Posted by: Dr Pano Kroko Churchill | January 18, 2012

The Wealth of Nations

Gross National Product – GNP –  or more commonly known as GDP is not an accurate means of measuring anything relevant to the wealth of nations, because it only measures economic activity and much of it is detrimental to the real wealth and it’s origins. It’s even detrimental to many resources… and the People of those nations thus measured.

And by the way, money is not wealth.

Or as Robert F. Kennedy spoke on what GDP meant for him, some fourty four years ago, his wisdom transcends the years since:

“Too much and for too long, we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product now is over 800 Billion dollars a year …  But that Gross National Product…

If we should judge America by that — that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and it counts nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

And it can tell us everything about America — except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

And that fits well here because it is also my view of today’s catastrophic singular focus on money measurement of the economy and of our complete neglect of the environment… and failure to conserve our resources that make up the real wealth and our real global commons. By wasting our natural resources we are diminishing every year both the global commons and our economy in real terms —  because these “externalities” matter and our money measurement culture gets the losing end of the bargain daily.

Because the real global Commons is made up of three simple entities that cannot be measured in GDP and that are truly indivisible and belong to all of us in equal measure. The Atmosphere, the Planet we live in, and the perfectly balanced Environment that allows us to survive. And that is the real global Commons we ought to conserve and spend all of our wherewithal to conserve and maintain in good operating order. On the other hand, the world’s economy is just a networked system of financial economic and trade transactions that might or might not affect our lives greatly depending on how much emphasis we put on this real sideshow. And as it happens we pay inordinate attention to the sideshow, neglecting the real Commons where conservation and protection is of utmost importance and necessary for our survival.

Because if we fail to observe, manage and conserve the real global Commons and fail to institute global coordination of responses to giant problems we’ve created, we shall simply perish. We need desperately the tools of worldwide conservation, in the form of environmental common governance, of clean earth, clean air and clean water, emanating. We want access to these most basic human rights in order to preserve ourselves, that is if we do not want to experience the real tragedy of the Commons as described in the Victorian era ruination of the “village green…”

And as people we’ve faced this issues in the past too and arrived at a system of conserving and protecting the village Green. Not to play golf on, but to manage it as a common grazing pasture, a recreation, an animal feed, a protected environment and as a natural habitat. Somewhat the same is what we are referencing for the earth. Only on a far larger and more abstract way for the earth’s critical ecosystems are our village Commons in their entirety.

And we’ve come up with some interesting institutions to deal with these issues. Valuable institutions that many doubting Thomases, neo-luddites and ideological idiots, now want to disembowel if not abolish altogether… under the guise of economic development. The European Union’s 20/20/20 policy is a great example of this and the development of renewable energy is not the only positive outcome stemming from this great policy.

And the message is clear:
If we take care of the environment, the people and the earth  — the economy will take care of itself.

GDP is not an accurate means of measuring anything relevant to the wealth of nations, because it only measures economic activity and much of it is detrimental to the real wealth and it’s origins. It’s even detrimental to many resources… and to the Peoples of this Earth.

Money is not wealth.

Money after all, was and still is just a clever and convenient invention. And because it was designed as a means of exchange and not as the basic measure of wealth it is ill fitted in it’s new “royal” robes. But somehow that has changed and what was once solely a means to an end has become the end itself, and what was a means of exchange has unfortunately become the only measure of wealth and has gone on to be considered wealth itself. Of course this is a simple delusion foisted upon the simpletons of this earth. No smart person or real intelligence can fathom this as such…  But let this be as it may. Even by that measure for wealth generation, environmental protection in general and EPA in particular is far ahead of it’s time and all other measurements.

 Still conservation, environmental protection and renewable energy policies are not conducting any cost-benefit analysis of their work, because we all believe that the very imminent threat to human life, to clean earth, to clean water, and to clean air from unregulated business pollution, transcend dilly-dallying about dollars and cents.

Almost half a century has passed since the birth of the Environmental Movement and now we are in a similar path of ecosystem destruction and the hope for redemption is fading fast while we are facing challenges unseen back then and we see certain problems far more great than what our predecessors in the movement ever considered.

We clear cut the rainforests and replace them with vast cow pastures or palm oil plantations or mine the trees and leave the lands fallow, only in order to make industrial process agriculture and a tiny profit. Yet the damage done to the wealth of the nations far surpasses whatever the returns we will ever get out of these lands.

We pollute the rivers, cause anoxic seas, and over-fish the oceans for very little profit and mainly because we do not want to manage our resources. Yet with a little foresight in environmental controls, stoppage of agricultural nitrates runoff, and proper environmental and habitat management we could have sorted out the problem.

We destroy the local economy in search of ever cheaper goods, no matter how much CO2 is emitted in the process and regardless of the human capital costs. Yet with a bot of better management of human resources and product locality we could be seeing a benefit from the globalization trends. Still the bottom line of a few dollars more, always comes first.

We hire and fire people at will, for the sake of balancing the books, meeting financial corporate projections and boosting the economy of the enterprise while we are destroying the overall economy. Yet, the most valuable commodity human capital – people – has now become little more than the switch in the means of production and the instrument of making paper profit.

And all of that in the blind faith and pursuit of some obscure God named money. We are not even talking about folding money, but digital unreal currencies lost at the push of a button in a single FX transaction that might go against you. GM crops, nuclear energy, cloning and animal experimentation – nothing is forbidden – just as long as it adds to GDP and increases the share value of corporations and companies.

Ethics, morality and human dignity are all secondary and subservient to the profit margins. Bankrupt bankers have to be bailed out again and again, even though we can all see that they and all other business leaders are utterly incapable of solving the economic crisis. Politicians and policymakers still want to obey their desires. No wonder that our governments are completely incapable of creating conditions for the stability and well-being of people – because all social, political, educational and communal values — exist solely to serve economic growth, which simply means growth in money supply, in GDP and in consumption.

As long as we are wedded to this financial paradigm and the profit maximization model, the economies will suffer, real capitalism will be decreed amoral, the strong will exploit the weak, and our human, social and environmental fabric will continue to fall apart.

The current economic crisis gives us an opportunity to look deeper and examine the consequences of confusing the means with the ends. Money has a place, of course, but we must keep it in its place and not allow it to dominate our lives in such a manner that we lose all our bearings and become its slaves. Money was made to serve people, not the other way around.

And even with the rudimentary environmental protections, things have progressed greatly and certainly have gone rather badly for the environment over the last 40 to 50 years. Because quite simply the level of threat and problems we’ve created with our present mindset cannot be solved without a serious brain software upgrade or even a new operating system running our head computers. We simply cannot understand the impacts we’ve unleashed in this “the Anthropocene era” of disequilibrium, of magnified returns and of forced results from closed loop ecosystems. Climate forcings are now the norm… with tremendous force storms all the more frequent because of the atmospheric warming up.

Check these little happenings from this last year and prepare adequately for the next one to come, because all of them contribute to the meme sphere of our mind’s attention deficit. The magnitude-9 earthquake in Japan, the momentous climate change summit, the reports on future global “hyperwarming”, and the rumblings about some of the first geoengineering field trials all made 2011 a remarkable year with the environment at centre stage…

The recent cluster of huge quakes around the Pacific Ocean – the December 2004 Sumatra quake, the February 2010 Chile quake, and now the Fukushima one, have fuelled speculation that they are tectonic plates seismically linked and subject to earth’s crust sudden warming and thus releasing their energy forcefully.

The planet is on course for over 3 °C of global warming and maybe up to 5°C by 2025 along with ten billion humans requiring ever more resources yet finding ever less. That temperature rise leaves Greenland – the world’s second-largest ice cap – heading for a melting point of no return. Greenland will surely reach a tipping point in the early 2020s. And after that is curtains because no amount of action on our part, can save the great ice chest of Greenland…

The question of whether climate change is responsible for extreme weather events like the heatwave that set Russia alight in 2010 is one of the hottest topics in climate science. Next year, UK and US climate scientists plan to launch an annual global assessment of whether humans are to blame for the previous year’s extreme weather events. Solving the issue could bring closer the day when disaster victims can successfully sue oil and coal companies.

Field trials for experiments to engineer the climate have begun. When they get approval, a team of UK researchers will hoist one end of a 1-kilometre-long hose aloft using a balloon, then attempt to pump water up it and spray it into the atmosphere. If the test succeeds, a larger-scale version could one day pump sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere, creating a sunshade to offset the greenhouse effect. Ocean iron rust seeding for algae blooms has already begun and many other tests are on track most with a rather negative bend and no discernible positive effects. Plans from formal bodies like shooting and exploding into the high atmosphere strategic nukes to bring on the Nuclear winter, in order to cool down the atmosphere, are contemplated by the US Pentagon.Although too far fetched to even think about, yet they constitute the official Plan B of the US government in case of runaway global warming…

And all of us we are having endless meetings…  that lead to naught. Global Climate Meetings like the Bali, Copenhagen, Cancun, Durban ad infinitum

Yet not a single tonne of carbon was saved in the Durban Climate Change Summit organized by the UN and the conference of the parties. Instead a lot of CO2 was emitted due to thousands of delegates flying around and about and talking till nauseum. Fact is on the short term, the planet will benefit not one jot. Some are calling it a betrayal of both science and the world’s poor and we are calling it a disgrace and a Greenwashing exercise in stupidity. Yet the climate conference in Durban, South Africa, did force major developing nations like China, Brazil and South Africa to accept the principle of future binding targets on their greenhouse gas emissions for the first time…

Gas has become the byword for energy companies wanting to greenwash. But gas drilling especially for shale gas poses a major safety hazard if there are water wells nearby. It appears that gas drilling contaminates the waters nearby and destroys the aquifer. The controversial use of “fracking” is also a huge safety risk as regards water contamination and carries other big risks too.

More than ten million people in the Horn of Africa face a humanitarian emergency as the region grappled with its worst drought in the last century. The main climatic trigger for the droughts was Climate Change, a warmer planet and the La Niña, a cyclical meteorological phenomenon affecting how much rain falls in Africa and elsewhere. We were unable to respond in time and yet we knew of this incoming catastrophe, all along, and as far back as five years in advance.

On 31st of October 2011 or thereabouts, a newborn baby somewhere in the world became the Seventh billion member of the human race. Or so said the UN – but behind the UN’s patina of certainty may lie outdated and unreliable census data. These inaccuracies make it harder to answer a more important question: is human population set to peak within the next few decades or will it carry on growing beyond that to the nine Billion mark as many predict within ten years’ time and then on to double again in seven more years?

The perturbations in the networked biological systems we are dependent on for our survival are becoming far too great to deal with, let alone stop, and are tilting whole systems out of balance. Environmental shocks and overstimulation, via temperature changes, osmotic shocks, pressure changes, chemistry alienation, toxicity, anoxicity, oceanic acidification, desalination, and various inauspicious changes are endangering our existence directly. The way of the Dinosaurs is perhaps our Tom-Tom directional GPS driver assist destination…

Environmental policy and the lack of it of course has greatly shifted in the last 40 years in order to incorporate explicit economic analyses of the costs and benefits of restricting the amount of deadly, toxic, and dangerous pollution that is produced, but it never accounted for the positive wealth creation and preservation of nature. And because of that we are now facing the very difficult public policy debate of why having the EPA at all.

Yet the answer is simple. If only because there is an increasing understanding of how environmental policy can correct market failures, by building freer markets by reducing externalities that distort economic incentives and by protecting resources, we are now finally able to acknowledge these externalities. Those great “external” costs that were so great, we left them untold and unaccountable in the business history of our civilization. But the piper has come on calling…

At last we are responsible for paying for the free lunch we so heartily enjoyed for far too long. The open sewer we call atmosphere is chock full with carbon and is slowly cooking up our planet. Are we awake enough to address this catastrophe or we are to slowly cook in the pot like the poor frogs served in the French brasseries all over Paris?

Do we have any other option but to address the climatic and environmental changes brought on by our pollution that is warming the planet?

The drive toward sustainable development has been non-partisan and relatively non-ideological in the past. Why does it have to become so now?

Most US administrations promoted government-business partnerships by which corporations would voluntarily adopt more sustainable business practices instead of setting mandatory regulations.

With advances in environmental monitoring, economic science, and globalization, corporations have integrated sustainability into their bottom lines — often realizing both short-term, and long term profit as well as brand benefit and general societal profit because of the focus on energy efficiency and long-term viability.

GDP is not an accurate means of measuring anything relevant to the wealth of nations, because it only measures economic activity and much of it is detrimental to the real wealth and it’s origins. It’s even detrimental to many resources… and the Peoples.

Money is not wealth.

Real wealth is our Goldilocks planet as a very fine home to us, and to all other species because of that special chemical balance that we are able to survive into.

Real wealth is our clean air, clean land and clean water to help us survive and thrive.

Real wealth is land, forest, rivers, animals and people.

Real wealth is further created by the imagination, creativity and skill of people understanding their purpose.

Bankers and business leaders in search of ever-increasing profit are not the wealth creators; at best they are wealth counters and at worst wealth destroyers.

So let’s honour the true wealth creators, such as the environmental activists, environmental engineers, mechanics helping natural systems recuperate, skilled workers maintaining forested lands and primary pastures, architects and engineers building sustainable buildings, renewable energy developers, sustainable business leaders, creative civil servants, ethical political leaders, morally responsible governors, imaginative legislative artists, environmental public policy craftsmen, caring mothers and women on top of their professions, all teachers, all doctors, most builders and local small farmers and above all else, let’s honour the children to come. For the future and the economy is theirs and we feel it’s safe in their hands.

Let us respect the generous Earth, Gaia and Nature, the eternal source of wellbeing and prosperity.

Because if we take care of the environment, people and nature, the economy will take care of itself.

Happy New Year and please use this bit of food for thought and action…

Yours,

Pano

Time to change our yard stick.

Maybe GNH is the way to measure success going forward.

Much like Bhutan does.


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