Joan Martínez Alier

2020 Balzan Prize for Environmental Challenges: Responses from the Social Sciences and the Humanities

For the exceptional quality of his contributions to the foundation of ecological economics, his pathbreaking analysis of the relationships between economies and the environment, his interdisciplinary as well as comparative approach, and his active role in the promotion of environmental justice.

As a highly respected economist, Joan Martínez Alier has devoted his entire scholarly life to developing an interdisciplinary approach to environmental challenges, making use of insights and information from the natural as well as the human sciences. One of the founders and later President of the International Society for Ecological Economics, he is widely recognized as one of the most authoritative scholars in environmental studies.

After graduating in Economics from the University of Barcelona in 1961, Joan Martínez Alier continued his studies at St Antony’s College Oxford, Stanford University and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, where he became full Professor in the Department of Economics and Economic History and is now Professor Emeritus. He has been a member of the Scientific Committee of the European Environment Agency as well as a visiting scholar at many prestigious universities. Throughout his career he has contributed comparative knowledge at a global level on environmental problems and potential solutions to them, and in doing so has bridged different national and regional scholarly traditions in an exceptionally fruitful way.

Joan Martínez Alier has developed a wholly novel approach to analyzing the relationship between economies and the environment. In particular, he has made a fundamental contribution to establishing ecological economics as a transdisciplinary field of study devoted to regulating economic activity in a way that promotes human well-being, sustainability, and justice. In several books and articles, he has analysed the relationship between ecological economics and political ecology as well as the role played by environmental justice. Most important is his approach to environmental conflicts and the notion of “ecological unequal trade”. Among his numerous important publications, one of the most influential is the volume The Environmentalism of the Poor (Edward Elgar, 2002), based on the author’s experiences researching in India and Latin America. Here, as in other publications, Joan Martínez Alier has made an outstandingly original and important contribution to the understanding of ecological distributional conflicts.

In recognition of his contribution to innovating economics studies, he was awarded the prestigious Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2017 for his groundbreaking theoretical and applied contribution integrating ecological approaches with developmental and justice-oriented ones in the economic field. He has also been extremely active in the dissemination of research results and in the promotion of environmental justice. The Atlas of Environmental Justice he co-directs is a unique, open-access database on the main ecological conflicts and their cultural expressions, which constitutes a highly useful source for scholars in several disciplines, as well as practitioners in the field.

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