Periodically, there is a barrage of e-mail in my inbox questioning the science that suggests global warming is occurring. When such an e-mail deluge strikes I embrace my ability to think critically. My thoughts go like this:
The concern with global warming is leading us to examine our production and consumption processes and assumptions about what is progress. This examination has led to a greater awareness for myself and some others that every thing, absolutely every thing that we use, abuse and enjoy in our daily lives is provided to us by the earth! And, we humans are changing the nature of the earth by our ability to extract, transform and discard as waste the very composition of the earth. It’s an awesome realization.
In fact, the pace at which we are bringing about this change in the composition of the earth is accelerating exponentially due to the continuously increasing rate of our individual rates of consumption and increasing global population. Culturally, we consider an increased rate of consumption to be human progress.
Since the 1930s, the accepted measure of the financial well-being of the U.S. economy has been gross domestic product (GDP). In 1955, some 55 years ago, Victor Lebow wrote in the Journal of Retailing, “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. . . . We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace.”
This primary emphasis on GDP encourages increasing our production and consumption while neglecting other aspects of human health and well-being. GDP has been criticized as a measure of national well-being for some time. And, the U.S., which ranks number 1 globally for total GDP, ranks much lower by other measures. For example, the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI) measures three areas of human development: health, knowledge and a decent standard of living. Health is measured by life expectancy at birth; knowledge is measured by a combination of the adult literacy rate and the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrollment ratio; and standard of living is measured by GDP per capita (computed as purchasing power parity in U.S. dollars). Using 2007 data, the 2009 report ranks the U.S. 13th. However, when we look at the components of the HDI we see that it is the GDP per capita ranking at 9th that improves our health ranking (26th) and knowledge ranking (21st).
My conclusion is that it doesn’t matter if the science suggesting global warming is faulty or not. Simple observation suggests our emphasis on consumption is not delivering the quality of life we assume and is not sustainable in the long-run. Such things as creating an economy and culture based on factors other than production and consumption will take both time and wisdom. It is not too soon to begin.