2017 Leontief Prize

2017 Leontief Prize
Awarded to James K. Boyce and Joan Martinez-Alier

Dr. Joan Martinez-Alier, emeritus professor at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB), centered his presentation around his current work with the EJAtlas Project, which researches ecological distributional conflicts. His presentation described some current ecological conflicts around the world, including examples from India, Honduras, the Philippines, and Japan involving issues of water, minerals and mining, fossil fuels, and nuclear energy.

Martinez-Alier presented the view from ecological economics that externalities are not small market failures that can be easily internalized into the price system, but are inherent in the current economic and industrial system because of a lack of recognition for industrial liability. This absence of liability for environmental externalities has resulted in both an ecological debt from the Global North to the Global South, and the making of a global movement for environmental justice.

Martinez-Alier highlighted four specific cases from the EJAtlas Project, but noted that he could discuss over 2,000 additional cases. In closing, he shared that the EJAtlas project will work to expand evidence and vocabulary about ecological distribution conflicts, and to assess whether the Environmental Justice movement is helping to push society and the economy towards environmental sustainability.


Dr. James K. Boyce, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, focused on his work regarding inequality and the environment. Boyce reviewed lessons from his career, which started in the field of development. He worked for two years in India, living in a Bangladeshi village to write his book, Quiet Violence, then attended Oxford University for his graduate studies, returning to South Asia to research his dissertation.

Boyce posed three questions related to the political economy and the environment: “First, who benefits from the activities that cause the problem? Second, who bears the cost? Third, why is it that the winners are able to impose these costs on the losers?” Boyce then provided three possible answers to the last question: “One is that the losers do not yet exist: they belong to future generations who are not here to defend themselves. The second possibility is that those who bear environmental costs lack information. The third possibility is that those who are harmed are alive today, and are well aware of what’s happening, but they lack sufficient wealth and power to prevail against those who benefit from environmentally degrading activities.”

Boyce concluded that “We will not safeguard the environment without addressing the inequalities of wealth and power that perpetuate pollution and natural resource depletion. And we will not achieve a more equitable society without protecting the environment.”