GDP must consider environmental costs

Economic policy must be informed by environmental facts

The Sun's recent editorial about the GOP's intention to gut the EPA's authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions touches on an important economic issue ("Holding one's breath, GOP-style," Dec. 9).

Our current economic models treat the environment — our air, water and land — as a free and unlimited resource to be both exploited for raw materials and used as a dump for the unwanted byproducts of civilization. That approach has predictable consequences from global climate change to the sorry condition of the Chesapeake Bay.

Standard economic measures such as gross domestic product should be adjusted to account for environmental benefits and costs. Otherwise, the numerical growth that is the be-all and end-all of conventional policy is a chimera that will not deliver the long-term prosperity we seek. A recent article in the journal Science showed that an environmentally adjusted GDP that factored in both the costs and benefits of reduced air pollution actually resulted in higher computed growth than the standard definition. Some economists recognize the need for new, broader-based measures to inform policy, but they are an enlightened few.

Our tunnel-vision economics leads to tunnel-vision policies in which we either ignore unpleasant facts of nature or try to patch together regulations and fees to address specific problems after the damage is done. Conditions on the planet are growing increasingly unfavorable to human well being, and we had better get smarter about it very soon.

George Kaplan, Colora

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