GENUINE PROGRESS INDICATOR
The notion of a Genuine Progress Indicator is critical because it is the best—and perhaps the only—accurate way to balance our social values with our growing knowledge of how ecosystems work and the limitations their long-term integrity impose on both the potential and actual sustainability of our activities. Without such an indicator, environmentalists are often viewed and chided as being deviant, radical, subversive, extremist, anti-business, and un-American by business people because environmentalists rate the ecological values embodied in saving ancient forests and wetlands to be greater than those of economic growth.⁴
On the other hand, environmentalists often view business people as necessarily evil, greedy, and myopic by nature. Most of the problem with the economic point of view espoused by business people, according to Thomas Gladwin, director of the University of Michigan's corporate-environmental management program, is that business executives and managers often lack good cross-training in science, as evidenced by the fact that less than one percent out of 1.2 million articles written by business professors includes the words "pollution," "air," "water," or "energy."⁵
The Genuine Progress Indicator, in contrast to both Gross Domestic Product and eco-efficiency, is a measure of total economic activity that includes both benefits and costs (credits and debits).⁴ The notion of a Genuine Progress Indicator fits well with the aims of social-environmental sustainability, which passes to the next generation a healthy, economically viable society based on a healthy, biophysically viable environment.
In this way, the owner of a farm could measure the true value and ecological well-being of his or her property over time by assigning an economic value to non-economic indicators, such as the amount of organic material left on a harvested field as a biological reinvestment into the soil, the amount of petrocBees are enormously valuable to the functioning of virtually all terrestrial ecosystems and such worldwide industries as agriculture. Pollination by European honeybees, for example, is 60 to 100 times more valuable economically than is the honey they produce. In fact, the value of wild blueberry bees is so great that farmers who raise blueberries refer to them as "flying $50 bills."⁷
While more than half of the honeybee colonies in the U.S. have been lost within the last 50 years, 25 percent have been lost within the last five years. Widespread threats to bees and other pollinators are fragmentation and outright destruction of habitat (hollow trees for colonies in the case of wild honeybees), intense exposure to pesticides, a generalized loss of nectar plants to herbicides, as well as the gradual deterioration of "nectar corridors" that provide sources of food to migrating pollinators.
hemicals that annually leach into the groundwater from fertilizers, the amount of soil erosion due to wind and water, and so on. By assigning either a positive or negative value (a credit or debit) to each indicator, the indicators and their respective values can be combined into a single Genuine Progress Indicator for the ecological welfare of a particular owner's farmland.
The Genuine Progress Indicator would then serve not only as a baseline for all subsequent deliberations concerning sustainable farming practices but also as a means of measuring the effectiveness of the criteria used in ascertaining what is and is not sustainable. Another function of the Genuine Progress Indicator would be to add value to those resources and activities that have no value in terms of the Gross Domestic Product, such as contour plowing, leaving organic residue in harvests fields, creating and protecting fence-row habitat for native pollinators, and so on.
The Genuine Progress Indicator is an important tool because most, if not all, activities in on a farm or in a forest are omitted from valuation within the context of traditional economic measures, which becomes readily apparent when a landowner deliberates over the ecological well-being of his or her land in terms of traditional economics and as a legacy for the future. Having said this, it is imperative at this juncture to elaborate on some Nature's services that are omitted from traditional economic valuation.
The inherent services performed by Nature constitute the invisible foundation that is not only the wealth of every human community and its society but also is the supporting basis of our economies. In this sense, Nature's services are also the wealth of every farmer or owner of forestland.
For example, we rely on oceans to supply fish, forests to supply water, wood, and new medicines, rivers to transport the water from its source to a point where we can access it, soil to grow food, grasslands to produce redmeat, and so on. Although we base our livelihoods on the expectation that Nature will provide these services indefinitely and free of charge, the economic system to which we commit our unquestioning loyalty either undervalues, discounts, ignores, or actively destroys these services when computing the Gross Domestic Product and the real outcomes of eco-efficiency. This is but saying Nature's services, on which we rely for everything concerning the quality of our lives, are measured poorly or not at all.⁶
Because of the importance of Nature's inherent services, usually thought of as ecosystem functions, it is worthwhile to examine one such service in greater detail— pollination. Wild and semi-wild pollinators account for the pollination of eighty percent of all cultivated crops—1,330 varieties, including fruits, vegetable, coffee, and tea. Between 120,000 and 200,000 species of animals perform this service.⁷
In Germany, for instance, the people are so efficient at weeding their gardens that the nation's free-flying population of honeybees is rapidly declining, according to Werner Muehlen of the Westphalia-Lippe Agricultural Office. Bee populations have shrunk by 23 percent across Germany over the past decade, and wild honeybees are all but extinct in Central Europe. To save the bees, says Muehlen, "gardeners and farmers should leave at least a strip of weeds and wildflowers along the perimeter of their fields and properties to give bees a fighting chance in our increasingly pruned and … [sterile] world."⁸
Besides an increasing lack of food, one fifth of all the losses of honeybees in the U.S. is due to exposure to pesticides. Wild pollinators are even more vulnerable to pesticides than domestic European honeybees because, unlike hives of domestic honeybees that can be picked up and moved prior to the application of a chemical spray, whereas colonies of wild pollinators cannot be purposefully relocated. Since wild pollinators service at least eighty percent of the world's major crops and only fifteen percent are serviced by domesticated honeybees, the latter cannot be expected to fill the gap by themselves, as wild pollinators are lost.
Ironically, economic valuation of products as measured by the Gross Domestic Product fosters many of the practices employed in modern intensive agriculture and modern intensive forestry, which actually curtail the productivity of crops by reducing pollination. An example is the high level of pesticides used on cotton crops to kill bees and other insects, which reduces the annual yield in the U.S. by an estimated twenty percent or $400 million.⁷ In addition, herbicides used for a variety of reasons often kill the plants pollinators needed to sustain themselves when not pollinating crops.
Finally, the practice of squeezing every last penny out of a piece of ground by plowing the edges of fields to maximize the planting area can reduce yields by disturbing and/or removing nesting and rearing habitats for pollinators. With the above in mind, it seems obvious that the notions embodied in eco-efficiency are hardly going to be effective in reversing the economic rationale supporting the processes that drive environmental degradation.
Unfortunately, too many people are fueled by their unquestioning acceptance of current economic theory, which not only designs and condones but also actively encourages the above-mentioned destructive practices. Such people simply assume that the greatest value one can derive from an ecosystem, such as a forest, is that of maximizing its productive capacity for a single commodity to the exclusion of all else.
Single commodity production, however, is usually the least profitable and least sustainable way to use a forest because single commodity production simply cannot compete with the enormous value of non-timber services, such as the production of oxygen, capture and storage of water, holding soils in place, and maintaining habitat for organisms that are beneficial to the economic interests of people. These are all foregone when the drive is to maximize a chosen commodity in the name of short-term monetary profits. Ironically, the undervalued, discounted, and/or ignored uses of the forest are not only more valuable than production of wood fiber in the short term but also more sustainable in the long term and benefit a far greater number of people.
For example, one study of alternative strategies for managing the mangrove forests of Bintuni Bay, Indonesia, a study more in keeping with the posits of the Genuine Progress Indicator, found that leaving the forests intact would be more productive than cutting them.⁷ When the non-timber uses of the mangrove forests, such as fisheries, locally used products, and control of soil erosion, were included in the calculation, the most economically profitable strategy was to retain the forests.
Maintaining healthy mangrove forests yielded $4,800 per hectare (2.5 acres) annually over time, whereas cutting the forests would yield a one-time value of $3,600 per 2.5 acres. Maintaining the forests would ensure continued local uses of the area worth $10 million per year and provide 70 percent of the local income, while protecting a fishery worth $25 million per year.
Another way landowners can make money from their forests without focusing solely on the cutting of timber is to use their forests for sequestering carbon. In New South Wales, Australia, for example, David Brand, executive general manager of the state forests, watched the demand for timber declining, and in that decline he saw an opportunity to sell environmental services to local and foreign power companies that were looking for ways to offset the carbon dioxide their generating plants were releasing into the air. What would he sell? He would sell the sequestration of carbon (called "carbon storage rights") in the trunks and root systems of the forests' trees, for which he soon had an agreement to plant 2,500 acres of degraded pastureland in eucalyptus trees for $10 for each ton of carbon sequestered. In Japan early in 1999, Tokyo Electric Power Company signed a letter to intent of plant up to 100,000 acres of trees over the next decade. "We don't need to cut timber at all any more," Brand said. "Our forests are being driven completely by environmental values."
Selling carbon storage rights is a smart move because forests are increasingly recognized as a major factor in the reduction of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas of global warming. Creating a market for this service requires three main ingredients: a market framework, a demand from willing buyers, and a supply from willing sellers.
The three ingredients necessary to succeed at a significant scale are (1) formulating a framework of policy and political support to establish a level playing field that defines the commodities to be traded (and their varying qualities) and implements a system of credits and crediting that reduces financial risk; (2) creating a foundation of interested customers, which means educating people who want to reduce carbon emissions about the options that conservation of forests and sustainable forest management can fulfill as avenues for effectively reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide and thereby mitigating emission from generating plants; and (3) building the supply, which means helping private forest landowners understand the dynamics of carbon in their forests, how to increase the storage of atmospheric carbon in their forests, and how they can enter the carbon market with high-quality domestic carbon credits to sell.
To this end, the Pacific Forest Trust, headquartered in Boonville, CA, has analyzed carbon storage under four types of variable retention silviculture and compared them with clear-cutting, in which no carbon is stored. Results of the analysis show that an additional 32 million tons of carbon would be stored on a given site for over 50 years under variable retention harvesting. The analysis was based on three structural principles to ensure the credibility of the resulting carbon credits: permanence, additionality, and verifiability.
The foundation of the analysis is the permanence with which the carbon will be stored, which means one must assume that the gains in stored carbon are permanent by using such tools as conservation easements that would not only protect a forest from being converted to a non-forest use but also ensure that its management would be permanently altered to increase the storage of carbon. The latter would ensure that changes in future ownership would not reduce the gains in carbon storage. In Costa Rica, for example, high-quality carbon credits are currently derived from permanently dedicated parks and permanently secured conservation easements.
Additionality is a newly coined term, which means a forest landowner must do something significant in addition to daily operations to ensure the trees on his or her property are increasing their storage of carbon, such as letting them grow for a notably longer period of time than was previously allowed before harvest. Additionality is also ensured by the conservation easement, which makes changes in management goals permanent and above prevailing norms.
The third structural principle is verifiability. Verifiability is ensured as much as possible by using well-documented data on the forest type, and state-of-the-art modeling based on decades of published scientific research, an annual third-party assessment that is required by the conservation easement.⁹
Although selling carbon credits has the potential to help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, we can no longer assume that the services Nature offers free for the taking are always going to be there because the consequences of our frequently unconscious actions affect Nature in many unforeseen and unpredictable ways. What we can be sure of, however, is that the loss of individual species and their habitats through the degradation and simplification of ecosystems can, and will, impair the ability of Nature to provide the services we need to survive with any semblance of human dignity and well-being. Losses are just that— irreversible and irreplaceable. To keep such things of value as Nature's inherent services, we must not only shift our thinking to a paradigm of sustainability but also calculate the full costs of what wedo—Genuine Progress Indicator.
If the reductionist mechanical worldview, as refitted with the aforementioned notion of eco-efficiency, were replaced with sustainability, it would look something like this:
Eliminates clear-cutting, except where ecologically necessary to create or maintain biological sustainability
Measures prosperity by the choices saved and passed forward to the next generation and the richness of things from which to choose (natural capital) that accompanies those choices
Measures productivity by the ecological integrity and health of one's forestland
Measures progress by the consciousness with which one cares for one's forestland as a biological living trust as measures by the Genuine Progress Indicator
Integrates aquatic habitats and riparian zones into the forestland as part of a seamless, interactive whole
Eliminates the notion of waste by seeing everything in the forest as part of the recyclable, reinvestable biological capital that maintains forest integrity and productivity through fertile soils
Sees the need for regulation as a failure in forestland trusteeship
Honors and protects biological, genetic, and functional diversity as the principal of the biological living trust in order to protect the productive capacity of a given forestland to provide a sustainable level of interest in terms of economic goods and services for present and future beneficiaries
To achieve the kind of revolution in consciousness that is called for by the paradigm of sustainability, we would do well to heed an ancient Arab proverb as a point of departure: Each word we utter should have to pass through three gates before we say it. At the first gate, the keeper asks, "Is this true?" At the second gate, the keeper asks, "Is it necessary?" At the third gate, the keeper asks, "Is it kind?"
How might this fit into caring for one's forest as a biological living trust? Each thought and action in caring for one's forest must pass through four gates: At the first gate of forest sustainability, the trustee asks, "Is this which I am about to do ecologically sound?" At the second gate of forest sustainability, the trustee asks, "Is this which I am about to do necessary to the ecological integrity of the forest over time?" At the third gate of forest sustainability, the trustee asks, "Is this which I am about to do ecologically kind to the forest?" At the fourth gate of forest sustainability, the trustee asks, "Is this which I am about to do something I want to be remembered for?" measures
The following two discussion of the Gross Domestic Product is based on (1) Timothy R. Campbell. 1998. Sustainable Public Policy: It's Meaning, History, and Application. A paper presented at the annual conference of the Community Development Society in Kansas City, July 19-22; (2) Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen. 1971. The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; and (3) Clifford Cobb, Ted Halstead, and Johathan Rowe. 1995. If the GDP is up, why is America down? The Atlantic Monthly, October:59-60, 62-66.
The discussion of money as a measure of success is based on: (1) Peter Lang. 1999. Money as a measure. Resurgence 192:30-31 and (2) David Boyle. 1999. The new alchemists. Resurgence 192:32-33.
The preceding discussion of "eco-efficiency" is based on: William McDonough and Michael Braungart. 1998. The next Industrial Revolution. The Atlantic Monthly, October: 82, 83-86, 88-90, 91.
The Associated Press. 1999. Washington to launch new master's program. Albany (OR) Democrat-Herald, Corvallis (OR) Gazette-Times. January 24.
(1) David Orr. 1999. Speed. Resurgence 192:16-20; (2) William McDonough and Michael Braungart. 1998. The next Industrial Revolution. The Atlantic Monthly, October: 82, 83-86, 88-90, 91 and (3) Timothy R. Campbell. 1998. Sustainable Public Policy: It's Meaning, History, and Application. A paper presented at the annual conference of the Community Development Society in Kansas City, July 19-22.
(1) Janet N. Abramovitz. 1997. Learning to Value Nature's Free Services. The Futurist 31(4):39-42 and (2) Gretchen C. Daily, Susan Alexander, Paul R. Ehrlich, Larry Goulder, Jane Lubchenco, and others. 1997. Ecosystem Services: Benefits Supplied to Human Societies by Natural Ecosystems. Issues in Ecology 2:1-16.
Janet N. Abramovitz. 1997. Learning to Value Nature's Free Services. The Futurist 31(4):39-42.
Steve Newman. 1999. Earthweek: A Diary of the Planet. Albany (OR) Democrat-Herald, Corvallis (OR) Gazette-Times. June 6.
The foregoing discussion of carbon sequestration is based on: (1) Joost Polak. 1999. Storing Carbon and Cleaning Water: How to Make Profits Without Cutting Trees. Trendlines 1(1):4 and (2) Laurie A. Wayburn. 1999. From Theory to Practice: Increasing Carbon Stores through Forest Management. Pacific Forests 2(2):1-2.
The less you need, the freer you become. — E. F. Schumacher
©chris maser 2006. All rights reserved.