Coming Full Circle with the Planet


A recent New York Times editorial, Save the Economy, and the Planet, was optimistic about President-elect Obama's commitment to making good on promises to address climate change, even in the face of the current recession. Obama's stance is that the present is an ideal time to invest clean energy technologies. What the editorial calls, "a climate policy wrapped inside an energy policy wrapped inside an economic policy," is really a bold first step towards revising our traditionally compartmentalized vision of these three areas.

The Industrial Revolution marked the beginning of the exploitation of the earth as resources. (Historically people have always known there were good things to be had from nature, but the concept of a resource, a natural source of wealth or revenue, appeared around the same time). In the same period, the move of production from its source in the countryside to the cities with their factories changed the rhythms of life from those of agriculture to those of the company.

Don't get me wrong: industrialization has had a great run. One of its core tenets, efficiency, still has much to teach us. Now that we are beginning to reap what industrialization has sowed, with its short-sighted pollution of water, soil, and air, it is becoming plain that thinking only of making a profit today has an exceedingly high cost tomorrow. As a planet we are edging closer towards living that "tomorrow" that has been left to us.  It's making less sense that one sector of society (those doing business or making economic decisions) should be able to make decisions with far-reaching ecological consequences using solely the lens of business-as-usual.  That is profit for some at the expense of the earth itself.

The idea of a plan-within-a-plan-within-a-plan is so refreshing because it is a sign that we may be at last closing the circle between individual profit and employment;  national security;  and environmental responsibility. President-elect Obama's recent speech, A New Chapter on Climate Change, promises "a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process....Further, we will invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private-sector efforts to build a clean energy future." These investments will lead to more jobs, meaning that this time our country might be able to pull itself out of its present downturn without once again mortgaging our future from further exploitation of the planet.

Now that we are trying to pull ourselves together--nationally, and philosophically--perhaps we will come up with a better concept than "resource" to describe the people and the planet that make up our wealth.  See the New Economics Foundation's Happy Planet Index for an alternative to the GDP, an index that "combine(s) environmental impact with human well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which country by country, people live long and happy lives."

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