Using Carbon Emissions to Measure Success

Measuring the Economy with the Environment

Traditionally, the economic fate of the world has been rendered in GDP. The more that we can produce in a given year, the more successful we are. As the global economy boomed through the industrial age, this measure of output made sense; countries races to see who could build the biggest things the fastest. We have now reached a point in history where many of our past assumptions no longer hold true and thus it is time to redefine what it  means to have a successful economy.


I propose that we use net carbon emissions. We have entered an age where sustainability is now much more important that it was in the past. If all countries were to produce "stuff" as fast as they could, GDP would rise across the world but we may use up all of earths resources. Here are some reasons why I think net carbon emissions could be better than GDP.

We Don't Need More Stuff: This is probably one of the main reasons GDP was so important for so long. Most people for hundreds of years were impoverished and as the world has produced more and more, hundreds of millions have risen out of poverty. We are now at an age where people in developed countries have their needs met and some of their wants as well. Giving more stuff to most people in these countries will not actually make them any better off. So rather than focusing on producing more things for people to consume, we should begin to focus on quality. Net carbon emissions would measure how clean and sustainable our production is and focus on that over rapid growth.

Smaller Scale Measure: Usually GDP is calculated nationally. It is often difficult to find out how one city or region within a country compares to another. Right now we can't really say that San Francisco has a higher GDP growth rate than Houston; we focus so much on macro-information that we lack detail. Net carbon emissions could measure the success of almost any sized area in theory by simply taking air samples. We could see how New York City compares to Philadelphia much more easily. In the aggregate, we could still see large scale numbers for entire countries.

We DO Need Smarter Growth: As I mentioned previously, if we do not change our production habits we will literally run out of resources. Imagine if we continue to build and churn and we end up with no oil, no trees, no fresh water, no natural gas and lots of cars that can't run, pollution and waste. Doesn't sound like a world that I would want to live in, but if we cannot change our global mindset, we may be headed in that direction. If we shave a bit off of our growth, we can build in greener and smarter ways while ensuring that we do not pollute. This way we can still grow and continue to develop new technologies and support larger populations without burning out. 

This may seem like a radical idea and I am not sure that it is the perfect solution, but I firmly believe it is better than what we are doing today. Spread the word, change the world. I welcome your thoughts and comments.