Earlier this week I mentioned how the trip back from my fishing vacation was somewhat ruined when I heard on the radio that the Times Atlas of the World had wildly exaggerated the amount of ice that had melted off of Greenland. That wasn’t the only thing that bugged me. I also heard some financial news and once again it was trumpeting a rise in housing starts during the past month – as something positive for the “economy”. I did a little reading and found some other articles talking about the housing “problem” here in the U.S. I am flabbergasted that there are by some accounts over 10 million empty and/or for sale homes in the U.S. and we are still building a half million new ones every month!
Now why would I be upset to hear that more houses are being built – that the housing sector might be turning around? I could go through the entire argument again but it would be better if you read this past blog post. The gist of it is that we should start looking to other metrics for judging how good the “economy” is. The main theme throughout the last couple of centuries (particularly here in the U.S.) is build build build! If there is more building, traveling, shipping, flying, and consuming going on then the economy will be “good”. If we aren’t out there paving over more of nature, then the economy is “bad”. I am saying that I have had enough with sprawl. I have had enough with expansion for the economy’s sake. If we want to have a better and cleaner place to live we should start focusing on different metrics to judge the health of the “economy”. We should stop judging our economic well being on growth alone. How about focusing more on quality instead of quantity? We can still enjoy great progress without constantly building more roads, more houses, more box stores, and more parking lots.
So what would be a better metric than housing starts, or GDP, or infrastructure expansion? What about health? If the aggregate health of the population increased every year or lifespans increased every year, wouldn’t that be a sign that things are good – even if we never build another freeway? How about energy efficiency or productivity? If we get more use out of every unit of energy year over year, isn’t that progress – even if we never build another sub-division with cookie-cutter houses? Some people have even suggested happiness. If happiness could be reliably measured and it increased every year, wouldn’t that mean we have a good “economy”?
I am not sure at this time what the exact solution is but I am happy to see that someone agreed with me the last time I wrote on this subject. Thanks for the comment! I am also glad to see more websites that are pushing this issue. Many of them mix leftist politics into the discussion a little too much for my taste but here is one that I recently stumbled across – PostCarbon.org. One of the contributors to that site has written a book called “The End of Growth“. While I don’t agree that we have reached hard limits on how many resources we are able to use (a counter argument to Peak Oil here), I do subscribe to the thought of re-evaluating what is important to a society as an alternative to just building more houses to make things better. Also, to say the there will be no “growth” in the future, is not the best way to frame the issue. Growth can come in many forms and I wouldn’t want to live in a future with no progress.
Sadly, the “jobs” bill coming out of the government right now boils down to building more roads, a tried-n-true but worn out and environmentally disastrous way to put people back to work. Hopefully some dissenting voices will be heard.
Have a good weekend! Meteorologist Justin Loew.