Sonia Furstenau

Sonia Furstenau column: We need to change how we measure value and success

We could use genuine progress indicators (GPI), rather than gross domestic product (GDP)

By Sonia Furstenau

What does the future hold?

When COVID-19 hit our communities a year ago, we were looking ahead to see how we would adapt. We were talking about building back better. We were talking about a green and just recovery. We were talking about how we were not going to let things go back to the way they were before — to the systems responsible for the problems we face today.

But last week’s throne speech may as well have been delivered in 2019. The NDP government’s approach hasn’t adapted to changing circumstances. It’s as though the pandemic never happened.

How do we bring about the changes we need? To start, we could measure things differently. We could measure what we actually value. We could use genuine progress indicators (GPI), rather than gross domestic product (GDP), to measure our collective success. Moving towards systems that work for communities and ecosystems means using new metrics of success.

GDP does one thing really well: it measures the value created by the production of goods and services. It doesn’t measure our environment. It doesn’t measure our health. It doesn’t measure whether our institutions are serving us. It doesn’t ascribe any values, negative or positive, to the transactions that go into the calculation of GDP. Environmental degradation or a disaster, depletion of resources, growing inequality — the cost of these are not factored into the calculation of GDP.

Calculating GPIs recognizes inequality is a negative impact to our society. Behind all of the paid work tracked in GDP calculations is a mountain of under-recognized, unpaid work: parenting, volunteering, domestic labour, for example. This work, because it doesn’t directly generate revenue, is invisible in GDP.

GPIs add the value of service from infrastructure, both built and natural. A watershed is valued for the service that it provides of clean drinking water, not just the value that it could offer to a timber company if trees were cut down.

GPIs recognize the value of time and leisure. GPIs subtract the costs of crime, subtract the cost of long-term environmental degradation, air pollution, water pollution, ozone depletion, noise pollution, loss of farmland, loss of forests, loss of wetlands. I bet we could all recognize that the impacts of those losses, or of those effects on us, detract from our economy, our lives, and our society.

But in B.C., we keep telling the old story: we can have jobs or the environment. We can have jobs or climate action. I don’t believe that story. It’s the opposite. If we take ambitious climate action to green our economy and support workers as we do so, this investment and innovation driver would be a huge job creator. It would create jobs that are healthy and safe, both for workers and for the environment.

Now more than ever, we need a government that steps up to meet the urgency of this moment with a clear vision and a bold plan for our shared future. We need a shared sense of purpose, for navigating this third wave of COVID-19 and for a more just and equitable future.

We could be among the world leaders in our pandemic recovery, recognizing that this is a moment to seize, a moment when so many of us see that continuing to do the same things and expecting different outcomes never worked.

We owe it to ourselves, to young British Columbians and to future generations to seize this moment and to not let all the sacrifices of this past year go by and amount to nothing, to revert back to a little tinkering on the edges, to status quo. Let’s choose to live a new story.

Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley.