Environment a Backseat Driver?

September 20, 2007

Environmental considerations have the potential at this time to cause global civilizational collapse. There is even a real risk of human extinction caused by our lack of concern for the biosphere on which we depend. Despite this, it has not been a major topic in the debates of the presidential candidates thus far.

Instead, people are highly concerned with Iraq, health care, and education. While all of these are important, it seems obvious to me that they would pale in comparison to human extinction and even to global civilizational collapse. Our environmental problems can be solved or at least dramatically reduced if we take decisive action now.

The biosphere will not care about our excuses. The biosphere will not care about our economic issues. The biosphere will not care about our reasons for warfare. We must take action despite any other issues that may arise. None will seem even remotely important as we begin to feel the effects of having destroyed our resource base.

We are already past peak grain production. All three major world staple crops, rice, corn, and wheat, are being produced in lesser quantities year over year. We are already past peak ocean fisheries output despite continually improving fishing technology. We have been getting less fish from the ocean year over year since 1983. About a billion people depend on ocean fish for their primary source of protein.

Clearly this situation is not sustainable, especially in light of the fact that humanity has not yet reached peak human population. Remember, people are made of food. As our food production drops, so too will the human population. It may lag a bit. But, it will be reduced either by us relatively painlessly or for us by limited planetary resources. The latter will involve a great deal of human suffering and will probably, due to normal human behavior, be disastrous for many other species as well.

So, my question is, why is this issue taking a backseat when it should be the driver?

GDP — Worse Than Useless

September 20, 2007

GDP is not an indicator of anything. Take this admittedly imperfect, but IMHO quite relevant, analogy. Shares in XYZ corp are selling for $100. Last year, they did a billion dollars worth of transactions. Are you buying or selling?

Personally, I’d need some more information. Forget about the obvious question of how many shares are outstanding, which is where this analogy has it’s imperfection, the government has no shares. This may be the only point of this analogy that really fails though.

Here’s some information you might ask about XYZ corp, all of which are pieces of information that you will never get from the GDP.

1) What percentage of the dollar value of the transactions were income?
2) What percentage of the dollar value of the transactions were expenses?
3) What assets does the company have?
4) What debt does the company have? (We know this figure at 8 trillion. However, it’s not in the GDP.)

So, the GDP is almost meaningless. All it is is a count of transactions. When Exxon spilled oil in Valdez, the $10 billion cleanup was ADDED to the GDP. That should have been counted as an expense and been SUBTRACTED. This type of thing makes the GDP among the worst indicators of the economy.

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