. I arrived in the area from California in early September and it was just two months later that Sandy happened. That was a real eye-opening experience. This is one of the challenges that climate change poses because there are risks of really extreme damages that people face, but those risks don’t feel very tangible in the day at a moment. When we’re making decisions that are contributing to climate change, that trade-off is not always obvious.
And in those first couple of years, I think there was more interest than I had expected from the general audience. I teach courses for undergraduates that pull students from the Liberal Arts, the core curriculum, students, as well as the business undergraduate business majors and the Environmental Studies program. And I think students have become more knowledgeable about it, these extreme events that serve as signals.
So the fires in Australia and in California, and in the west of the US over the past few years. And the hurricanes that we see and this amazing cold snap that Texas just experienced and suffered from. There are increasingly frequent reminders about the dramatic impacts that our behavior is having on the environment.
So I have seen increased demand from the students, as well as fortunately increased demand from the university and from others institutions, you might not have thought of. Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato Si’ really emphasized the importance of stewardship of the environment, and tied that to some aspects of the Catholic faith that I would not have expected. That’s an audience, I would not have expected this message to resonate with. But I think the further we go down this path, the more willing people are to acknowledge these trade-offs. And now the question becomes, is that acknowledgment sufficient for us to act in a timely manner and kind of correct the course we’re on?
Host Raj Daniels 17:02
So if you had the, let’s say, if the government or a large organization, and you could use perhaps some tools from your economics toolkit, how would you suggest that they make the issue of climate change more salient, where it’s more top of mind for people?
Marc Conte 17:24
An active research project that I have deals with the tropical cyclones or hurricane damages to residential properties in Florida, and the role that insurance can play as a signal of risk. So you go back to thinking about markets being efficient. There’s one frame of mind that says, people are aware of hurricanes.
We have centuries of experience with hurricanes in the US, and we know where they tend to happen. And we know what portions of the continent are at risk from these damages. So we might think you could make an argument that the property values should capitalize on that risk. And so places that are at risk should have a slightly lower value because of that risk. But if you think that maybe the infrequency of these events prevents that risk from being at the fore of people’s mind, or from being as salient as it could be, we might think of insurance, you know, these monthly payments, or these biennial payments, every six months, that they might serve as more of a reminder about these risks.
And so one of the challenges that Florida faces, the area around Miami has some of the highest coastal property values in the world, there’s a huge incentive for policymakers there to keep property values high because that’s the tax base for property taxes. But there’s also the challenge of having to deal with all of the implications of damages from these tremendous storms. And so there is a desire probably from policymakers in the short run to look out for their constituents. Let’s keep housing affordable, let’s provide insurance at rates that are reasonable. But that’s a little bit in conflict with the welfare of the constituents in the long run, where it might be better for them not to have purchased a home that’s going to continue to be damaged by the storms over time, especially if you think about different access to capital and income levels.
That might mean you people might be stuck in these homes. And there are examples of that from around the country. There’s a National Flood Insurance Program that the government runs and people live in homes that keep getting flooded and they get money to repair it but they can’t sell the home because they can’t afford to move or because people don’t want to buy the house because of that risk.
So I think I said earlier, I believe in the potential of well-designed policy, the challenges, of course, that people are very good at responding to changes in the way the game is played. And some policies that seem well-intentioned can actually lead to undesirable outcomes.
Host Raj Daniels 20:25
You know, I would agree, as you were speaking about insuring property, I was also thinking about the role that lenders can play. But again, once they generate a loan for a property, then that loan essentially is packaged on and sold. We saw what happened in 2008, 2010. One of the most common threads that I’ve personally pulled out from all the discussions I’ve had around climate change and these natural disasters is that if people were somehow required to take a much longer outlook timeframe, meaning that incentives, and again, economic incentives, were tied to not immediate gains, perhaps in generating loans or packaging them into bonds or ensuring, but almost like a clawback, or insuring against people making short term profits at the cost of those people that would suffer over time.
Marc Conte 21:21
Yeah, I think our ability to maintain long time horizons or to not discount future outcomes, great. Our need for that is very high right now. But I think our ability or capacity for that may be at all-time lows. If we think about our reliance on mobile phones and instant access to the internet and social media and all of the instant feedback that’s available, I do get concerned that the need for and the focus for immediate gratification is becoming ingrained in us at a time when, as you said, and I think you’re exactly right, we really need to have an ability to step back and think about future outcomes. That’s one of the many challenge challenges that we face. Although, as I said, climate change will have big long-run effects. But we’re seeing that the period, we have to wait before those effects become noticeable has diminished, and we’re living with some of the changes already.
Host Raj Daniels 22:32
I agree. So I’m going to change gears here and get to the crux of our conversation, which is the why behind what you do. You mentioned your childhood, and then the birdwatching and the intersection of ecology and studying economics. But what motivates you? What keeps you going, What drives you?
Marc Conte 22:55
I hope that some of the research projects that I pursue is valuable for policymakers. I would like to imagine that I am having some influence there. Although I will say in my experience thus far over the past almost 15 years, I only know of one example where policy was implemented based on some of my research, and the actual legislation was passed about eight years after we thought it would you know, because of the political process and changes in leadership in the State of Hawaii.
And so I think that’s probably not how I will have an impact if I have an impact at all. And the other way you have an impact is, I think I have a very different life experience than lots of other people, especially lots of other people in New York. And so what I can try to do in my classes, in addition to my research, which, you know, my lectures aren’t formed by the knowledge that I gained from pursuing these research projects. I can try to provide content that somehow intrigues or piques the curiosity of my students. Then these students who may have been an economics major, may transition to become an environmental science major, or they may keep with economics, but think less about going into the finance sector and more about working on policy.
And so I think that’s the power that academics have is especially as we get older and kind of our influence as an individual gets minimized. You always have these next generations, whose minds you can try to captivate any impact. So I think my motivation is I think things are not going the way I would like them to go, but I do think there’s a way to correct that course. So I hope that I choose research projects that are sufficiently applied to have the potential to motivate policy changes. And then of course my interactions with these young adults who are starting to question how their lives will unfold. Our conversations are happening at a time when they’re not necessarily set in their ways making them more open to alternative views and absorbing this information. So it’s that combination that really keeps me engaged and keeps me happy with my career choice.
Host Raj Daniels 25:50
Can you give an example of the intriguing content?
Marc Conte 25:56
One class exercise that does seem to resonate with students both at the undergraduate and at the masters and graduate level is this card game we play which is meant to symbolize we can think about individuals contributing to public goods. So maybe preserving open space in their neighborhood. Or you could think about each of those students playing the role of a sovereign nation. Thinking about making commitments to changing their greenhouse gas emissions. And in this game, we go through lots of different scenarios.
Basically, the choice that the participants have is whether they should make contributions to this fund effectively that will benefit the whole classroom or if they should keep that money for themselves so they can get their own returns from that. We play under lots of scenarios but one scenario where that tends to elicit a great reaction is most of the time I have people pass their cards to me face down. So no one knows. Every decision is anonymous. But then we play a few rounds where people pass their cards face up.
So the idea of course there is that there is some social or normative pressure that can be exerted to change behavior. This idea of information as a policy tool is really nice. So it’s not as heavy-handed is what we’re used to thinking of as quotas or taxes but just providing information about people’s behavior. Publicizing how people make their contributions can have a real impact. In the example that I liked, it was actually one of our last classes before COVID in the spring. We were playing the game and people were making their contributions publicly, visibly. And people started cheering as soon as they saw that people were making their contributions for the public good instead of keeping the funds for themselves. And you could see immediately that feedback, as we then played subsequent rounds, we saw a dramatic increase in the contributions being made.
I was just denigrating our current state of technology and reliance on instant feedback. But you can also see that there is something so powerful you know we crave acceptance and celebration and contribution and unity. So it does seem that there’s this possibility that the next generation will think of ways to offer regard or celebration or kudos in a way that can motivate changes in behavior that we may not have thought about previously.
Host Raj Daniels 29:12
You know i can just see the Facebook or Instagram post right now going from “look what i had for dinner,” to “look which charity I donated to.”
Marc Conte 29:22
Exactly, and I think we do see some examples of that. We know that the I Voted sticker or the I Just Donated Blood sticker, that’s why keep those stickers are out — so you can feel happy and also showed other people. And as you’re pointing out, yeah it’s much more powerful when instead of just being able to show it to the four people you see walking home that day you can post it, and hundreds of thousands, millions of people can see that and you can really create these movements. There is some possibility there, but as we’ve seen of course as we know there are lots of other possibilities and maybe undesirable outcomes that can be spurred on online.
Host Raj Daniels 30:08
Absolutely. So what’s the most valuable lesson that you would say you’ve learned about yourself on your journey?
Marc Conte 30:16
You were talking about it before we got into this. This idea of curiosity and being a generalist. In academia, there’s so much to learn and so many nuances about a single topic, that being a generalist is really challenging. And I think I have that curiosity as well, often, maybe, to my detriment, that my ability to focus and dig really deep in one area is a little hampered by the fact that I think there are so many different theories and questions in this general area of environmental economics that fascinate me. And what I’m kind of excited about as I get to the, you know, later stages of life and past the midway point, at least from the expected life horizon in the US for men is holding on to that curiosity and using it and tapping into it to get me to stay focused, and try to, at this age, change my approach a little bit, and stay very active not in a certain area and expand my boundaries strategically.
Host Raj Daniels 31:42
Yeah, I think we’re all fighting calcification. So let’s fast forward into the future is 2030. If the government were to adopt one of your policies, which policy would it be?
Marc Conte 31:59
The idea of putting a price on these nonmarket environmental amenities so that we understand that the cost of our action when we’re weighing the benefits of consumption or production behavior is somewhat controversial in the broader sphere when related to climate change. Although economists have been talking about putting a price on carbon for a long time. And I think that getting a price out there, as we talked about earlier, is so valuable to provide tangible incentives.
We’re seeing lots of companies make pledges to be net zero emissions by certain points. 2030 is actually a date that lots of these companies are making that claim by, maybe 2050. But to make sure that we follow through on this action, I think you have to have some regulation in place or something with teeth, to make sure that people stick to their word here and firm stick to their word here.
And so I think that the one essential policy that we may be coming to, is to get a price on the cost of carbon. To have some dollar amount that corresponds to the damages to society, whether through health effects, natural disaster damages, impacts on the environment that have welfare effects for people, because of our interaction with nature and the happiness we get from it. I think that’s a critical step to help us work through this transition, where we are really having a huge shift in the technologies that drive our society and moving away from our dependence on fossil fuels. And thinking about being great managers and stewards of the remaining ecosystems.
Host Raj Daniels 34:06
I like that idea. Reminds me back to economics 101 sticks and carrots.
Marc Conte 34:12
Yes, that’s right. That is exactly right. And you set up the cap and trade program. And for some people, this price that comes out there is the stick because you have to pay that but for others, it’s a carrot because you’ve changed your behavior. And now you get rewarded for that. And so you’re exactly right. It’s a powerful paradigm.
Host Raj Daniels 34:34
Yes, it is. So, Marc, I’d like to close with this last question. And you’ve already shared some advice, but if you could share some advice and it could be personal or professional, you could be speaking to your students. Some advice or words of wisdom with the audience, what would it be?
Marc Conte 34:48
Our access to I was gonna say information, although I’m not sure that term is accurate, but our access to content online and the ability for people to get kind of immediate support although there’s also immediate blowback over the past few years I think has been critical in bringing to light several issues that have plagued society in the US, but also globally in terms of racism and sexism and misogyny and all of these things that have really come to the fore in the past few years. And the importance of maintaining respect for ideas in our interactions and not dispelling things off the bat. I think the balance that we have to strike when trying to address these problems is our willingness to be careful and to really think deeply about issues and also think deeply about other people’s experiences because some advice you give to someone whether it’s in our research context or in any other context may come from a good place but may not really resonate with them.
So as we’re trying to come up with solutions to make life on this planet as pleasant for all organisms living on it as possible is to really be mindful about the value of different perspectives, but also to distinguish perspectives that are based on sound and meaningful ideas versus those that may not come from a great place. So really, this is a long-winded way of saying I think we want to be evidence-driven in our decisions. That relates to data and policy. But also relates to interactions and it requires people to relax some assumptions that they have about other types of people and be more informed by their interactions with people and relaxing the natural tendency to kind of go back to these preconceived notions
Host Raj Daniels 37:12
I read a quote recently and it said the greatest distance between two people is misunderstanding.
Marc Conte 37:19
That’s where we’re we’re finding ourselves certain certainly in this country right now. There’s a lot of misunderstanding. We need to come up with a way to bridge that gap so that we can communicate these ideas and emphasize that there will be winners and losers from changes in life and moving away from fossil fuels toward renewable sources, but that those winners and losers can come together in a way to make everybody better off eventually.
Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.
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