Archive for February 2014

Measuring progress with GDP is a gross mistake   Leave a comment

Has the Gross Domestic Product become a god to be worshipped? David Suzuki raises questions about the validity of equating this measure with economic or social well-being.

David Suzuki Foundation
 

Measuring progress with GDP is a gross mistake

kite
 

Governments, media and much of the public are preoccupied with the economy. That means demands such as those for recognition of First Nations treaty rights and environmental protection are often seen as impediments to the goal of maintaining economic growth. The gross domestic product has become a sacred indicator of well-being. Ask corporate CEOs and politicians how they did last year and they’ll refer to the rise or fall of the GDP.

It’s a strange way to measure either economic or social well-being. The GDP was developed as a way to estimate economic activity by measuring the value of all transactions for goods and services. But even Simon Kuznets, an American economist and pioneer of national income measurement, warned in 1934 that such measurements say little about “the welfare of a nation.” He understood there’s more to life than the benefits that come from spending money.

My wife’s parents have shared our home for 35 years. If we had put them in a care home, the GDP would have grown. In caring for them ourselves we didn’t contribute as much. When my wife left her teaching job at Harvard University to be a full-time volunteer for the David Suzuki Foundation, her GDP contribution fell. Each time we repair and reuse something considered disposable we fail to contribute to the GDP.

To illustrate the GDP’s limitations as an indicator of well-being, suppose a fire breaks out at the Darlington nuclear facility near Toronto and issues a cloud of radioactivity that blows over the city, causing hundreds of cases of radiation sickness. All the ambulances, doctors, medicines and hospital beds will jack up the GDP. And if people die, funeral services, hearses, flowers, gravediggers and lawyers will stimulate GDP growth. In the end, cleaning up the Darlington mess would cost billions and produce a spike in the GDP.

Extreme weather-related events, such as flooding and storms, can also contribute to increases in GDP, as resources are brought in to deal with the mess. Damage done by Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico added tens of billions to the GDP. If GDP growth is our highest aspiration, we should be praying for more weather catastrophes and oil spills.

The GDP replaced gross national product, which was similar but included international expenditures. In a 1968 speech at the University of Kansas, Robert Kennedy said, “Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things …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 the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities … 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.”

We deserve better indicators of societal well-being that extend beyond mere economic growth. Many economists and social scientists are proposing such indicators. Some argue we need a “genuine progress indicator”, which would include environmental and social factors as well as economic wealth. A number of groups, including Friends of the Earth, have suggested an Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, which would take into account “income inequality, environmental damage, and depletion of environmental assets.” The Kingdom of Bhutan has suggested measuring gross national happiness.

Whatever we come up with, it has to be better than GDP with its absurd emphasis on endless growth on a finite planet.

By David Suzuki 

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Attitude   Leave a comment

Rings of experiences

Rings of experiences

” We are creatures shaped by our experiences;

we like what we know, more often than we

know what we like.”

Wallace Stegner

Posted February 17, 2014 by allanbaker in Inspiration

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In the spirit of kindness   Leave a comment

In The Spirit Of Kindness

Guest blog post by Jess Housty

In the spirit of kindness

More and more often, we are reading in the news about the federal government and various intelligence and law enforcement agencies allegedly “spying” on aboriginals and pipeline opponents.

I am both of those things. I have no idea whether strangers are picking up shards of information from my emails and text messages. I have no idea what kind of beautiful stained-glass mosaics their imaginations might create. But in the spirit of wild and optimistic honesty, I would like to make a declaration to them, just in case:

I have nothing to hide from you.

Check out the whole blog from the Dogwood Initiative at: http://dogwoodinitiative.org/blog/jess-housty-guest-blog?utm_source=AdaptiveMailer&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20140214-February-E-News&org=354&lvl=1&ite=6678&lea=10989308&ctr=0&par=1

David Cameron and Jim Flaherty prove fatalism is back: Salutin   Leave a comment

Sunrise at Cape Spear

Sunrise at Cape Spear

Rick Salutin muses on the topic of those who are fatalistic about climate change.

Read his Toronto Star column at:

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/02/13/david_cameron_and_jim_flaherty_prove_fatalism_is_back_salutin.html

Unbearable Pain, Startling Hope – by Jennifer Henry   Leave a comment

Pete Seeger – and David Suzuki   Leave a comment

David Suzuki Foundation

Pete Seeger: “From way up here the Earth looks very small”

pete
Photo Credit: wfuv

“This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

– Words painted on Pete Seeger’s banjo

A man with a banjo can be a powerful force for good. Pete Seeger, who died January 27 at the age of 94, inspired generations of political and environmental activists with songs ranging from “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” to “Sailing Down My Golden River”.

From the late 1930s until his death, Seeger brought his music to union halls, churches, schools, migrant camps, nightclubs, TV studios, marches and rallies – always inviting audiences to join in. His calling took him from being hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955 to being invited to perform at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

Like me, he was inspired by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring to become a strong defender of the environment as well as human rights. In both social justice and environmental causes, he believed in the strength of grassroots efforts. As he told the CBC Radio program Ideas, “The powers that be can break up any big thing they want. They can attack it from the outside. They can infiltrate it and corrupt it from the inside – or co-opt it. But what are they going to do about 10 million little things? They don’t know where to start. Break up three of them and four more like it start up.”

Seeger and his wife, Toshi, devoted a lot of time to protecting the Hudson River near their home in Beacon, New York. To save the polluted waterway, they raised money to build a sloop, the Clearwater, to take children, teachers and parents sailing. The boat and cleanup efforts have since spawned a science-based environmental education organization and music festival – and led to progress in restoring the river and ridding it of toxic PCBs, pesticides and other chemicals.

Seeger was also involved in anti-fracking efforts, adding the line, “This land was made to be frack-free” to his late friend Woody Guthrie’s anthem, “This Land Is Your Land”, when he joined Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews at a Farm Aid benefit last year.

Like all of us who devote our lives to trying to make the world better, Seeger made mistakes along the way. But he was willing to admit when he was wrong and to change his views.

As a geneticist, I’m fascinated by the built-in need we have for music; it reaches deep within us. The power of a good song to touch us emotionally and rally us to action is nothing short of extraordinary.

And musicians are often the first to donate their time and music to worthy causes. It’s why I’ve had such deep admiration for musicians I’ve worked with and often been lucky enough to call my friends, from Bruce Cockburn and Gordon Lightfoot to Neil Young and Sarah Harmer and the members of Blue Rodeo. Musicians have inspired millions of people with powerful anthems, from Seeger’s rendition of “We Shall Overcome” to John Lennon’s “Imagine.” In recognition of the power of song, the David Suzuki Foundation invited musicians from across the country to contribute to a recording called Playlist for the Planet in 2011.

I recently had the pleasure of joining Neil Young and Diana Krall on their Honour the Treaties tour to raise money and awareness for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal battle to protect their traditional lands and rights guaranteed under Treaty 8. As “just a musician”, Young was criticized for having the nerve to speak out and for his harsh words about rampant tar sands development. But, as much as it would be better if the media, public and government paid far more attention to First Nations and their spokespeople, a celebrity with conviction and the ability to communicate through the powerful medium of song – or other forms of artistic expression – can often highlight a struggle in ways few others can.

Like Nelson Mandela, who died in December at age 95, Pete Seeger was a great communicator for whom principles mattered more than anything else. He was a true American and world citizen and we’re better off for the contributions he made during his long life.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington