What EDF's chief economist is thankful for this year

Frank Convery

Thanksgiving is the time when Americans travel long distances in horrible weather to spend a day or two with family, and use this time to drive each other demented. Or so it can seem to an Irishman whose understanding of family dynamics owes more to Eugene O’Neill than to Norman Rockwell.

Jokes aside, I’ve now been close to six months at Environmental Defense Fund and am thankful for many things:

1. Staying healthy

Beyond a certain age, it is what is not happening that is the good news. So far, this positive uneventfulness has held for me personally. And wife Janet and sister Síle make excellent progress from their health adversities.

2. Finding what I’m looking for

Many of us struggle to find a meaning in life, and I’m lucky to not be one of them.

I already had a sense of purpose in Ireland, trying to help the Irish coracle navigate the economic storms unleashed by the Lehman collapse. But EDF also provides a sense of purpose, grounded in achievement.

Finding a better way to live on the Earth, and then helping to make it happen, is not a shabby ambition. We share it with many others, but our contribution is not trivial.

3. Being part of combining vision with action

The Japanese have a saying: “Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”

I’m grateful for the way we combine solid law, economics and science to explore, find ways that work, and then communicate and interact with whoever matters wherever they are, so as to help make them happen.

4. Seeing democracy in action

The recent national and State elections in the United States did not bring unalloyed joy to those of us who wanted wins for all of the candidates who support effective action on climate change.

Dick Tuck’s post mortem on his own 1966 defeat – “The voters have spoken – the bastards” - came to mind. But there is a wonderful clarity about election results, and there were some glimmers of progress.

The best thing about elections is that they keep happening. Every new one is a fresh opportunity to learn and to make the case in smarter and better ways for how to best combine economic prosperity and effective custodianship of the Earth.

5. Enjoying my city’s wide sidewalks

As I walk to work and around the city, I light a metaphorical candle to Jane Jacobs, who resided for a time in Greenwich Village.

In the 1960s, she fought successfully to keep New York’s sidewalks wide, and successfully took on the city’s “master builder” Robert Moses to keep an eight-lane motorway from going through SoHo and Washington Square park. And she used her eyes and ears to understand what made cities vibrant by spending three years observing and noting the reality of activities over time and space.

A character in a novel by Edward St. Aubyn observes that “Americans are just people in huge cars wondering where to eat next.” That mightn’t be far off the mark in some contexts, but it misses the reality completely in my neighborhood of Manhattan.

Walking is the thing, and cars and obesity are not. Being part of a car-free world is very special.

6. Meeting New York’s finest 

On November 4, the folder with my credit cards fell out of my wallet at Penn Station.

The next day, my colleague Jon Coifman got a call from Scott Harrison of the New York City Police Department who told him that someone had handed it to him and that my credit cards would now be mailed to my office. You might expect this to happen at Tokyo Station, but New York?

Thankful bows to an anonymous New Yorker and Officer Harrison - and to everyone else who made 2014 such an inspiring year.

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