The Second International Conference on Gross National Happiness
Local Pathways to Global Wellbeing
St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada
June 20 to June 24, 2005
June 22, 1:30 pm
Counting so it Counts
Ronald Colman (Chair), Executive Director, GPIAtlantic.
Concluding remarks, outlining the importance of indicator work. Current global ecological crisis attributed to perverse system of economic measurement which counts environmental destruction as financial—and thereby societal—gain. Necessity of adopting more holistic framework for evaluation of progress. Announcement of such an initiative at the national level: the newly-launched Canadian Index of Wellbeing.
John Helliwell, Professor of Economics at the University of British Columbia.
Account of empirical research into correlates of increased life satisfaction. Key finding is that the role of constituent factors is not absolute but rather contingent on individuals’ perceptions of how favoured they are with respect to a given factor relative to other members of society. Contention that such perceptions are systematically skewed through advertising in general and television in particular. Thesis that people will change their behaviour for the better if given the right messages by campaigners.
Alton Hollett, Director of Statistics for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador; and Doug May—Professor of Economics at Memorial University.
Narrative of the creation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Community Accounts.
Mathis Wackernagel, Executive Director of the Global Footprint Network.
Description of the “ecological footprint,” a graphic means of expressing human impacts on the environment. Comparison with other measures used to chart progress—Gross Domestic Product and the Human Development Index—and explanation of the failings of these that are corrected by the ecological footprint. Invitation to promote the new methodology through the Global Footprint Network.
Marilyn Waring, Professor of Public Policy at Massey University, New Zealand.
Description of the Millenium Development Goals with analysis of strengths, flaws and lacunae. Recommended MDG elements include the restrictions on recourse to economic protectionism in donor countries and to “tied” aid. Aspects deemed weak include the failure to address the practice of assessing costs of military deployment as development spending. Major gaps include absence of attention to women’s unpaid labour and to issues of sexual health.
|Ronald Colman||Dr. Marilyn Waring is a friend and a protector and an adviser in our indicator measurement work at GPIAtlantic. She’s been an inspiration to us from the very start. She’s one of the great pioneers in critiquing the limitations of GDP and in coming up with better measures of progress. But her credentials are far broader than that. She’s a consultant on development to the United Nations, and she’s played a leading role in championing the value and importance of women’s work around the world and in development. If must we use labels, I feel she is the greatest feminist economist in the world today. So, with deep respect, Dr. Marilyn Waring.|
Thank you, Ron, and thank you very much for the invitation to be here again in Nova Scotia.
I left New Zealand on Sunday evening and since then 60,000 people have died from poverty. In a single week the number of dead exceeded the death toll from the Boxing Day tsunami. And the majority of those victims were female. The ratio of fatalities gives a very clear account of the differences between the lives of men and women: in some of the most devastated areas, the proportion of those who died was 80 percent female.
And where were these women when they died? I don’t imagine they were all going to or from water courses carrying their loads, or even that they were all gathered for the communal washing. But they were in different places from the men and they had the children to carry or look after when the waves came. And they were restricted and encumbered by dress codes that make it more difficult to run. And even if they could drive motorcycles and cars they wouldn’t have been the ones with the keys. And no one had ever taught them to swim. I’ve seen these reports only in the communications from feminist NGOs in the region—nowhere else.
I want to put the Millennium Development Goals on the table at this conference. Minister Thinley mentioned them in his address yesterday morning. The Millennium Development Goals—the MDGs—are the biggest game on the planet for the next 10 years for all the countries in the southern hemisphere. It’s what this G8 thing is all about. It’s what the concert at Barrie is supposed to be about. So if you’re thinking of going to Barrie next week, either physically or emotionally, there are some things you need to know and there are some decisions you need to take.
I’ll begin with a brief list of the key Millennium Development Goals: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.
Jeffrey Sachs, who’s the author of these, has been selling them around the world as if they’re something new. Well, he’s of an age where he ought to know there’s no such thing. These follow the UN Development Decades and the North-South Dialogues—these are just the next version.
Be that as it may, there’s an interesting implication for Canada because the MDGs require donor countries to extend 0.7 percent per annum of Gross National Income in official development assistance; and it was Lester Person who originally proposed the 0.7 percent figure. Now in the last 35 years the world has spent US $2.3 trillion on official development assistance and frankly this hasn’t been a great success. So it’s got to be different this time; but at the moment there’s not much prospect of that.
So let’s have a look at what the package is that you’re agreeing to if you want to go to Barrie. To begin with, you’re saying that by 2015 Canada should put 0.7 percent of its GNI towards official development assistance. Canada currently has an ODA budget of $3 billion. It has committed to an eight percent per annum increase over the next five years. Canada is also part of debt forgiveness for 18 countries. And the third part of the equation is the removal of trade barriers for access to markets: let’s start with that one.
A major ingredient in the North-South imbalance in poverty levels is the protectionist stance of the European Union, Japan, the United States and Canada, which limits access to markets for goods—primary commodity products in particular—from the South. This is the great hypocrisy of the World Trade Organization and so-called free trade. Through subsidies, tariff barriers, quotas and a variety of other instruments, many of which are nothing but fabrication and manipulation, the North protects its own producers and limits market access.
So here’s your first choice. Do you support the unconditional removal of protective instruments in Canada so that the South can trade on a more equal footing? If you answer “Yes,” then you can go to Barrie. That’s round one.
I noticed that many of you clapped rapturously at the comments made by Joel Salatin about localization of production and processing and markets. So does that mean, for those of you who supported the removal of trade restrictions, that all the same there shouldn’t be trade because of the energy consumption required to get the material to your market? If you answer “No,” you can go to Barrie.
Now Ralph Goodale and Paul Martin want to know where the extra money is going to come from for Canada to meet the goal of 0.7 percent by 2015. So if you are still surviving after the first two rounds you just helped them out a lot through the savings that will be achieved by the revocation of subsidy payments, which is what you called for a moment ago.
The Millennium Development Goals require the elimination of tariffs, and quota-free access for the least developed countries. I’m not sure if Canada has that or not; let’s presume for now that it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, how many of you support this goal? Alright: you can go to Barrie.
Now let’s have a quick look at these IFIs—international financial institutions. There is the World Bank; the International Monetary Fund; the Asian Development Bank; the African Development Bank. Perhaps Canada sends senior development analysts and experts to council meetings of these IFIs—but despite the amount of money that is spent on development assistance by these agencies, these delegations are usually led by functionaries from the treasury or the central bank.
I mention this because I think it’s time we really had a go at these institutions—and not from the streets but from inside. These IFIs are only the creatures of nation state members and I’m tired of the notion that they’re not our servants and not accountable to us. To start with, we want leadership from our delegation that insists on the adoption of basic human rights policies. And access to water should be non-negotiable: it should never be the subject of, for example, a conditional privatization.
It was very nice when the World Bank discovered the poor about 10 years ago but there’s not really much evidence that this has informed their practice since; and it now feels very scary to have Wolfowitz in charge. I have personal experience of that man in operation and it was not pretty. So our delegations have to be there forcing these IFIs into practices that are different.
And there’s another problem that we have to tackle with these IFIs: they have no legal character. It reminds me of the corporation. They cannot be held accountable for their manifold human rights abuses: forced resettlements—which they call “transmigration”—for a start. They also cannot be held vicariously negligent for the indebtedness that they assist through vast ODA loans that finish up in the Swiss bank accounts of highly corrupt, despotic thugs. Do they know that this is going on? Of course they do. They have the capacity to monitor it. They can even tell you the extent of it, on almost a daily basis. It’s not arriving where it ought to. And yet, on the basis that they cannot interfere in the activities of a sovereign state, they go on paying. So are you prepared to work on your government to take a new approach with others to challenge this nonsense? If you answer “Yes,” you can go to Barrie.
Next you have to know about some of the very edgy games that count as official development assistance. The development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development draws lines in the sand, saying that counts as ODA and this doesn’t. There’s a protective boundary, for example, around most things military. The best way to explain this is by example.
When New Zealand dispatched army medics to the tsunami it was simple: it counted. When New Zealand dispatched army engineers on rebuilding programs to Iraq and Afghanistan the deployment costs had to be met by the defence force but the costs of the materials to fix the schools, the hospitals and the water system were assessed as ODA.
It ought to make you very nervous when soldiers are flying around claiming to be expert development consultants, but that’s where the line is currently drawn. As you can imagine, with the current pressure to build up official development assistance to 0.7 percent, there is considerable incentive to claim that many things that you already do should count as ODA. This gives the appearance that you’ve increased assistance when what you’ve really done is moved the line. A lot of OECD members are trying to move the line so as to underwrite the training of new defence forces. Canada is in favour of this. So are you prepared to work very hard to ensure that Canada is not joining the beast below to move the demarcation line around this issue? If you answer “Yes,” then you can go to Barrie.
Now let’s have a look at something called “tied” aid. This is where the donor country makes a project or program contingent on the use of products, services and experts from the donor country. Canada was among the world champions at this at one stage. Official development assistance from Canada had to use Canadians and materials had to be made in Canada. I think I remember an OECD comparator that suggested that, in this way, Canada managed to spend three-quarters of the total sum it committed to official development assistance in any given year in Canada and on Canadians. Did you know that? There’s been some improvement: now only about 50 percent of Canada’s official development assistance is tied.
By contrast, the Millennium Development Goals aim to use local experts and local products. It wouldn’t matter how many PhDs I had in subsistence agriculture in Bhutan, I still would not know about agriculture in Bhutan. Locals are the experts. The MDGs require tenders for processing, production and services so that the dollars can go further. Do you agree that Canada should untie the great majority of its official development assistance? If you answer “Yes,” then you can go to Barrie.
Just so you don’t feel too bad, you should know that New Zealand was the champion until only four years ago. Now Canada’s always been good at this too, but it wasn’t as good as us. In fact, at one stage a third of all New Zealand’s official development assistance was directed to tertiary scholarships in New Zealand universities. This was a simple transfer: award scholarships to people from all over the world; fly them to New Zealand on Air New Zealand; put them in New Zealand universities, which are crown agencies—and all the treasury has to do is take the money out the consolidated account and pay it to New Zealand entities.
There are no tracing studies to see if these students return to play a part in their home countries. Frequently, we all know, these scholarships are nepotistic. It’s really good to be the daughter or the son or the niece or the nephew or the third cousin of some corrupt despot: you’ll get one of these scholarships. But from the studies that are available it seems that the best investments at a post-secondary level are for short-term, upgrading courses conducted in the region. So do you support a reconfiguration of the Canadian International Development Agency’s investment in education to change from tertiary scholarships to free and universal primary education? If you say “Yes,” you can go to Barrie.
The last three decades of official development assistance have seen grotesque outcomes as a result of conditionalities—especially privatization and market liberalization. And then there’s the Japanese whaling game, and the two Chinas game, and the coalition of the willing game. All of this has given conditionality a bad name. But they’re still alive and well, all of these. And because they’re so dreadful, there’s a problem.
There is room for conditionality. The revenue-paying public and donor countries have a right to require standard undertakings that aid will be withdrawn if there are major increases in military expenditure; if there are gross violations of human rights; if financial management is not transparent and accountable. And I would also say that there should be withdrawal if there is corruption—but it might be a little bit difficult for Canada to take that position because, along with the other members of the G8, it has not ratified the UN Convention on Corruption—let alone what’s happening in Quebec. And then Canada can adopt some clean, specific guidelines, such as those above, as bottom lines for ODA bilateral partners. If you’re prepared to put this lobbying on your advocacy agenda then you can go to Barrie.
There’s some other interesting hypocrisy around the Millennium Development Goals. For example, the third Millennium Development Goal calls for women’s equal representation in national parliaments. I know that Nunavut got close; and I’d be very interested to find out if Bhutan’s draft constitution addresses this issue. While I think it’s a great idea I’d really like the donor community to impose this goal on themselves before they start on the rest of the world.
There is also an expectation that the Millennium Development Goals will be guided by so-called poverty reduction strategy programs. Yet, British researchers have found that poverty reduction strategy programs imposed by the World Bank and the regional banks are: “gender-blind,” “male-dominated” and “ineffective in responding to local needs and perspectives.”
You might have heard or noticed that there’s a complete absence of a specific sexual or reproductive health Millennium Development Goal. Now you have to understand that if you aren’t covered by an MDG, you just aren’t part of the equation. This means that countries such as New Zealand and Canada are going to have to boost the amount going into sexual and reproductive health programs. You’ll need to raise Canada’s contribution to UNFPA or to International Planned Parenthood. Why? Because the presumption is that all the increases in development dollars will be directed solely towards the MDGs. Thus the money that is going into sexual and reproductive health has been reconfigured into something else and it’s supposed to just drop off the agenda.
Proponents of the Millennium Development Goals are pleased with themselves because people will no longer need to take a couple of hours a day to haul two buckets of water since the digging of new wells is provided for by the infrastructure agenda. However, HIV/AIDS patients need 12 buckets of water per day, and much of that water must be boiled. Perhaps the assumption is that there’s water nearby and the “3 by 5” program of antiretrovirals is in place.
Setting that aside, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the MDGs that recognizes that hauling water is simply one iteration of the unpaid labour that women are dragooned into doing. The MDGs take no account of situations where a 12-year old girl is tied down by caring for her family 24 hour per day, 7 days a week, because she is the most senior able-bodied person in her household. The MDGs offer nothing to ensure that that girl is relieved of what she’s doing so that she can go to school, or that other women—auntie, grandma, whoever is left—gets relief from the 24/7 so that she can go off and be a beekeeper or whatever.
Well surprise, surprise. This happens all the time. Here’s a story: there was major civil strife in the Solomon Islands; people were being killed. Women met together at the YWCA, night after night, to plan their intervention. Very bravely, when no one else would go, they got together and took cigarettes, fresh greens, and whatever else was available, to the other side of the front lines. And these women made the peace.
Then Australians came in on a warship to hold “the peace talks”—and they invited no women. Then the Australians took over to implement the “new model” for the Solomon Islands. A donor conference was held and discussed the MDGs—a donor conference where civil society was supposed to be consulted and to have input. And at this conference no woman’s voice was heard and a white man with a North American accent spoke on behalf of the women of the Solomon Islands. There’s a real problem here.
OK: if you now have all your “yeses” and “noes” right then I guess you can go to Barrie. But don’t think that it’s this simple—that you can say, “I think Canada should go up to 0.7 percent,” and then you can go off to the concert and that’s all you have to think about. Because you’ve got a lot more political judgements and pressures that you’ve got to operate on at your local level before you turn on that telly. I’m telling you: my voice is going to be in your ears anytime you try to watch that concert if you haven’t done any of this!
The only way the next 10 years are going to be any different conceptually, theoretically and practically is for them to be transformative. It’s about making the invisible visible in such a way that it challenges the power dynamics of the accepted order. It’s got to displace the status quo and business as usual to occupy a fundamental policy space from the very inception of a program of activity. It’s got to be a technical and political process of engagement—an iterative process of engagement—with the people at the grassroots throughout the life of the engagement. The issue has to be analyzed and strategized, and resources must be allocated according to the capacity and capability of the partner country. Human rights and the environment and gender cannot be just a little addition to the agenda or a numerical output description. A focus on environment, human rights, gender, structural issues of injustice and exploitation, and inequality at a very deep level, must be central feature to any poverty analysis. This requires new policies, new processes and new frameworks. If you believe all that, then have a great time—be happy in Barrie.
Thank you so much: that brings it right back home.
I got a note to introduce the next speaker simply as “an indicator”—full stop. Dr. John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia is a world-renowned economist. He is the author of many books; most recently, Globalization and Wellbeing. In recent years Dr. Helliwell has become one of the world’s leading experts on directly measuring wellbeing.
I’m going to tell you something I told the workshop yesterday: the series of discoveries that ended up turning me from an economist into an epidemiologist/psychologist/sociologist who studies wellbeing.
If the mindset of the rest of the world—not of the people in this room—is going to be changed, it will probably require action on many fronts. And one of those fronts is to convince people that focusing on GDP and the like is doing the wrong job in the wrong way. This requires that one speak to people in terms they’re familiar with, so I will be quantifying some of these things to show you a little bit about what makes people happy and to see what the implications of that are.
The first data I want to share are answers to a simple question: “How satisfied are you with your life?” These are average values across a number of countries. Some of my colleagues argue that these differences are too big to be believed; I don’t agree. As it happens, differences across communities within a single city are even greater than those across countries.
Canada now has the best database for life-satisfaction observations of any country in the world. When you combine Statistics Canada’s general social survey with its ethnic diversity survey you can now track, at a census level, how happy people are with their lives. In this way you can see what kinds of communities really work for the people in them, and which don’t.
These are early days for this research. One of the techniques we use at this point predicts people’s propensity to smile; this works very well and we use a whole range of other activities, and more complicated questions, to back it up. So there appears to be something real here.
One thing we’ve found is that average levels of life satisfaction are lower in the city core than they are in surrounding areas. And this holds true in all of the metropolitan districts of Canada, though we don’t have the data for other countries so I can’t tell you about that. And what is the single biggest explanatory factor for this? Whether the average person in that neighbourhood thinks their neighbours can be trusted. The correlation of income per capita and these measures of happiness is zero across communities. So now you see the story that’s going to be coming out of these data.
What supports wellbeing? Trust; engagement; feeling efficacious—the combination is what it takes. Family, friends, and neighbours are enormously important. This means that people who work longer hours and have longer commutes are taking time away from things that are really valuable for their happiness. They do this in order to get more material goods and services.
What else is important? Good health—serious illness is a serious negative factor. High quality in government—which is where we bring in the question of development. When we try to explain the differences in subjective wellbeing across countries there is a correlation between income and average satisfaction; but once you factor in the role of government the effect of income disappears. So it’s only to the extent that countries use their higher education levels and standards of living in order to get high quality government that it does them any good. In the absence of that it’s not worth having.
No TV. There was an experiment done in British Columbia where one community watched television and the other didn’t. In the one that got television, role models for young females changed relatively quickly in a negative direction, and organization at the community level started falling apart within a very few years. These were matched communities, living at the same point in history, with roughly similar populations. So the case is there.
How do we make people change their moorings? You can affect not only how hard people work, and what incomes they get, but you can also affect their expectations of what they want in the way of income and how they want to use it. Consider that the variable of trust in one’s neighbours differs a whole lot by neighbourhood. This isn’t correlated with income per capita but it is correlated with life satisfaction. So that tells you once more that you can’t feel properly engaged if you don’t trust the people you engage with on a regular basis. Engagement breeds trust; trust supports engagement: two-way flow; both parts critical.
Now let me say to the younger component of the audience that it’s going to get bad for a while but then afterwards it’s going to get better and better; and by the time you’re my age you get up and say that each day is better than the day that came before. This U-shaped age pattern in subjective wellbeing is apparent in almost every country. It’s probably related to a stress factor—people not handling a multiple range of stresses—or maybe it’s something intrinsic.
People in developing countries are happier as income goes up, while in the richer countries there’s not much difference after the middle of the income distribution is reached. What matters is life satisfaction, of which financial satisfaction is a component; but total income has very little to do with it. What is important are family, friends and neighbours—huge effects there relative to those for income.
I’ve put this in dollar terms as a way of showing that though effects of income—relative income—are significant, they’re actually quite small relative to the other determinants. So I have formulated annual salary equivalents to show the importance of trust; various marital statuses; unemployment; illness; frequent visits to family, friends and neighbours. Note that subjection to discrimination is a very big negative; a belief in God a strong positive—equivalent to $20,000 per year.
We only recently got smart enough to realize that if social capital and trust matter, then what happens in that certain stage of life where roughly half of one’s waking hours are spent in the workplace must matter too. Turns out it matters so much that it dwarfs a lot else. To be in a workplace where people think that management can be trusted is worth the equivalent of 40 percent of the average person’s income. Workplace trust is very high on average—seven and a half on a scale of 1–10—but there’s still a lot of dispersion. I don’t think the average worker knows that s/he doesn’t have to put up with an untrustworthy job environment. And I don’t think most employers realize the importance of the happiness of the people who work there.
I think there is revolutionary change about to happen in our working lives. Other job characteristics are also very important. The one that falls out—zero effect—is control. There’s an interesting set of stories to tell about that. In spite all of the studies, a lot of people have thought that people loved being in control—but that is simply not the case. It’s these other factors that matter. Making decisions gives you a little more job satisfaction but it washes out completely in life satisfaction.
Before, when I did these wellbeing talks, somebody would always want to know, “If they’re so happy in Sweden then why do so many people there commit suicide?” Why does Sweden top the subjective wellbeing list but falls in the middle of the pack of industrial countries for suicide rates? The answer doesn’t lie in membership and trust—both which are very high in Sweden—because they have the same effects on both: big but the same. It lies in divorce—which is higher in Sweden than elsewhere and which has a stronger effect on suicide than it has on life satisfaction—and most explicitly in the quality of government: this is very high in Sweden and has a huge effect on life satisfaction; but it has relatively modest effects on the suicide rate. So at bottom there is no difference between these two. This is one way of giving a reality check to these subjective happiness data—to be able to say they tell a very similar story when mapped even onto the behaviour of those who are least happy with their lives.
I was wondering this morning how I was going to link the two halves of this discussion: happiness and sustainability. One point to keep in mind is that when your own income goes up you are indeed happier; but, across communities, there is no greater happiness in richer constituencies. What that means is that people are unhappier when their neighbours are richer—so the “Joneses effect” that exercised Thorstein Veblen is alive and well and living in Canada. And it’s not just living in Canada: it’s living everywhere. This means that people have gotten the wrong message.
There’s a lot of evidence that people systematically overestimate how much happiness they are going to get from material things. Experiments have shown that people generally assess themselves as morally superior to others and at the same time they typically believe that they’re poorer than they actually are relative to their fellow citizens. This is very destructive psychologically, and it’s simply false.
Where are these false images coming from? By and large, from TV: it shows you people who are richer than you are, and spending more money than you are, and doing worse things than you are.
So what is required to bring about the needed sea change? A book can set a lot of waves going but the fundamental behaviour shifts are going to have to come from every individual and every family. People like to have standards—psychology is very clear about this—they like to have something to try and achieve and they like to be able to achieve it. So if we’re going to collectively move in the right direction then we have to design goals that are consistent with sustainability. The consumption goal is not. The income goal is not.
If people want to compare themselves to others then we have to shift over to the kind of behaviour that has positive spillovers for everybody, and not the obviously negative effects on the environment and other people that material ones do. I know this is possible because people are buying “green” labels. People are acting as though they’re ready to start shifting. It’s up to people like us and the organizations we work in to give them the facts, open the doors, give them chances to set up new models for this kind of behaviour.
People like to do the right thing, but they need to be told what the right thing is. If the message is: “Buy a BMW!” then they’ll buy a BMW; but we know that’s the wrong thing, so the other messages have to come through. And they have to come through in a way that’s believable. And the change that’s required must come from the bottom up.
See also: Understanding Happiness (240K PDF)
John Helliwell: the Ray Anderson of international economics. He’s a world-renowned economist, trained at Oxford and Harvard, who has done absolutely the world’s leading edge work on measuring the correlates of wellbeing. As someone who is somewhat familiar with the literature, I know of no one else who’s done such remarkably good empirical work on issues such as the relationship between income and wellbeing.
Our next speaker is Mathis Wackernagel, originator of one of the most powerful measurement tools of the modern era —and I don’t say that lightly. The concept of the ecological footprint, which he developed together with William Rees at the University of British Columbia, is probably the strongest and most useful tool available for measuring our progress towards sustainability.
Dr. Ronald Colman
“The onus is on us”
QuickTime Video Clip
Until Mathis Wackernagel and Bill Rees came up with the ecological footprint we were accustomed to measuring sustainability in a way that put the entire onus on producers. We had natural resource accounts: how healthy are our forests, our fisheries and our soils? But it was only the producers—the farmers, the loggers, the fishermen—who were charged with acting sustainably. We consumers always got away scot-free. But the ecological footprint puts the onus directly on the consumer. We can no longer get away with just blaming the corporations and the governments. We have to take full responsibility.
We’re so honoured to have the developer of that tool with us today. A man who these days goes to the United Nations, to the King of Sweden, around the world explaining how to implement the ecological footprint: Mathis Wackernagel.
Thank you so very much; and thanks to Ron, in particular, for his kind introduction.
When the United States entered World War II, US strategists realized that they could lose either on the battlefield or in economic terms, so they wanted to know how much they could afford to invest in military machinery. The government rounded up their best economists and told them to develop the measure that came to be known as Gross Domestic Product—GDP.
Now, more than sixty years later, we have won economically. The human enterprise has never been as successful, never been endowed with as much prowess as today. The question has now become, how will we avoid losing the future ecologically in spite of our economic success?
For one thing, we need measures like the ecological footprint to determine whether we are running out of planet; whether one planet is big enough. So the question for the 21st century really becomes, how can we all have rewarding, satisfying, happy lives within the capacity of this one planet?
The first challenge is that the traditional development model of economic expansion is really addictive. Providing more every time is incredibly helpful to ease conflicts. We need more schools—let’s build more schools! There is congestion on the motorway,—let’s build more highways!
This works in the short term and it’s very cheap. It’s useful and profitable for many that are participating in overusing the resources. We can concentrate the benefits. We can spread out the costs. That’s why we need measures to capture the consequences and costs of our operations—and that’s what the ecological footprint does very simply, in two ways. First, by looking at supplies: for example, how many plants do we have? Second, by tallying demand: how much of nature do we actually use? And then we can add up these numbers: about 5,000 data points per year per country for 150 countries or more.
On the supply side, if we divide the biologically productive space on the planet by the number of people in 2001, we find that about 1.8 hectares are available per person. There are other species that need some space, too, but that’s what we have for forests, fisheries, grazing lands, etc. When we compare that with how much we use for providing food, fibres, timber, CO2 absorption and so on, we discover that we are using 2.2 hectares per person.
I must be lying, you think. How can we use more land than we have? We can—how can we spend more money than we earn? We can harvest forests more rapidly than they can grow back. We can fish more rapidly than fish reproduce. We can use overall resources more rapidly than they can be replenished.
Consider the global trend over time. When I was born humanity was using resources equal to half the planet’s supply; today we use the equivalent of 1.2 planets.
You can also look at it country by country; you can look at your own country and see how much is actually being used per person as compared to the global average of 1.8 hectares. Canadians, for example, use 6.4 hectares each; that’s about three and a half times more than what we have available globally. So it would take about three and a half full planets to support everybody at the Canadian lifestyle.
Now how does one bring this idea into the mainstream? The method I would propose is rather simple. In the end, what we want is happiness. Sustainable development is built on the premise that “development” is something that we really want, while “sustainable” reminds us that there’s still only one planet.
If we just use two crude measures to capture sustainable development we have the Human Development Index. It’s not about beauty or anything—it’s just asking: “Do people live long lives? Are they literate? Do they have income?”
That’s one axis. But how many hectares does it take to provide what the Human Development Index takes to be “the good life?” The UN considers 0.8 HDI to be an appropriate level—but in the past 30 years only a single country has come close to that goal while making an ecological footprint of less than 1.8 hectares per person.
My vision is that we can break and change the current development paradigm. One of the most destructive ideas of the 20th century was the idea of development: that, like us, everybody should be using the equivalent of five planets—if we all lived like the United States, humanity would need five planets. Can that really be physically possible? I think not.
So how can we break this paradigm? Everybody still talks about developing and developed countries. I think the future will not be divided between developing and developed countries but between ecological creditors—countries that use less than the natural resource capacity available—and ecological debtors, which use more than the proportionate share that is legitimately available to them. This is becoming increasingly important: that’s why financial institutions are starting to look at ecological footprint accounts.
In order to realize this transformation we started an organization called Global Footprint Network just two years ago. Its mission is to make ecological limits central to decision making everywhere. And we want to operationalize it by having 10 countries institutionalize the ecological footprint, in a manner similar to GDP, within 10 years.
We believe we can do it. We now have 40 partners. We have started a process to standardize the way the footprint is being applied so governments are less afraid of using it instead of GDP. The allure of GDP is that even though it’s flawed for the very question it seeks to address, it’s flawed in exactly the same way across the world—so you can compare numbers. We want an equally flawed ecological footprint across the world.
What the ecological footprint really offers is a standardized way to measure formerly immeasurable and often misunderstood ecological limits. Whether you like them or not they are there. Learn to live with them.
My positive message is the invitation to join what we believe is a winning effort. Granted, living in a footprint-managed world is not the grandest, most romantic thing you can imagine, but it’s an important transition strategy to save the world. I think the biggest barrier to sustainability is the taboo on recognizing that we have only one planet: we know this is true but we don’t want to admit it. It doesn’t become real at the level where it affects the way I build the next house or the next factory or the next motorway.
Lastly: let’s invite Canada and Bhutan to be among the initial 10 countries. Australia we think we may already have—that’s “A”; Bhutan—“B”; and Canada—“C.”
Join us in this effort. Let’s see together how we can win general acknowledgement of the fact that we must live within one planet. Thank you so much.
Some of you may leave this conference without being certain what you could do as a next step. If you have any shadow of a doubt then the one thing that I would really urge you to do is to join the Global Footprint Network, which supports some of the most important measurement work of the 21st century.
Some years ago I went to Newfoundland and Alton Hollett, the province’s chief statistician, won my heart when he stated that the purpose of statistics is to help people. Alton Hollett, director of statistics for the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and his collaborator, Doug May, professor of economics at Memorial University, have done something quite amazing and remarkable: they’ve introduced measurements and indicators at the level of local communities. That’s where the rubber hits the road in terms of quality of life and wellbeing. I think they are doing some of the most remarkable work in the country in terms of measuring wellbeing at the community level. So: Alton and Doug.
Our presentation doesn’t have a title, but if it did I think we’d call it “bringing knowledge to people.” And the reason for that is that our work has gone full circle.
Back in the early 1990s our province of Newfoundland and Labrador put a lot of effort into coming up with a strategic economic plan to deal with the challenging circumstances we were facing at the time. We had a recession; we had tremendous population loss; and on top of that our fishery collapsed.
At that point a lot of people stressed that economy and society are very closely related and that if we were going to have an economic plan we needed a social plan as well. Accordingly there was public consultation; and what came out of it was a vision. The verdict was more or less unanimous: in the midst of this difficult situation the province’s citizens called for a healthy, educated, prosperous, self-reliant populace living in safe, sustainable communities.
Some of us in the government listened to this and took it seriously. In response we drew up a report, a strategic social plan. After it was written I sat down with a couple of deputy ministers and so on and we realized that it was quite challenging. So we decided we’d better bring in someone from the university who had the appropriate expertise to deal with it—which is how Doug got involved.
Together we went on to amass data and indicators for almost 400 communities in Newfoundland and Labrador: 80 local areas; 20 economic zones; six rural secretariats; regions; health boards; school boards; etc. We then organized this into a set of accounts: health; prosperity; education; sustainability; and so on. In so doing we constructed a model that reflected the vision, the values and the goals of the people with whom we had consulted. And now this has become something of a way of life the citizens of our province because we’ve opened it up on the internet and we’re passing this data out for people so that they can begin to know a little bit about themselves.
Another thing that I should mention is that we won an award for innovation in knowledge management from the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. This puzzled me: we didn’t invent the software and we bought the data, so in what way were we innovators? I’ve since decided that our real innovation was the structured way in which we helped people to think: when we show what we have people really like it and they find it very intuitive.
One of the themes of this conference is pathways to wellbeing. In the Newfoundland and Labrador Community Accounts, wellbeing is at the top; or maybe I should say, at the centre. As Nobel laureate Amartya Sen told the Globe and Mail: it’s not really income that is important so much as the food we eat and the friends we have; things like that.
Alton made reference to the way people think. People in government departments often pen up their thoughts in silos. While sometimes that’s good it’s also very limiting.
Consider troubled youth, for example. They’re connected with the department of education; the school system; the justice system; the health system; social workers. They’re clients; they’re pupils; they’re various things. All of this must be viewed together. At the aggregate level it’s easy to miss the links but when we go done to the village, and the community, and the neighbourhood, people begin to see the connectedness. So we’re really trying to take it back down.
The Community Accounts are rooted in providing information for citizens. And when people need a lot of data about their community, the worst thing you can possibly do is give it to them in the form that Doug and I use it. So we put a huge amount of effort into making this information accessible.
One example of this is what we’ve done for Peterview, which shows up on all our indicators as the poorest community in Newfoundland and Labrador—the annual per capita income there is about $8,500. Yet, if you look at the wellbeing indicator, you’ll find a whole different story.
What we wanted to do with the Community Accounts is to ensure that people wouldn’t need to dig through a whole bunch of data, which they would then have to analyze themselves. We wanted people to be able to look at these things very, very quickly and know right away exactly what’s going on.
One way that we went about this was setting up comparators. We took the statistics for all of our communities, from highest to lowest, and sorted them into divisions: bottom 25 percent; top 25 percent; etc. This allows people to see, for instance, that the population loss in a given community was equal to that experienced by communities in the top 25 percent. In other words, they didn’t lose all that much of their population compared to what could have been.
One group that we worked with closely a few years ago took some of this information out to a group of residents in Peterview. When we heard they were going out there we figured that we were going to have to deal with some rather angry people because their data didn’t look very good. But their reaction to it was: “This is good information. This is the first time that we ever realized that we were poor.”
That, I think, tells us something about the spirit of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. They’ve learned enough about themselves through the Community Accounts that they’re beginning to question the strengths and the weaknesses and how they can make their communities better.
Thank you so much.
One of the remarkable things that happens in Newfoundland and Labrador is that the statistics agency runs monthly training sessions for front line community workers on how to get information about their own communities. I had the privilege of taking part in one of those sessions where their local health workers and job counsellors were being taught how to extract the information they need for their own communities.
This is a remarkable experiment in using statistics to improve wellbeing at the local level, yet very few people know about it. However, you can learn more through their website at www.communityaccounts.ca.
In closing I would refer back to a remark Ray Anderson made earlier. Ray commented that sustainability makes so much sense that it’s somewhat difficult to understand why everyone doesn’t get it. One wonders, “Why doesn’t the world work that way? Why don’t industries do this?” It seems so obvious.
I would say that one very good reason why it’s obvious to us but it doesn’t seem to happen in the outside world is that we’re sending the wrong signals all the time through our measurement system. I tested this once with a class I was teaching at St. Mary’s University. I said to them: “This term paper is the most important thing we’re going to do all semester—more important than all my lectures; more important than the final exam. And it’s worth five percent of your final grade.”
Naturally, any half-intelligent student ignored my entire speech about the importance of the term paper and put all their effort into the final exam: they understood that if I wasn’t going to count it, if I wasn’t going to measure it, then it had no value.
The following semester I tried something completely different. I didn’t give a speech about the importance of the term paper, but on the course outline there was a little note that said: term paper—50 percent. Guess what happened…
So indicators are extraordinarily powerful: they can change behaviour. They help determine the policy agendas of governments. They help shape what has value.
We would rather spend millions of dollars in Canada talking about Kyoto than doing anything very much about it. This is because the signal we get through our measures of progress is that the more fossil fuels we burn, and the more greenhouse gases we emit, the more the economy will grow and therefore the better off we will be.
Alton mentioned the fish stocks: the more species we fish to extinction the more the economy will grow. We count the depletion of our natural wealth as if it were economic gain and make no distinction about what is growing. Sickness; pollution; war: all of these can expand the economy simply because people are spending money.
So long as we keep sending out the same old signals, it’s very difficult to shift the policy agenda. Therefore, in order to count things aright, we have to start working on these new measures. We need to count the trust we feel with our neighbours. We must accord explicit value to the health of our natural resources; to the health of our population; to the strength and safety of our communities. Until we do that it is going to be very hard to shift the paradigm.
We’ve been engaged in this kind of indicator work for many years here in Nova Scotia, but the really exciting news is that this year we’re launching a pan-Canadian initiative involving indicator people from around the country. John Helliwell is part of that process; Mathis Wackernagel is helping us with the ecological footprint. We now have a pan-Canadian process to produce a brand new Canadian Index of Wellbeing. And our aspiration is nothing less than that this should become Canada’s core measure of progress.
It’s a wonderful new initiative and it has captured the imagination of the Canadian who, I think, has more credibility with his fellow citizens than anyone else in this country today: Roy Romanow. Mr. Romanow has agreed to be the spokesperson for the new Canadian Index of Wellbeing. I would mention also Hans Messenger, who is bringing Statistics Canada into the fold on this project.
Hopefully this will begin to shift the policy agenda from the measurement point of view. It truly is a way of infiltrating the system and working from the inside out.
Dr. Ronald Colman
“Depletion is counted as economic gain”
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