Measuring What We Want
The Manitoba Government intends to introduce a new piece of legislation, the Green Prosperity Act. In anticipation of that it is circulating a document TomorrowNow – the Manitoba Green Plan, and is inviting comment on this Plan. The Plan is available on-line, with provision for comment.
The plan uses some strong language such as “shifting to a low-carbon economy”, and “transition towards goals of sustainable development”. These verbs imply a very fundamental change in the way we think and the way we do things. This language implies that profound changes are necessary.
This is what we have been saying in this blog. At the South Eastman Transition Initiative, we believe that if the prosperity we treasure and currently enjoy is to continue, we will need to fundamentally change the way we do things. Nothing less will do!
But we want our prosperity! We don’t want to go back to the hard work and hard times that was the lot of our ancestors. I don’t think we need to, nor do the writers of TomorrowNow.
But we will go back to the hard work and hard times of the past if things crash, and things will crash if we exhaust our natural resources. We need to plan to live within our means – not just for the next month or year, but for the next fifty or hundred years. This is as true for our community and our province as it is true for a household. We need to find ways of separating the important from the unimportant. We need to recognize that growth is not the answer. A family living in a larger house is not, by virtue of the house, happier and better off than a family living in a smaller house. Happiness and well being are more complex than that. But the family in the larger house is consuming more of the earth’s resources, and by virtue of that, contributing more toward the ultimate crash of our resource dependant way of life.
Someone has said “What you measure is what you get.” Implicit in TomorrowNow is the conventional assumption that the measure of success of government policy is GDP. This needs to change. GDP as a measure of prosperity and success needs to be supplanted with some other measure that more accurately reflects prosperity. Although I am not a statistician, I can readily believe that GDP is one of the easiest measurements to collect. But data is not useful, if the data does not quantify what we want to achieve.
A lot of work has already gone into the development of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. Unfortunately, so far it has little buy in from government at any level, not the federal government, not the provincial governments, nor most of Canada’s cities. We need to embrace it. Of course it will take effort and commitment to learn to use such a different policy tool, but to avoid using it means that we are destined to lose what we want because we are only measuring what is easy, our GDP.