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Imperium Watch: New Milestones for a New Road

For a sustainable future, our economic indicators need overhauling.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

What with economic collapse and galloping climate change, old indicators of economic wellbeing are rushing into obsolescence. New "sustainability" indexes have not yet replaced them in mainstream institutions or the media, but they're being developed—by activists and by specialists in agriculture and other fields (for an example, see www.sustainablemeasures.com/Indicators).

One traditional indicator increasingly being seen as hollow even by the media, however, is the GDP. Years of healthy GDP readings while the income gap increased and average families grew poorer, their plight capped off by the waves of job loss and foreclosure we've been living with since last year, have led even mainstream reporters to question an indicator that is sometimes bizarrely disconnected from job creation and the real financial condition of multitudes of Americans.

Then there's another indicator that's past its freshness date: housing starts. In an age of global warming and rapid depletion of natural resources, this one needs to change, with preservation playing a much larger role in relation to new construction, particularly new construction that gobbles up agricultural land and land in or near watersheds.

Taking as its battle cry "The greenest building is the one already built," the National Housing Trust claims that it "takes 65 years for a new energy efficient building to save the energy lost when demolishing an existing building." Other groups and foundations that influence public policy are promoting housing preservation partly because older housing tends to be clustered near existing infrastructure, which eliminates the need to use up land, energy and materials by building new roads, sewer lines and power fixtures. It also tends to be located near public transit, giving residents energy-saving transportation options. The MacArthur Foundation is investing in a program, the Window of Opportunity, that will preserve more than 70,000 affordable rental homes in 12 cities and states across the country (see HousingPolicy.org).

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