Prosperity without Growth: A review of The James Hutton Institute’s 40th T.B. Macaulay Lecture

“In this blog post, Grant Campbell provides a review of the annual TB Macaulay Lecture. The lecture was given by Professor Tim Jackson of Surrey University and examined how much has changed both economically and socio-politically with a particular focus on the Scottish and Brexit perspective”.

Last week I attended the 40th T.B. Macaulay Lecture held at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. As a PhD student, partly funded by the Macaulay Development Trust (MDT), I was required to go along and present some of the findings of my research so far. Before I go onto give my review of the event I will first provide some context for any readers who might not be aware of the background and history to the MDT and T.B. Macaulay.  The Macaulay Development Trust is a registered charity and has a close, long standing, working relationship with The James Hutton Institute. The Hutton Institute is where I am primarily based and is best known for its world leading research into the sustainable use of land and natural resources, for the benefit of people, their communities and the environment. This strongly aligns with the vision and legacy of the MDT’s namesake Thomas Bassett Macaulay, a decent of the Macaulay’s from the Island of Lewis whose aim was to improve the productivity of Scottish agriculture.  As part of the MDT commitment to knowledge exchange, they hold the annual T.B. Macaulay lecture which as I mentioned above is now in its 40th year. The annual lecture honours the vision of T.B. Macaulay who was a one-time President and Chairman of the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada and provided an endowment to found the Macaulay Institute for Soil Research in Aberdeen in 1930, a predecessor of the James Hutton Institute.

Opening reception to lecture

This year’s speaker was Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey and Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP). The focus of the lecture centred on Tim’s recent book entitled “Prosperity without Growth”, now in its second edition, which has been hailed by many as a landmark in the sustainability debate. During the lecture, we were asked to Tim asked us to question the situation of economic growth and how we evaluate if we can really continue to prosper at all costs. Professor Jackson went on to look at the backdrop of Brexit, Scotland’s ongoing constitutional question and where growth could or should come from in the future. Some thought provoking questions were asked such as, can we feasibly exist within the ecological limits of our planet and how can we chart a new course to longer-lasting prosperity. Moving on from this the discussion looked at how much has changed both economically and socio-politically in recent years, again focussing particularly on Brexit from a Scottish perspective. He also looked into how Scotland can develop its economy and just how economically autonomous Scotland can be in a globalised world facing major environmental challenges.

Tim Jackson Lecture

After an interesting and challenging lecture, the session continued with a panel discussion which included Tim, James Hutton Institute’s Professor Deborah Roberts, journalist Lesley Riddoch and Scottish Green Party Leader Patrick Harvie MSP. There was a Q&A session from the audience which predominately centred on themes of IT and social media, organic food production and improving business acumen.

Panel discussion featuring Deborah Roberts, Tim Jackson, Lesley Riddoch and Patrick Harvie MSP.

It was clear that, given the level of audience participation, the Q&A session could have gone on for some time. It is worth noting that not everyone agreed with the content of the lecture and the panel gave a wide range of stance points. However the level of interest and calibre of conversation created showed a real passion for the subject. The session was then brought to a close and participants were invited to continue discussions over food and drink at the networking reception. During this time delegates were able to chat with all the MDT students and fellows about some of their work that they are doing at the Institute. This gave us all the opportunity to speak with a diverse range of people including, MSPs, policy makers, academia, CEO’s from a wide range of industry stakeholders, students and members of the public. I thought I used this session well and was able to utilise this opportunity to network and gain some more contacts. My PhD project outline can be found here.

For the first time, this lecture streamed over a live webcast and we were joined by students from as far as Manchester University up to the University of the Highlands and Islands. This element of the event proved to be relatively successful and will now continue in the future, hopefully reaching a global audience. Next year’s lecture will be announced early spring so look out for it on the Hutton website it will be interesting to see who MDT invite to speak, especially given the high profile nature of this year’s speaker. On a final note you can watch the lecture on the Hutton YouTube channel and in case of interest, Professor Jackson was interviewed by Scotland Tonight prior to the event and the link for this can also be found here

Author: Grant Campbell

Twitter: @Stato_Grant