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Sooner or later the hidden long-term Costs of Environmental Degradation will be factored into our measures of Economic progress.  There is no way around it.

Some serious Environmentalists are arguing that that day should be now.

Environmental factors must be included in GDP, say scientists
by Will Nichols,  -- 20 Feb 2012

Countries must move beyond tracking economic growth using measures of gross domestic product (GDP) and incorporate environmental and social dimensions into a new measure of wealth if they are to avoid an escalating series of climate, biodiversity and poverty crises.

The group will also call for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, worth an estimated $409bn a year globally, as well as the end of support for traditional transportation and agricultural methods that do not account for their environmental costs.

"The immense environmental, social and economic risks we face as a world from our current path will be much harder to manage if we are unable to measure key aspects of the problem," the paper says.

The call comes after UK environment minister Caroline Spelman last week said the country will work to secure an assurance that all businesses and governments begin work to incorporate natural capital into their accounting practices, a metric she called GDP+, at the Rio+20 conference later this year.

Imagine a farmer who did not follow the seasons.  That farmer would be "out of business" in short order.

Imagine a society who did not acknowledge a changing climate.  That society will suffer the consequences of their willful ignorance, in a few short decades.

Here are some serious Environmentalists suggestion some alternate measures to supplement our traditional GDP gauge on the health of the Economy. If the Planet is changing, maybe the Planet's inhabitants need to change too. Maybe those metaphorical farmers should take note too.

Beyond GDP: The Need for New Measures of Progress  (pdf)

Robert Costanza
Maureen Hart
Stephen Posner
John Talberth

Boston University

The Pardee Papers / No. 4 / January 2009

[... pg 10]

Other Ways to Measure Progress

A number of ways of measuring national-level progress have been proposed, developed, and used to address this growing realization that GDP is a measure of economic quantity, not economic quality or welfare, let alone social or environmental well-being. The measures also address the concern that GDP’s emphasis on quantity encourages depletion of social and natural capital and other policies that undermine quality of life for future generations.

[... pg 11]

Indexes that ‘Correct’ GDP

Some alternative indicators of economic well-being use the national accounts and GDP as the foundation and then add or subtract quantities in an attempt to address some of the issues discussed above. These include the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, the Genuine Progress Indicator, Green GDPs, and Genuine Wealth.

[... pg 12]

Sustainable Economic Welfare

The Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), later revised and renamed the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), is a measure that uses GDP as a foundation. It was first proposed in 1989 by Daly and Cobb in their book For the Common Good as “a way of measuring the economy that will give better guidance than the GNP to those interested in promoting economic welfare” (Daly and Cobb 1989, 401). [...] Daly and Cobb wanted an index that accounted for both current environmental issues and long-term sustainable use of natural ecosystems and resources.

[...] “Both the GPI and ISEW use the same personal consumption data as GDP but make deductions to account for income inequality and costs of crime, environmental degradation, and loss of leisure and additions to account for the services from consumer durables and public infrastructure as well as the benefits of volunteering and housework.

[... pg 13]

Green GDP

Numerous attempts have been made to develop Green GDPs -- GDPs that factor estimates for environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources into the national income accounts to arrive at a single number.

[... pg 14]

Genuine Savings

Genuine Savings (GS) was developed for the World Bank (World Bank 1997) and is defined as “the true level of saving in a country after depreciation of produced capital; investments in human capital (as measured by education expenditures); depletion of minerals, energy, and forests; and damages from local and global air pollutants are taken into account” (Hamilton, Ruta et al. 2006, xv). This includes the value of global damages from carbon emissions.

[... pg 15]

Indexes that do not use GDP

Some alternative indexes do not measure economic activity; rather, they measure environmental or social activities, well-being, or changes in environmental, social, or human capital.

Ecological Footprint

The Ecological Footprint (EF) was developed by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees as a way to account for flows of energy and matter into and out of the human economy and convert those flows into a measure of the area of productive land and water required to support those flows (Wackernagel and Rees 1996). The EF is intended to be used as a resource management tool for assessing whether and to what extent an individual, city, or nation is using available ecological assets faster than the supporting ecosystems can regenerate those assets.

Those measurements sound smart.  A smart society would be wise to implement some of them.  Environmental Costs unmeasured, can be expensive.

Case in point, here some "Economic-Environmental Footprints" that have stepped-on our GDP already -- and those hidden costs that ARE REAL. They are an "economic signal" being sent by our ever-changing climate system, alarms with ever more frequency and severity. These are the impact of Extreme Weather Events and the GDP-negating aftermath they leave behind, once the dust has cleared:

The Cost of Climate Change
What We'll Pay if Global Warming Continues Unchecked
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Four global warming impacts alone -- hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy costs, and water costs -- will come with a price tag of 1.8 percent of U.S. GDP, or almost $1.9 trillion annually (in today's dollars) by 2100.

That is quite the "hidden investment" into the future:  $1.9 Trillion a year in clean-up costs related to those not-so-trivial "Economic-Environmental Footprints."  Some people like to rail against Cap and Trade, and any sort of Carbon Tax, but like it or not, those "extra fees" are being assessed one way or another. Assessed by a planet that does have its humanity-favoring limits.  Just ask your local farmers.

Like it or not, ignore it or not, our diverse, changing Planet is extracting its "environmental costs" irrespective of whether they are directly measured by our quaint thermometer called the GDP, or not.  Changing Environmental factors like:

Warming Oceans
Extreme Drought
Crop Failures
Wild Fires
Fire Storms
Tornado Swarms
Mega Hurricanes
Epic Floods
Crippling Ice-storms
Deteriorating Soil
Migrating Insect Pests
Invasive Species
People without adequate Food
People without adequate Water
People without Opportunity
Natural Resources that have been tapped out

Such are the surcharges of society's environmental ignorance.

Like it or not, these little-measured "Environmental Costs" do have a NEGATIVE effect on our simpleton measure of Progress, otherwise known as the GDP. When you look at it, the GDP is really quite the simple calculation:

Gross domestic product
from Wikipedia

Gross domestic product (GDP) refers to the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period. GDP per capita is often considered an indicator of a country's standard of living;[2][3]  [...]

Determining GDP

GDP can be determined in three ways, all of which should, in principle, give the same result. They are the product (or output) approach, the income approach, and the expenditure approach.

Production approach

"Market value of all final goods and services calculated during 1 year."

Income approach

"Sum total of incomes of individual living in a country during 1 year."

Expenditure approach

"All expenditure incurred by individual during 1 year."

In economics, most things produced are produced for sale, and sold. Therefore, measuring the total expenditure of money used to buy things is a way of measuring production.

"Goods and services, individual incomes, individual expenditures" -- What about the legions of farmers who's crops consistently fail?  What about legions of home-owners being displaced by floods, fires, and storms? Who can put a price tag on such wealth-erasing disruptions?

What about the ever-increasing costs of food, shelter, and energy for the average citizen?

Do they have a negative impact on GDP?   And if so, when will they be addressed as the very real recurring problems, that they are too?

The planet will continue to add "Environmental Costs" to our phantom accounts; the accelerating pace of Extreme Weather Events will continue to pile onto "all expenditures incurred by individual during 1 year"

-- whether we care to measure those ever-larger "footprints" or not.

One of these years, maybe the American people will notice this huge Environmental Surcharge (in the neighborhood of Trillions), that Nature keeps putting on our National Tab.

That mantra of "Limitless Growth" of the last 2 centuries, may indeed have its limits afterall -- especially if we just plow ahead undeterred on the boundless resource extracting course were on.  Wagons Ho, Status quo. Full steam ahead. Tap that carbon fuel.

The Laws of Physics do have their "causes and effects" boundaries afterall ... and they are constantly tallying up those Economic Impacts, that will be extracted, someday ...

our quaint measures of Gross Domestic Product economic progress, notwithstanding.

Originally posted to Digging up those Facts ... for over 8 years. on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 04:19 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (16+ / 0-)

    What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.
    -- Maslow ...... my list.

    by jamess on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 12:42:04 PM PST

  •  some supplemental info along these lines (8+ / 0-)

    What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.
    -- Maslow ...... my list.

    by jamess on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 12:44:10 PM PST

  •  these some of are the stakes (8+ / 0-)

    of plowing ahead with the limitless Status Quo ...


    What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.
    -- Maslow ...... my list.

    by jamess on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 12:54:51 PM PST

  •  Somebody needs to rethink insurance (8+ / 0-)

    too. Insurance is the invisible banker on which most of economy is built.

    Climate change has already challenged the model and is not sustainable with droughts and floods and fire and extreme cold.

    While I think everyone can grasp what you're listing here, it has to hit them directly in the pocketbook before they react.

    •  too many people (5+ / 0-)

      view insurance as some sort of lottery, I think.

      Just look at the resistance Single Payer Health Care got.

      Far too many people don't want to pitch in to pay for the misfortune of others,

      mainly by assuming that somehow they themselves,

      will magically remain misfortune-free.

      Until that day, the unexpected happens. Then they want cheap insurance, and govt assistance.

      on that day THEY really need it.

      What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.
      -- Maslow ...... my list.

      by jamess on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 04:45:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Factor in all of the environmental costs you want (4+ / 0-)

    -- the numbers will still be the same gobbledygook.

    What We'll Pay if Global Warming Continues Unchecked
    Questions like this reveal a profound misunderstanding of the nature of money.   Money is not real in the same sense that global warming is real.  Global warming is a physical presence, verifiable through measurement.  Money is a social convention, without which its symbols would not attain value.  The belief in money is in fact variable, and plays an important role in currency exchanges.  Look up "Exchange value" and "Karl Marx" in your local Google search engine.  As for global warming, you will pay nothing because there will be nothing to pay and nobody to pay it to.  The real question is one of whether or not the economic system will be able to continue at all with six degrees of global warming.

    You will have better luck with the "other ways to measure progress," although those are probably gobbledygook as well.  If we are in fact regressing, then it makes no sense to call anything "progress."  More precise and less ideologically-loaded words than "progress" might be more suitable -- perhaps "privilege" or "increase in technical sophistication" would be good.  Theodor Adorno: "There is no universal history leading from savagery to humanitarianism, but there is one leading from the slingshot to the megaton bomb."

    "Sustainable economic welfare" might be a good concept as something we ought to be striving for.  As a measurable, existent thing, as an index, it fails.  We have no idea that the current system is at all sustainable; the things the human race is doing to Earth's ecosystems would indicate otherwise.

    "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

    by Cassiodorus on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 05:03:13 PM PST

    •  it is what it is (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and it is massively insert to paradigm changes.

      even common-sense incremental ones.

      What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.
      -- Maslow ...... my list.

      by jamess on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 05:23:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Garbage in, garbage out. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        A Siegel, FishOutofWater, NoMoreLies

        The problem is that the business publications that put out this nonsense are trying to persuade readers that environmental damage is calculable in the same way in which economic transactions are calculable.  Since environmental damage of the sort predicted in global warming is not calculable as such, there is no "paradigm change" -- rather, you have one dominant paradigm ("mainstream economics") squirming to avoid becoming irrelevant in the face of the accumulation of catastrophe that confronts it in the future.

        Monetary values make sense when couched in terms of money-based economic transactions.  GDP abstracts from a sum of money-based economic transactions in order to determine the level of business.  Transactions that do not involve money are not factored into GDP.  We could have a global economy entirely based on barter and charity, and the GDP of such an economy would be zero, because there would be no way of assimilating the value of the aggregate of the goods and services produced and traded or given away to monetary values.  Thus GDP is entirely dependent upon monetary values, with or without any "environment factored in."

        Monetary values, moreover, are a matter of what people will pay for things.  In a historical milieu in which the managerial class did not care about environmental values (say, in the 1950s or 1960s), GDP made sense as a measure of economic growth because the "economic lever" available to the managers was Keynesian "pump priming" -- increasing production by facilitating circulation.  Since environment did not matter to economic managers in that era, it didn't really matter what was produced or circulated, or for that matter how it was produced or circulated.  Data such as "resource depletion" and "trash" could be calculated within such a paradigm, but only in terms of what people wanted to do about them.  So when we say, for instance, that US GDP for 2008 wasabout $13 trillion, we are saying that at the going rate about $13 trillion is a number which adds up all the exchanges in an economy at the going rates, without real reference to its physical or mental health.  We are incapable of saying what this figure of $13 trillion means in material terms, because the going rates are defined as what the sellers will accept from the buyers for the products on offer at an aggregate of different (sometimes very different: think of how the going rate in Manhatan differs from the going rate in Des Moines) times and places.

        Environmental values, then, can only be formulated in terms of material terms, however -- and so GDP can have nothing to say about them.  Tweak GDP all you want -- it will still have nothing real to say about environmental values.

        "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

        by Cassiodorus on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 06:07:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I heard your many opinions the first time (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          thanks for airing them.

          I welcome your magic paradigm shift.

          Good luck, with that.

          What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.
          -- Maslow ...... my list.

          by jamess on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 06:14:28 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Before Cook arrived the value of a Hawaiian beach (5+ / 0-)

            was pretty close to zero in modern economic terms. There were more resources  -fish, turtles, molluscs, limu. etc that people could eat in the water off of those beaches, however.

            Now a white person from the mainland puts a 10 million dollar house on a small piece of beachfront that has a depleted ocean in front of it and the value of the property is millions of dollars.

            See, Cassiodorus is right. Money is a social convention, not a measure of intrinsic worth.

            look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

            by FishOutofWater on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 07:08:17 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Well, in the interim, we still use money (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jamess, A Siegel, NoMoreLies, RunawayRose

      and full cost pricing and incorporaating the environmental subsidy into the economic analysis would go a long way toward improving our condition.

      For example, it makes no sense to mine and burn coal if it costs on balance $2.50 for every $1 of power.  Internalize those costs and coal vanishes poof! as the uneconomical activity that it is.  

      Otherwise we have economic actors who are effectively earning money by stealing other people's health and well being.  

      •  Once again, monetary values AREN'T REAL (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        For example, it makes no sense to mine and burn coal if it costs on balance $2.50 for every $1 of power.  Internalize those costs and coal vanishes poof! as the uneconomical activity that it is.
        -- in the same way in which environmental values are real.  Monetary values are based on what people are willing to pay and what sellers are willing to accept.  They can be manipulated through alterations in the money supply.  There is, then, no "true cost" in the sense in which "true" means objective.  Costs are all negotiated.  If something costs $2 at a yard sale, that means the seller will take two bucks for it.  In another market it could be $100, or worthless.

        If you are talking about renegotiating costs through "green taxes," that's all fine and well.  Do recognize, however, that a capitalist economy's performance is measured by the cheapness of the resources upon which it is based, and if such an economy is to weather periodic economic crises, it is likely to scrap too-high resource taxes as a drag upon economic performance in the worst of times. Countries which can impose such taxes either have special advantages or are marginal to the economic world-system as a whole.

        If you want a real solution, one impervious to "economics," let's start talking about a transition away from the capitalist system.  If capitalism is bad for our environmental health, then we should start by disassociating ourselves from its machineries.

        "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

        by Cassiodorus on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 06:37:53 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  So what if isn't "real"? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          jamess, RunawayRose

          As long as people give credence, it shapes behavior.  Rights are real either.  Religion isn't real.  Neither are politics.  Nevertheless, the real world consequences flow mightily from each.  Why should something that has such consequences be deemed "not real"?  If I could create a high priced crazed for Spider Monkey hides, I guarantee you that "not real" price could drive the species to extinction in short order.

          As for replacing capitalism, depending on how narrowly you draw that definition, I'm not sure that that's particularly possible.  Capitalism is also not "real" in that sense, either, as would be any system that would replace it.  Still, if one seeks to have people orient their behavior in different ways, there needs to be some incentive to draw that change, and without some credible alternative, it is unlikely.  I use the word "credible" in the sense of "given credence or belief" by those making the shift.  Indeed, the entire debate here centers on a whole host of not real things, all of which have profound implications.

          •  Once again (0+ / 0-)

            I have laid out two senses of the real:

            1) Physically real

            2) Real in the sense of social convention

            The first deals with physics, biology, chemistry, ecology; the second is about what Durkheim called "social facts," specifically the social facts specified in economics, including the capitalist system, which is indeed real in the sense specified in 2).

            Senses 1) and 2) cannot be quantified in terms which are assimilable to each other.  The physically real must be made into a specific social fact called a "value" or a "price" if it is to be understood economically; and the process of doing this leads to the effacement of the ecological meaning of the physically real.  See especially FishOutofWater's response upthread.  Economics, moreover, must be detached from the economy based on the cash nexus if it is to coerce a collective human effort for ecological sustainability in an era of global ecological crisis.

            As long as people give credence, it shapes behavior.
            True enough.  Want to elaborate on how money shapes behavior?  A good place to start is Karl Marx's short piece The Power of Money, written in 1844.  Marx:
            That which is for me through the medium of money – that for which I can pay (i.e., which money can buy) – that am I myself, the possessor of the money. The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness – its deterrent power – is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless? Besides, he can buy clever people for himself, and is he who has [In the manuscript: ‘is’. – Ed.] power over the clever not more clever than the clever? Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?

            If money is the bond binding me to human life, binding society to me, connecting me with nature and man, is not money the bond of all bonds?

            As long as people spend their lives groveling after this stuff, the reality outside of economic standing will be of no consequence, because that reality will be buy-able with money.  And people will continue to grovel after money, because of its transformative powers as suggested above by Marx.  

            And that is fundamentally how the capitalist system operates.  Look, I don't know if you've been reading any of my 240 or so diaries here or not -- but I've been working on this problem from the end of 2006 onward, and so I'm way past "how do we end capitalism?" at this point.  The capitalist world-system will bring itself to an end -- a disastrous one probably, given the public's obtuseness to its flaws -- the real question is one of what are we building to replace it.

            "I think the Obama campaign would be taking this populist-sounding tack even if Occupy had never happened." -- Paul Street

            by Cassiodorus on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 07:34:06 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  yes, I have (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I think I came across one, and felt, unfortunately, that it rather misdiagnosed a number of things.  I do always find your comments exceptionally stimulating, and will look forward to them, even if I don't agree (and don't take it personally if I don't.  It means I take you seriously!)

              I'm pretty tired at the moment, and as you know, this takes a touch of alertness to discuss.

              I think people have predicted the end of captialism for a long time now, but haven't quite come true.  

              I would say this.  Whatever replaces capitalism will have to evolve out of it, not be invented out of wholly new cloth.  This is, I believe, a similar problem to the evolution.  Each new structure must arise along a path where each step results from the prior one, and has to begin at the starting point.  Jumps aren't really allowed.  Let me know if that's totally unclear.

  •  Look to the insurance companies for a leading (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, joe wobblie, RunawayRose

    indicator of how seriously business is taking environmental damage.  I don't have data, but I suspect that the actuaries are beginning to make adjustments in rates and premiums for coastline and tornado alley property.  

    I'd also look to see who's selling buying or building in at-risk areas.

    Politics is the entertainment branch of industry. -Frank Zappa

    by TheGrandWazoo on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 06:31:32 PM PST

  •  If you do that, GDP will increase, right? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, NoMoreLies, RunawayRose

    Just like if somebody dies and a funeral is held, the GDP increases.

    Or somebody gets divorced, again the GDP increases.

    which aren't necessary good things.

    In any event, the environment is estimated to provide $33 trillion in services each  year, so if that is counted into GDP estimates the economy will approximately double.  Yay!!

    •  natural resources (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NoMoreLies, Roadbed Guy, RunawayRose

      are typically assumed to "be free"

      and the depletion of those resources,

      and the pollution of the environment,

      are assumed to have no compounding costs in other areas,  

      in terms of GDP.

      But one merely has to look at costs of hurricanes, firestorms,

      the cost of asthma,

      the cost of polluted aquifers,

      the wars for oil,

      to realizes the hidden costs assoiciated with tapping natural resources,

      are quite real, and quite expensive too.

      Costs that cry out for better accounting.

      What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.
      -- Maslow ...... my list.

      by jamess on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 07:12:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, I realize that they are erroneously (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        regarded as being "free"

        However I am a bit queasy in including them in the GDP simply because so many out there worship the GDP and this would inflate it in a completely non-productive way.

        Just like the GDP often tends to increase after a natural disaster due to efforts to repair the damage.  But things often are no better afterwards . . .

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