Posts Tagged 'GDP'

Learning To Count Carbon

I posted my thoughts on Bear Stearns right after it collapsed. But a deeper problem even than the money-drunk nature of our culture is the way we count.

Our economic system hasn’t yet learned how to count in a way that reflects reality. Natural systems like air, soil and water (also known as the primary world) are holding up our whole civilization. Our economy is predicated on them and would collapse in their absence. Yet we assign them no value in our Gross Domestic Product, which unfortunately gives us every incentive to squander them in the course of making and consuming the things that are counted in GDP. Most of those things, in turn, contribute very little to our happiness.

The other thing we need to learn to count is carbon emissions. They’re the primary drivers of global warming and all of us are creating them every time we drive and fly and most of the time that we use electricity. If carbon emissions were counted and taxed we would create them more sparingly. They’re not taxed, partly because we haven’t figured out how to count them, and also because we lack the public and political will to do it.

All the market players, government, businesses and individuals alike, will be continuing to operate in economic unreality until we have a carbon tax and also accurate valuations of what natural resources actually contribute to the economy. The cost of these delusions, of our not knowing how to count, is exponentially escalating climate change with economic impacts that will make the Bear Stearns collapse look like a fond memory.

Thanksgiving, Patriotism and Right-Sized Eating

For Thanksgiving I’ll suggest (and practice myself) a novel idea: to not eat a great deal. Just a normal-sized meal, with more sociability than usual.

“Unpatriotic!” I can imagine you criticizing me. “Killjoy!” “The economy would nosedive!” “Anti-consumption equals Anti-Christ!” (OK, pardon my drama.)

In truth, I’m very patriotic. I love our forebears. In fact I suggest we be more like them — by not being overweight and not wasting so many resources in the process. For example, it takes 441 gallons of water to produce a single pound of meat, versus seven gallons for a pound of wheat. If we’re wondering how Atlanta will resolve its drought problem, maybe reduced consumption of meat should go onto the table.

And the average food item Americans eat travels more than 1,500 fossil-fueled miles to reach us. My household subscribes to a local farm for weekly doorstep deliveries. Lowered dependence on foreign oil: very patriotic.

As for our GDP: to the degree that our national economy depends on overeating (and overconsumption in general) it is ill and needs to recover. A group of Americans resolving to eat moderately this Thanksgiving can be a step toward that recovery. Write in and take Alison Wiley’s Thanksgiving Moderation Pledge.

I’ll close with a little self-disclosure. When I eat normal-sized meals I retain my normal personality afterward: alert, friendly, affectionate. (At least my husband thinks so.) When I eat to excess I become slow and stupid, almost as if drugged. How about you?

I’m not a nutritionist, but from what I gather, human stomachs can’t digest enormous amounts of food dumped into them. It piles up and putrefies, making us gassy and grumpy. How patriotic is that? And how sexy?