Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the measure of the total economic output of a nation is a common standby when attempting to consider a nation’s relative standard of living. But it is a faulty one that fails to include the environmental costs of progress. I found myself reading about a succession of Chinese leaders from Deng Xiaoping to the current leader Hu Jintao in the course of studying for the current discussion in my foreign policy course and learned a little about China’s recent experiment with the official use of a green GDP that factors in the environmental degradation of economic growth.
According to the New York Times, the story goes a bit like this:
In 2004, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, announced that the green GDP index would replace the Chinese GDP index itself as a performance measure for government and party officials at the highest levels. The first green GDP accounting report, for 2004, was published in September 2006. It showed that the financial loss caused by pollution was 511.8 billion yuan ($66.3 billion), or 3.05 percent of the nation’s economy. As an experiment in national accounting, the Green GDP effort collapsed in failure in 2007, when it became clear that the adjustment for environmental damage had reduced the growth rate to politically unacceptable levels, nearly zero in some provinces.In the face of mounting evidence that environmental damage and resource depletion was far more costly than anticipated, the government withdrew its support for the Green GDP methodology and suppressed the 2005 report, which had been due out in March 2007.
I was bowled over by this. Apparently the green GDP was such a success that Beijing had to put an end to it.
I wondered whether this would ever be tried in the US and quickly realized that we have a remarkable indicator of the costs of economic growth in the form of Deepwater Horizon. The oil spill off the coast of Louisiana is a perfect storm of lax or nonexistent government regulation, our hunger for an unsustainable standard of living and a craven corporate commitment to profit-at-all-costs at the expense of any sense of social responsibility.
May the rage that we feel towards BP for their reckless disregard for human and animal life and the Gulf ecosystem as a whole and at the Obama Administration for being so lackadaisical initially in its response lead Congress as it debates the energy-climate bill to actually consider the possibility that the commons we share are not simply political commodities to be exploited in the ridiculously small game of partisan politics.