Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Measuring the ecological impact of the Gross National Product (GNP)

Antonio Burgués, Costa Rican Ambassador to China. Álvaro Cedeño, admitted Public Policy student at Carnegie Mellon, Australia.

The Chinese word for “crisis” is “Wei Ji,” which means both crisis and opportunity. They believe in the Far East that crises must be conceived as a change for things to improve. Civilization has come to a Tipping Point not only regarding the way its economy has been growing, but also regarding the qualitative content of its impact on quality of life –life in the broad sense of the word- where traditional economic indexes are not enough anymore.

Dr. Daniel Goleman, intellectual father of the concept of emotional intelligence, has recently published the book “Ecological Intelligence,” right on the spot for the times we are living on the planet today in terms of growth and environmental impact. In this book, he elaborates about a concept that must be considered.

He speaks about “radical transparency” as an information principle that will more closely engage producers and consumers, introducing “an opening about the consequences of the things we do, sell, buy and discard, which goes beyond the current comfort zones of most businesses.”

This information interchange about the ecological impact of all our acts of commerce “will show an economic path that has not yet been taken: to measure the ecological impact to the things we buy with the same transparency standards required, for example, in financial statements.” We would add, also, in public government systems.

Which are the incentives to be transparent or to calculate and include the ecological impact of the products and services in the information made available throughout all commercial interchange? Essentially, to have the possibility to make more intelligent and ethically correct decisions regarding the long-lasting ecological footprint each human being leaves in his or her daily life.

Such measure would provoke, immediately, the need on behalf of countries and their economic policy to include ecological programs incorporated into the GNP, as well as to incorporate indexes to measure ecological impact or environmental performance for the entire economy.

This would reveal, with radical transparency, if a country is effectively growing at 8% per year, or if, instead, due to the environmental impact generated by such growth, it is decreasing economically. We would then also talk about ecological recessions, which would be harmonious with our environment.

The same way there are indexes to measure quality of life, happiness, environmental performance, quality of public education, or level of safety and security, there should be an index of sustainable growth that may reflect, in GNP terms, the ecological impact that the economy puts on natural resources, renewable or not.

The concept of developed country would be spoken in terms of conservation. It is not enough anymore to measure economy in terms of volume of money, but, also, in terms of preservation of renewable resources such as air, potable water, fertile land, forest coverage, biodiversity, and the integral residue management, among other things. Yvon Chouinard, founder of the brand of eco-clothes Patagonia, has said, “business can’t be done in a dead planet.”

Costa Rica is, therefore, a great example of development, since it has maintained economic growth while preserving, in good measure, its environmental performance, increasing its forest coverage and raising awareness, even through public policy, of its enormous richness in biodiversity.

These achievements make it only much more urgent and important to focus efforts on taking care of its areas of improvement, like the protection of aquifers, the transformation of agricultural production to make it less polluting, the legal protection of our patrimonial seas with greater richness in biodiversity, and the reeducation of our population regarding the integral management of domestic, industrial and hospital residues.

This change in methodology measuring economic indicators would serve as a tool for the search of both international cooperation among countries and transversal cooperation among private, public and non-governmental sectors, following the principle of win-win cooperation that has become popular.

Those projects that may require more attention or that may be more susceptible of generating economic and ecological wealth will be prioritized in domestic and foreign development agendas of a country.

When the measurement ruler changes, the rules of the game will also change and there might even be a variation between winners and losers. The most responsible societies investing in their ecological future, or in its economic growth with the incorporation of ecological variables, would increase its value and would be more susceptible of receiving international cooperation and attracting foreign direct investment.

This is precisely where the Consensus of Costa Rica and Peace with Nature intersect. Both have been a top priority of the Costa Rican crusade of this Administration through its foreign policy.

This new century, the economy must be conceived as a whole, and at the service of all human beings. The virtue of this measurement applied to national assets on the GNP generates transparency with the present and future generations to create a more socially and ecologically responsible country and with world-level leadership.

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