As the world spins deeper into economic recession (is anyone formally using the word “depression” yet?), it seems appropriate to take a look at the number by which we measure such things: the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. This mega-statistic is the indicator used by countries since WWII to measure their growth, and is by far the dominant measure of overall national progress. And yet, the creator of the GDP, Simon Kuznets, actually warned the United States Congress against using it to measure national progress. In this video excerpt (of a lecture given in Australia in 2001), I recount the history of the GDP. I also once wrote a song about the GDP — yes, a song, sung to the tune of a lively Latvian melody — but more about that later.
This article was commissioned by the Japanese energy magazine “Global Edge,” and reprinted also at Worldchanging.com.
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In May of 2008, while visiting Jakarta, I came across a newspaper story about a protest there. Hundreds of people had gathered in front of the gates of a charitable NGO whose mission was to feed poor people. The NGO was simply unable to provide enough rice, tofu and other staples to meet the need. The newspaper explained that the protest had been triggered by the global spike in food prices, which made some staple items unaffordable or — thanks to export freezes — unavailable. But poor, hungry people are not able to differentiate between the “invisible hands” of global markets, and the visible hands that are directly feeding them. The people had come to regard this NGO as something like an “official agency” for food distribution, so they took their unhappiness directly to its door. Continue reading Food, Fuel and Fiber? The Challenge of Using the Earth to Grow Energy
I sat in the petrol station, playing my guitar to the African night, watching the cars, taxis, and mopeds cruise in looking for a couple of liters of fuel, while my driver did his level best to get the van started again. “No petrol, only diesel” was the answer everyone got from the kind attendant; many of the vehicles never stopped rolling, and just passed on to the next establishment.
My driver was crouched in the back seat of his van, where he was hooking up his two reserve batteries to his well-used jumper cables, while the attendant stuck himself halfway behind the wheel, took the key, and followed my driver’s bluntly delivered instructions: “Turn on. Wait. Start.” (Ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh …) “Turn off. Wait.” Continue reading Letter from Entebbe: Which Way is Up?
“Let’s talk about transformation for a couple of minutes” says the moderator, John Kao (a San Francisco-based consultant who also plays a mean jazz piano). Apparently, that’s all the time they have.
At the moment, three business leaders are on the stage, representing a major car company, a big bank, and a smaller, socially responsible bank. We’ve heard some good stories, and some good marketing messages of course, the highlight of which was the origin of the Carbon Principles: one big bank actually listened to Jim Hansen, and put a chokehold on new funding for coal-fired power plants in the United States. Continue reading Letter from Tällberg: Let’s Talk about Transformation
Here at the Tällberg Forum— Sweden’s annual festival of words and music, science and dreams about sustainability and globalization — things are getting a little clearer. This is the last day, so it’s just in time.
Take 350, for example. This morning I went to the great big tent to join a very small group in a “Hosted Conversation” on the topic of communication and climate change. Bill McKibben, originator of 350.org, was there. So was Mark Lynas, who wrote Six Degrees, as well as two of Sweden’s TV meteorologists (the weather is so important here that weather reporters have become key climate change communicators). And the King was there as well, with a surprisingly small retinue, just listening. We heard from a businessman who had been a reluctant, slow convert to the cause (he now dedicates 50 percent of his time to the issue); a bishop who sparked off talk about the nearly taboo (in Sweden) topic of religion as a force for change; and a young activist who is trying to get everyone to paint one finger green as a badge of commitment. Continue reading Letter from Tällberg: Turn Back, O Man