Land & Environment

Going for Broke: New Symposium to Explore the Future of Economics and Sustainability

By Lael Gilbert |

Oil and natural gas, wood products, minerals and other resources from the earth have fueled historic growth around the world, generated jobs and offered communities a wealth of economic activity.

Modern life is literally built on these resources, and continues to lean on them for an upward economic trajectory. But having built the capacity for our global economy to do great things, we’ve also developed a capacity for considerable damage, said Patrick Belmont, department head and professor of watershed sciences at Utah State University. Many people are wondering if our current pathway is sustainable for much longer.

Abominable air quality, drying lakes, increasingly restricted and crowded open spaces and the rising cost of living are hard to ignore. But overhauling an intricate, entrenched economic system that feels inexorably connected to the extraction of natural resources can also seem like a daunting task.

A new event on the USU campus, Dialogues on Economic Growth and Sustainability, is set to explore these issues and other tensions at the interface of economic growth and sustainability. The symposium, organized through a partnership between the Department of Watershed Sciences, Department of Economics and Finance, Center for Growth and Opportunity, Community and Natural Resources Institute and others will allow faculty and students to explore cross-disciplinary topics toward a goal of building a compelling vision for economics and sustainability to co-evolve in coming decades.

“A central tenet of the study of economics is the analysis of tradeoffs,” said Ben Blau, department head and professor of economics and finance in the Huntsman School of Business. “While important to our incredible standard of living, it has been long known that economic productivity can have harmful effects on the environment and these effects importantly contribute to sustainability. A more careful, thoughtful and thorough focus on these tradeoffs is desperately needed.”

The symposium will take place over three days, Feb. 2, 9 and 16, from 1-3:30 p.m. in the Russell/Wanlass Performance Hall, with broadcast available for Statewide Campuses. It is free and open to anyone who wants to participate, but ticket reservations are required to plan for the interactive portion of the discussion. Classes and other organized groups are also welcome to participate.

Panelists and featured speakers will address topics such as how to define goals for economic growth, how to ensure growth is paced and equitable, and how (and if) the economy can be decoupled from carbon and energy use. Speakers will explore how to overcome political and social biases that cause people to disengage with hard conversations about the inevitable trade-offs that sustainability requires, and how communities might become more resilient in the face of environmental upheaval and economic shift.

Presenters come from across campus and the Cache Valley community and include:

  • Kat Bilika, associate professor of economics and statistics.
  • Rob Davies, associate professor of physics.
  • Courtney Flint, professor of environment and society.
  • Jeannie Johnson, associate professor of political science.
  • Ros McCann, professor of environment and society.
  • Caitlin McLennan, USU sustainability coordinator.
  • Craig Palsson, assistant professor of economics and finance.
  • Darren Parry, Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation leader.
  • Brian Steed, executive director for the Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water & Air.
  • David Zook, Cache County executive.

Event organizers include Belmont, Blau and Frank Caliendo, senior associate dean and professor of economics and finance in the Huntsman School of Business.


Lael Gilbert
Public Relations Specialist
Quinney College of Natural Resources


Patrick Belmont
Watershed Sciences Department


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