Planetary Accountability

Ecological economics was established as a field, to account for the dependence and impact of global economies on the natural environment. It also acknowledges the exploitation and marginalisation of racialised, Indigenised, low income, and other diverse populations, that have been driven by a sociopolitical fixation on economic growth. Meanwhile, resilience and complex systems thinking have identified the interacting effects that can arise among climate, ecologies, health, and societies, rendering related global challenges far from easy to resolve. 

In this panel, we will discuss the variety of philosophies and strategies that have been arising as a counterpoint to neoclassical and growth-oriented economic conventions—inclusive of degrowth, Indigenous, circular, wellbeing, complexity, and regenerative approaches. We will also consider how to apply the work, therein, to fill gaps in existing programmes, policies, and institutional mandates for sustainable development, climate change mitigation, biosphere conservation, social equality, and global/planetary health.

To build synergies between ecological economics and systemic design communities, and highlight our shared interests in facilitating systems change for prosperous futures, this panel is being co-produced as part of two conferences—CANSEE2023 and RSD12-Toronto.

We at CANSEE are proud to partner with RSD12 to offer a free to attend public keynote hosted at OCAD University (100 McCaul Street, Rm 190), on Thursday October 12, 2023 from 7:30 pm – 9:45 pm ET.

Economies are not value-free. They are designed, and gather momentum over decades to centuries as self-organizing attractors (assemblages) of people, energy, materials, land, and more. The current global economic attractor is not systemically designed for the flourishing of life. We propose three critical interventions: (1) support bioregions and Indigenous nations as they spontaneously co-design more fit for purpose economic attractors, consistent with their biocultural contexts; (2) co-design rapid pathways to transition economic assets towards these regenerative bioregional economies; and (3) build a supportive Post-Bretton Woods global financial architecture that foregrounds planetary health at multiple levels of scale.

Dr. Stuart Cowan brings 25 years of experience as a transformations architect, ecological designer, regenerative economist, and systems scientist. He is the Executive Director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, where he leads efforts to advance design science for system change and develop new sources of capital for systemic transformation initiatives. He also launched the BFI Design Lab to frame, scope, and co-convene open-source innovation ecosystems to address critical planetary challenges. While at Capital Institute, he was the founding convener of the Regenerative Communities Network from 2018-20, supporting 15 bioregions in the US, Latin America, and Europe on their journeys of regeneration. He is the Co-Founder of Autopoiesis LLC, which works to regenerate communities, ecosystems, and organizations using living systems. He brings a diverse range of experiences including Chief Scientist at the Smart Cities Council, Transaction Manager for the sustainable investment fund Portland Family of Funds, and Conservation Economy Research Director at the non-profit Ecotrust. He is the co-author with Sim Van der Ryn of Ecological Design (Island Press, 2007), and received his doctorate in Applied Mathematics from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on Complex Systems and Ecological Economics. He has taught and facilitated internationally for academic institutions, cities, companies, indigenous groups, government agencies, and NGOs. He is also an advisor to several international regeneration initiatives including Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative, Costa Rica Regenerative, Financing Ecosystems for Systemic Transformation, and Common Earth.

Dr. Myles Sergeant is a family physician who has worked with vulnerable populations, including people experiencing homelessness and/or addictions, and the elderly, over the past 25 years.

Recognizing the intersection between environmental issues and health, he is dedicated to addressing climate change issues and has co- founded Partnerships for Environmental Action by Clinicians and Communities for Health care facilities (, the charity Trees for Hamilton in 2012 (,  and the not-for-profit Shelter Health Network in 2005 (  

Myles is the Executive Director of the Canadian Coalition for Green Healthcare and can be reached at In this panel, he will discuss the carbon footprint of a hospital and the most impactful initiatives which can be taken to reach net zero.

Projected to experience multiple interrelated risks at 1.5 °C of global warming, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are often referred to as ‘canaries in the climate change coal mine’. The IPCC reports with high-to-medium confidence about the long-term risks of 1.5 °C of global warming on SIDS, with severe impacts on populations, livelihoods, and infrastructure, and critical resources such as food, energy, and water, that will limit adaptation opportunities as well. Enhanced understanding of what might constitute tipping points in the context of SIDS that lend to their vulnerability, therefore, remains crucial. This talk will introduce the concept of “socio-metabolic risk”, or systemic risk related to the availability and circulation of critical resources such as food, water, materials, and energy in a socio-economic system. Socio-metabolic risk is to islands as circulatory health problems are to humans – both constrain the entity’s ability to withstand significant shocks and changes. Maladaptive and climate insensitive development practices – such as coastal squeeze, high import dependency, and centralised energy systems – magnify islands climate vulnerability. Drawing on years of empirical research, this talk will highlight problematic patterns of increasing socio-metabolic risk in the Caribbean SIDS, that could potentially cascade into a metabolic collapse and tip the system to a point of no-return. These insights are crucial not only for small island economies, but also for humanity at large.

Simron J. Singh is a Professor and University Research Chair (URC) in the Faculty of Environment. Using the analogy that islands function like living organisms, he conducts socio-metabolic research to evaluate how small island economies utilize (or metabolize) materials, energy, water, and infrastructure. He investigates why and how these consumption patterns (or island metabolism) may accumulate “socio-metabolic risk” over time that increase their susceptibility to the challenges of climate change. He further analyzes how island economies can transition to a more sustainable, circular resource-use model, thereby bolstering their overall resilience to the impact of climate change. His research partnerships span island nations in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Asia-Pacific regions. He is the founder and lead of the research program “Metabolism of Islands”, the Executive Secretary of the International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE), chairs the inaugural board of Island of Industrial Ecology within ISIE, and co-chairs Risk-KAN, a global research and action network of Future Earth, Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR), the World Weather Research Program (WWRP), and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).