Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy
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Remembering Robert Goodland

by Brent Blackwelder and Herman Daly

Robert Goodland, a true friend of CASSE and the Daly News, passed away shortly after Christmas. Brent Blackwelder and Herman Daly herein describe the exemplary life and contributions of their friend and colleague. Robert’s life story will inspire all who care about the environment and social justice.

Robert Goodland

Robert Goodland (1939 – 2013)

Robert Goodland was the first ecologist hired by the World Bank and worked hard for thirty years to improve that institution’s environmental and human rights practices. Robert also wrote more than twenty books on environmental and social issues and many more monographs. The Library of Congress lists more than forty of his titles. He was the first winner of the World Conservation Union’s Harold Jefferson Coolidge medal for lifetime achievement in the conservation of nature. In contrast to colleagues who avoided controversy, Robert pressed to work on the most challenging of environmental and social issues. He saw that his job at the World Bank necessitated his being a vigorous “sparring partner,” providing constructive criticism and sparking improvement. He was known as the “conscience” of the World Bank, a role in which he sought the views of environmental leaders around the world.

Robert earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from McGill University in 1960. For his master’s degree, he researched tropical ecology in a remote part of Guyana with no roads or electricity. The Canadian Government awarded him a scholarship for PhD research on ecosystems in Brazil.

Robert became a professor in 1974 at the University of Brasilia, where he established a program to teach tropical ecology and environmental assessment. Then he moved to the Instituto Nacional de Pesquiasas da Amazonia in Manaus, where he designed Brazil’s first graduate course in applied tropical ecology. Its key case study was the trans-Amazonian highway. That led Robert to co-author with his friend and mentor Howard Irwin the book Amazon Jungle: Green Hell to Red Desert. It attracted much favorable review, and became viewed as a seminal work in the birth of the international environmental movement.

From 1975 through 1978, Robert served as a consultant for World Bank projects. He designed environmental and social programs to mitigate damages being caused by the Itaipu project, then the world’s biggest hydroelectric project. He also worked on addressing environmental issues and the welfare of Orang Asli forest dwellers for the first time in Malaysia’s national development planning. Separately, he was recruited by the New York Botanical Garden to help establish what became the Cary Center for Ecosystem Studies to complement the Cary Arboretum in Millbrook, New York.

In 1978, Robert was recruited to become the first full-time ecologist at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. He was initially assigned to the task of screening every single proposed World Bank project, and selecting for scrutiny those with the largest potential impacts, for which he would draft recommendations. But project designers resisted implementing his recommendations.

As a remedy, Robert took a lead role in drafting environmental and social policies for the World Bank Group, notably covering Environmental Assessment (now Operational Policy 4.01), Indigenous Peoples (Operational Policy 4.10), Natural Habitats (Operational Policy 4.04), and Physical Cultural Resources (Operational Policy 4.11).

In 1979, Robert joined an early mission for the World Bank’s Polonoroeste project in the northwestern part of the Amazon rainforest. Vulnerable ethnic minorities were a key issue in the design of the project, and Robert protected Amerindians by incorporating elements of the then-draft policy on indigenous peoples. So Robert’s focus on policies involved not just drafting text, but also testing its implementation. Even harder work was to persuade one committee after another to approve the adoption of the policies. To foster their implementation, Robert arranged for numerous workshops, conferences, training programs, colloquia, lectures, and guidance materials. Distinguished specialists and a variety of stakeholders were involved in internal World Bank events and activities as well as external ones.

The policies and guidance materials pioneered by Robert essentially served as environmental and social standards for many countries that lacked appropriate regulatory frameworks to provide such standards. Other development banks and aid agencies became interested in adapting them for their own purposes. Robert pressed for those banks and agencies to coordinate among themselves and with the World Bank Group and others, using methods that have continued functioning to this day. Commercial banks became interested too, and Robert worked with a group of bankers called the “Gnomes of Zürich,” and with others in London and New York. He also organized workshops for major engineering and consulting firms that would have to comply with the policies.

The World Bank established a Projects Policy Department, and Robert served as Senior Environmental Affairs Officer from 1983 through mid-1987. Then the Bank created the Environment Department, and Robert became Division Chief for Latin America. He recruited specialists including George Ledec, now Lead Ecologist in the Bank’s Africa Region, and Maritta Koch-Weser, who went on to become President of IUCN. Next came a role for Robert in the Central Environment Department, where he recruited ecological economist Herman Daly.

Robert’s work on indigenous peoples led the institution to hire a cadre of anthropologists. They took up the issue of preventing forced resettlement, and mitigating its adverse impacts when it did occur. Robert also worked to complete the “Environmental Assessment Sourcebook,” which became a crucial worldwide reference on various aspects of environmental assessment. As a capstone to Robert’s work on the principles of environmental and social assessment, he served a term as president of the International Association of Impact Assessment in 1994-1995.

Robert developed ways to bolster his policy initiatives with sectoral work. This included stopping the World Bank Group from financing projects involving tobacco and asbestos. It also included avoiding the most destructive types of agricultural and forestry projects, such as those featuring transmigration, logging, and ranching in tropical forests, as well as land colonization. When internal resistance arose within the World Bank Group, Robert and his colleagues got their work published for a worldwide audience in the 1984 book Environmental Management of Tropical Agriculture. Later, after he analyzed the impacts of some of the world’s largest hydroelectricity projects, he played a key role in the establishment of the World Commission on Dams in 1997, led by Achim Steiner (who later became the head of IUCN and then of UNEP).

In the 1990s, when Robert had become Lead Environmental Advisor at the World Bank, he sought practical ways for the institution to “walk the talk” that it delivered externally, by improving its own environmental and social performance. So he volunteered to chair the Staff Association’s environmental working group. He motivated the Bank’s facilities management to commission an independent audit of their environmental and social performance. The world-renowned energy expert Amory Lovins led the audit. Based on its results, Robert successfully pressed senior management to offer staff incentives for using public transit and bicycles for commuting. He also helped implement coordinated internal sustainability programs.

Robert wanted project proponents to be held accountable to people adversely impacted by development projects. So he helped advance the work of the World Bank’s Inspection Panel, and he was shortlisted to become the first Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman in the International Finance Corporation. He also tried for many years to get the International Monetary Fund to do something about the adverse social impacts of its operations, which tend to have much broader reach than do most projects financed by the World Bank Group.

Robert cooperated with Salah El Serafy , Herman Daly, and Roefie Hueting to develop a series of conferences throughout the 1980s on “Greening the UN System of National Accounts.” Robert also worked with Herman and Salah in addressing their concerns over the draft 1992 “World Development Report” on development and the environment. Because the draft was rather bland, they developed a parallel, but more forceful publication entitled “Environmentally Sustainable Economic Development: Building on Brundtland.” They managed to get this published by UNESCO even before the “World Development Report” came out.

Robert obtained major grant funding from the government of Canada to help the government of Indonesia develop its environmental ministry, under the stewardship of Emil Salim. After Robert’s official retirement from the World Bank in 2001, Emil was appointed to head the independent Extractive Industries Review at the World Bank Group. Emil recruited Robert to play a key role, and they recommended various ways to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. Also after Robert’s official retirement, he served as a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, where he co-authored a report on human rights. In retirement he worked all over the world as a consultant, often pro bono, in protection of the environment and indigenous peoples. He once remarked that in retirement he was doing much the same things as when in the World Bank, but the difference was that now the people he worked for were more appreciative.

Robert also continued to build on his previous work that had gotten the World Bank to agree in 2001 that development finance should no longer fund large-scale livestock projects. He co-authored with Jeff Anhang a 2009 article entitled “Livestock and Climate Change,” which assessed how replacing some livestock products — and reforesting land thereby freed from livestock and feed production — could be the only pragmatic way to stop climate change before it might be too late. This work became widely cited by many prominent sources, including Bill Gates and Paul McCartney’s Meat Free Monday campaign. Robert was invited by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to speak about this work in Rome and Berlin, and also invited to deliver a keynote speech to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. To develop further awareness, Robert worked to launch a website called “Chomping Climate Change,” and worldwide interest in this work seems likely to grow well into the future.

In the1980s Robert married Jonmin. Their son Arthur is studying for his PhD in renewable energy at Leeds, England. Robert enjoyed mountain trekking and had recently completed his favorite trek in Nepal, with Jonmin and Arthur, when he died, December 28, 2013.



4 Responses to “Remembering Robert Goodland”

  1. Brian Czech says:

    Another Thing About Robert

    “Blessed are they who encourage others.” (Spoken by Herman Daly in his acceptance speech for the NCSE’s Lifetime Achievement Award.) Robert Goodland must have been blessed. He was among the most encouraging of CASSE colleagues, right from the start. In addition to his substantial professional contributions, he will be fondly remembered as a kind fellow who spread good tidings.

  2. salah el serafy says:

    A brief yet solid contribution to Robert’s efforts and achievements: informed and perceptive. I look forward to detailed elaborations of aspects of Robert’s impressively wide range of interests by other friends and colleagues. Brent and Herman have set a very high standard indeed, and merit the highest commendation.

  3. Anthony Friend says:

    I recall my all too brief meetings with Robert at the World Bank over the admittedly incomplete discourse of the Humanist, (i.e., the world of Oikonomia) versus the Calculator, (i.e., the world Chrematistica). His great contribution to Society, perhaps, was his (accidental) position in the World Bank which enabled the logic, supported by accumulating scientific evidence (data), to subvert, albeit slowly, but nonetheless piece by piece, the standard development paradigm. The success story was made possible by his insightful recruitment of the social scientist who contributed towards, through research and scientific papers, the emergent new paradigm of ecological economics. The first of the biennial ISEE Conferences, paradoxically, was held, and sponsored by, the World Bank, Washington D.C. in 1989. This, I believe, will be legacy of Robert Goodland (1939 – 2013) to grateful future generations.

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