by Pamela Boyce Simms
|The Earth Day to May Day celebrations in Rosendale focus
on topics ranging from Edible Plant Identification to
Sour Dough Breadmaking. Illustrations by Amy Trompetter.
The more oil we consume, wars we fight, forests decimated, drugs bought and sold, the stronger the GDP becomes. All of these activities drive robust economic growth. GDP – Gross Domestic Product, a once trusted signpost designed to indicate how well the economy is doing, measures money spent and goods consumed, irrespective of the consequences on our quality of life. Something is wrong with a picture in which building more prisons and rampant deforestation point to society being on the road toward economic success.
The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) on the other hand measures what really counts. GPI is a more comprehensive way of measuring economic progress that factors in and takes responsibility for the social and environmental costs inherent in economic activity. Unlike GDP, GPI weighs elements such as pollution inherent in industrial growth, crime, health-enhancing value of leisure time, walkable streets and volunteerism in its calculation of what constitutes “progress.”
In sync with the Transition movement’s goals, the GPI metric assigns greater value to the quality of life than just money flows, prioritizes cooperation over competition, and focuses on building healthy communities for everyone rather than concentrating wealth in the hands of a few. As Transition towns work toward resilience, they erects new signposts, alternative frames of reference for assessing quality of life, which underscore human and environmental wellbeing.
GDP was intended as an informational marker that would supposedly gauge and reflect what we consider economic “success.” But the type of information that we gather, how we gather it, and how we present it shape our goals, priorities, actions and institutions. For decades we trusted, often unquestioningly, that wise “authorities” created the GDP indicator for our guidance and own good.
On the contrary, GDP took on a life of its own, compelling countries to pursue growth at all costs, fueling rampant consumerism that has plundered the environment and eroded our well-being. Pursuit of growth in GDP has encouraged people to rush like lemmings, headlong off of the cliff of environmental and economic crisis.
The Genuine Progress Indicator facilitates Transition’s intent to shift prevailing cultural attitudes away from the high-consumption, “bigger is better” economic growth mindset. GPI combines 26 economic, social and environmental indicators into a measurement framework that provides a more holistic and accurate description of “progress.” GPI focuses people’s attention on how they can ground themselves where they are; treasure what they already have; hunker down and create meaningful, healthy lifestyles that maintain environmental integrity.
To that end, Transitioners in the Mid-Atlantic region are promoting awareness of GPI as an important tool that supports the framework in which we Transition villages, towns, and chunks of cities toward self-reliance. The GPI alternative accounting framework corroborates Transition’s efforts to shift values, prioritizing more sustainable, simpler, slower, and probably more labor intensive, but ultimately more satisfying lifestyles.
Public education about GPI and the need to factor the true costs and benefits of economic growth into economic indicators drove ten days of Transition celebrations from Earth Day to May Day last month. These events were orchestrated by Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) Council members from Connecticut to Virginia. The MATH Council is comprised of 24 representatives from the seven Mid-Atlantic States who work within their own local Transition initiatives, network with Transition Towns throughout their respective states, and combine forces (remotely) on a regular basis to promote regionally integrated Transitioning.
Mid-Atlantic Transition Towns highlighted the need to move beyond growth in GDP as the measure and goal of economic activity, to improvements in human, social and environmental health as the appropriate measures. MATH Council festivities ranged from happy-dance flashmobs in the streets, to Resilient Response storytelling and improvisational theatre, foraging and feasting on woodland edibles, an Ecovillage debut, and joint Transition-timebank activities throughout the region. Transitioners underscored the value of carbon neutral, health enhancing economic activity as the pivotal determinants of true progress.
The state of Maryland is one of two states that have adopted the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and committed to factoring it into legislation, regulations and statewide programming. MATH has partnered with the Maryland Field Office of the Institute for Policy Study’s New Economy Working Group in Washington, D.C. which is spearheading the promotion of GPI adoption. MATH Transitioners will serve as a regional “focus group;” a feedback loop that will tap into its networks to facilitate local adaptation and use of GPI to “measure what we treasure.”
Pamela Boyce Simms is a Transition Trainer
Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) of Transition US