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It’s time for the Green Human Development Index

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/11/2020 - 1:45am in

The United Nations Development Program’s flagship index of wellbeing and social progress, the Human Development Index, no longer captures what humans need, and needs to be replaced by a Green Human Development Index. That’s what I’ll argue in this post.

First, some context for those who do not know the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is the main index of the annual Human Development Reports, which, since 1990, have been published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The reports analyse how countries are doing in terms of the wellbeing of their citizens, rather than the size of the economy. In 1990, the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq had the visionary idea that in order to dethrone GDP per capita and economic growth as the yardstick for governmental policies, an alternative index was needed. He asked Amartya Sen to help him construct such an index. The rest is history. The HDI became a powerful alternative to GDP per capita. It consists of three dimensions and several indicators. The first dimension is human life itself, for which the indicators are child mortality and life expectancy. The second dimension is knowledge, captured by school enrollment rates and adult literacy rates. And the last dimension is the standard of living, for which the logarithmic function of GDP per capita is used.

It is easy to criticize the HDI for not capturing all dimensions of wellbeing, or for other shortcomings. For whatever those academic arguments are worth, there is no denying at how successful the HDI has been at accomplishing its two primary purposes: to dethrone GDP per capita and economic growth as the sole yardsticks for societal progress, and to stimulate policy makers to put human beings central in their institutional design and policy making. And by that yardstick, the HDI has been a great success. Each year, the release of the Human Development Reports captures the attention of media and policy makers worldwide. Many politicians and governments care about their ranking in comparison with other countries. And, most importantly, the political power of the HDI provides an incentive for countries to try to invest more in education and health, combatting child mortality and increasing life expectancy.

Yet, it is now time to abandon the HDI. Paradoxically, this is not despite, but because of its political success. The reason is that we have entered the Anthropocene – the geological epoch in which the human species is changing ecosystems and the geology of the Earth. The most well-known of those changes that humans have caused is climate change. And since these ecosystems and planetary boundaries in turn affect human flourishing, they must be central in any analyses of that human flourishing.

To see why we can no longer give ecosystems and planetary boundaries a peripheral role the construction of aggregate social indicators and subsequent policy analyses, we must listen to scholars from climate sciences and planetary systems. They are no longer speaking in moderate terms. The most recent studies indicate that we are on a path to a 4 degrees Celsius planet warming. As many scientists and journalists have explained by now, this will lead to great suffering and loss in wellbeing and freedoms for humans, in addition to many lives that will be prematurely lost.

We even don’t have to wait till the planet has warmed 4 degrees. The effects of global warming and the violations of planetary boundaries are already visible today. Insects are disappearing; there are more frequent and more dangerous storms, floods, droughts and wildfires; entire nations living in the small islands in the Pacific are preparing to abandon their territory because it will be swallowed by the sea; and ecological breakdown contributes to social instability and even wars.

Scientists and earth systems governance scholars have been telling us for a while what actions need to be taken – such as decarbonising the economy, changing our food production and consumption, reforestation, restoring nature, rebuilding cities to be ecologically sustainable. Yet these measures are not taken far enough, and implemented fast enough.

And as if this isn’t bad enough in itself, some actors with high stakes in the current way of operating are spreading lies and disinformation, and are lobbying to slow down the financial loss of their productive capital.

And what has been our response?

Politicians have been doing too little, too late in addressing climate change and other forms of degradation of the planet. But it’s not just them: those of us doing research in the social sciences and humanities are also not yet fully aware that we should be playing a different type of game. We need radical changes in what we value in public policy, and hence also in what we measure and study.

We cannot construct measures of human wellbeing, human development, or social progress, if we do not properly include the state of the most essential prerequisites of human life – the state of our planet itself. Not properly accounting for this fundamental dependency just shows that we have not yet accepted the complete vulnerability of our own existence, and the existence of humans that will live in the future, on the quality and quantity of environmental resources and ecosystems.

And this radical shift must include that we understand and value that whether we stay within the planetary boundaries and respect ecological sustainability is not just a matter of ‘yet another good thing’ that might or might not be added to an index. Respecting planetary boundaries is of foundational nature, since it concerns the ultimate preconditions for decent life on Planet Earth.

What, then, should the UNDP do?

The UNDP should use its political power by giving the global political system a shock. The current HDI is a ‘Grey HDI’: it disregards the pollution and ecological destruction that takes place in the creation of human development and doesn’t give proper weight to efforts at strengthening the ecosystems. The central role that the Grey HDI has in the Human Development Reports should be replaced by the ‘Green HDI’ – an index that gives much more weight to the very preconditions of life, hence what nations do to protect and strengthen the ecosystems and to what extent those nations respect limitations that stem from planetary boundaries. The Green HDI should look at the dimensions of human development, such as education, health and living standards, but also consider whether that development takes place while respecting the boundaries of the planet and whether a country is not taking more than its fair shares of natural resources.

There are currently several such indexes already developed and proposed. For example, one could divide the HDI of a nation by the ecological footprint of that nation. There are other alternatives possible and proposed, though not all will do as possible candidates for the Green HDI. One requirement for the Green HDI is that we need a single index, not a dashboard of indicators, which dilutes its political impact. Another requirement is that the ecological preconditions of human life must be given the weight they deserve – hence it should not be merely one dimension among many, but a foundational and pivotal dimension.

Many of the countries that currently are scoring very high on the Grey HDI would end up in a lower place on the ranking of countries. The levels of human development in those countries are parasitic on the crossing of planetary boundaries, excessive greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, soil depletion, and so forth. These high levels of human development also often takes place at the expense of the HDI of other countries by outsourcing waste. Since staying within the planetary boundaries is an essential precondition for human wellbeing of all in the future, and for some vulnerably located people already in the present, a country that takes more than its fair share of those ecological dimensions will score lower on the Green HDI than on the Grey HDI. The opposite will happen for countries that have a small planetary footprint, and that have far-reaching policies to protect the ecosystems and environment.

Replacing the Grey HDI with a Green HDI would serve at least three important political functions. First, it would no longer reward countries that have high levels of human development at the expense of the planet by giving them a high ranking in the Human Development Report. One can expect that a country such as the USA, that in international comparison scores well on the three dimensions of human development but does so in a very ecologically unsustainable way, will fall significantly in the ranking. Countries such as Costa Rica which invest a lot in environmental protection are likely to be rewarded in the pecking order by receiving a higher ranking on the Green HDI compared with what they currently have. Given that Human Development Reports always gets a lot of press attention, this will not go unnoticed.

The second effect will be a political effect that follows from the first. Rewarding ‘green policies’ in the index will be an incentive for policy makers to think deeper and harder about how to respect planetary boundaries in their policy making. Perhaps one might be skeptical how strong such an incentive would be, given that there are already various country-rankings related to greenhouse gas emissions. But the difference is that the HDI is seen as an alternative for GDP, and if the Grey HDI is simply replaced by the Green HDI, the latter will also inherit the HDI’s political power. That is a power that international emissions rankings have never gained.

And thirdly, in the world of ideas and ideologies, it is of utmost importance that a very influential medium such as the Human Development Report makes clear that we can no longer play the old game. Respecting planetary boundaries is not a fringe issue; it is an absolute precondition for human flourishing on this planet.

What, then, would happen with the HDI? The next Human Development Report should move the Grey HDI entirely to the appendix, together with all the other HDI-related indexes that measures particular aspects of inequalities in human development. Although these indexes played a hugely important role in making the message clear that governments should be putting people before profit, they are from a bygone era that didn’t attend to the centrality of sustainability. Without a healthy planet, there cannot be human flourishing. The UNDP should finally embrace this insight wholeheartedly, and give us the Green Human Development Index.

At the first Future of Development Dialogue that took place last week, UNDP’s Administrator, Achim Steiner, mentioned that the 2020 Human Development Report will be released on December 15th. This year’s topic is “Human Development and the Anthropocene“. We will know by mid-December how the HDR sees the relationship between human development and the planet’s ecosystems.

More Than Just Statistics: On the Future of the Palestinian Discourse 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 6:48am in

Palestine can never be truly understood through numbers, because numbers are dehumanizing, impersonal, and, when necessary, can also be contrived to mean something else entirely. Numbers are not meant to tell the story of the human condition, nor should they ever serve as a substitute for emotions.

Indeed, the stories of life, death – and everything in-between – cannot be truly and fully appreciated through charts, figures and numbers.  The latter, although useful for many purposes, is a mere numerical depository of data. Anguish, joy, aspirations, defiance, courage, loss, collective struggle, and so on, however, can only be genuinely expressed through the people who lived through these experiences.

Numbers, for example, tell us that over 2,200 Palestinians were killed during the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip between July 8 and August 27, 2014, over 500 of them being children. Over 17,000 homes were completely destroyed, and thousands of other buildings, including hospitals, schools and factories were either destroyed or severely damaged during the Israeli strikes.

This is all true, the kind of truth that is summarized into a neat infographic, updated occasionally, in case, inevitably, some of the critically wounded eventually lose their lives.

But a single chart, or a thousand, can never truly describe the actual terror felt by a million children who feared for their lives during those horrific days; or transport us to a bedroom where a family of ten huddled in the dark, praying for God’s mercy as the earth shook, concrete collapsed and glass shattered all around them; or convey the anguish of a mother holding the lifeless body of her child.

It is easy – and justifiable – to hold the media accountable for the dehumanization of the Palestinians or, sometimes, ignoring them altogether. However, if blame must be apportioned, then others too, including those who consider themselves ‘pro-Palestine’, must reconsider their own position. We are all, to an extent, collectively guilty of seeing Palestinians as sheer victims, hapless, passive, intellectually stunted and ill-fated people, desperate to be ‘saved.’

When numbers monopolize the limelight in a people’s narrative, they do more damage than merely reduce complex human beings to data; they erase the living, too. Regarding Palestine, Palestinians are rarely engaged as equals; they persist at the receiving end of charity, political expectations and unsolicited instructions on what to say and how to resist. They are often the fodder for political bargains by factions or governments but, rarely, the initiative takers and the shapers of their own political discourse.

Palestinians Statistics

A shopkeeper visits with a girl and her mother where he sells snacks in the Old City of Jerusalem, Aug. 10, 2020. Maya Alleruzzo | AP

The Palestinian political discourse has, for years, vacillated between one constructed around the subject of victimhood – which is often satisfied by numbers of dead and wounded – and another pertaining to the elusive Fatah-Hamas unity. The former only surfaces whenever Israel decides to bomb Gaza under any convenient pretext at the time, and the latter was a response to western accusations that Palestinian political elites are too fractured to constitute a potential ‘peace partner’ for Israeli rightwing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Many around the world can only understand – or relate to – Palestinians through their victimization or factional affiliation – which, themselves, carry subsidiary meanings relevant to ‘terrorism’, ‘radicalism’, among others.

The reality is, however, often different from reductionist political and media discourses. Palestinians are not just numbers. They are not spectators either, in a political game that insists on marginalizing them. Soon after the 2014 war, a group of Palestinian youth, together with supporters from around the world, launched an important initiative that aimed to liberate the Palestinian discourse, at least in Gaza, from the confines of numbers and other belittling interpretations.

‘We Are Not Numbers’ was launched in early 2015. The group’s ‘About Us’ page reads: “numbers don’t convey  … the daily personal struggles and triumphs, the tears and the laughter, the aspirations that are so universal that if it weren’t for the context, they would immediately resonate with virtually everyone.”

Recently, I spoke to several members of the group, including the Gaza Project Manager, Issam Adwan. It was, indeed, inspiring to hear young, articulate and profoundly resolute Palestinians speaking a language that transcends all the stereotypical discourses on Palestine. They were neither victims nor factional, and were hardly consumed by the pathological need to satisfy western demands and expectations.

“We have talents – we are writers, we are novelists, we are poets, and we have so much potential that the world knows little about,” Adwan told me.

Khalid Dader, one of the Organization’s nearly 60 active writers and bloggers in Gaza, contends with the designation that they are ‘storytellers.’ “We don’t tell stories, rather stories tell us  … stories make us,” he told me. For Dader, it is not about numbers or words, but the lives that are lived, and the legacies that often go untold.

Somaia Abu Nada wants the world to know her uncle, because “he was a person with a family and people who loved him.” He was killed in the 2008 Israeli war on Gaza, and his death has profoundly impacted his family and community. Over 1,300 people were also killed in that war. Each one of them was someone’s uncle, aunt, son, daughter, husband or wife. None of them was just a number.

“‘We Are Not Numbers’ made me realize how necessary our voices are,” Mohammed Rafik told me. This assertion cannot be overstated. So many speak on behalf of Palestinians but rarely do Palestinians speak for themselves. “These are unprecedented times of fear, when our land appears to be broken and sad,” Rafik said, “but we never abandon our sense of community.”

Adwan reminded us of Arundhati Roy’s famous quote, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

It was refreshing to talk to Palestinians who are taking the decisive step of declaring that they are not numbers, because it is only through this realization and resolve that Palestinian youth can challenge all of us and assert their own collective identity as a people.

Indeed, Palestinians do have a voice, and a strong, resonating one at that.

Feature photo | A Palestinian girl walks next to an apartment building destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Nov. 13, 2018. Khalil Hamra | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University. His website is

The post More Than Just Statistics: On the Future of the Palestinian Discourse  appeared first on MintPress News.

Miserable numbers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/07/2020 - 8:50am in

Even non-connoisseurs are reeling from the miserable second quarter GDP numbers released this morning. Between the first and second quarters of this year, GDP was off 33% after adjustment for inflation. That’s by far the biggest decline since quarterly numbers begin in 1947.

That 33% figure is at an annualized rate, meaning GDP would be off by a third if it declined at the second-quarter rate for a full year. The US is unusual in annualizing the data; most other countries report the quarter-to-quarter change without annualizing it. If we did that, it would have been off a mere 9.5%. But no matter how you slice it, it’s awful: more than three times as bad as the previous record, the first quarter of 1958 (a recession that helped elect JFK), and four times as bad as the worst quarter of the 2008–2009 recession, the fourth of 2008.

If you average the first two quarters of this year and compare them to the first two of last year, as the graph below does, you get by far the worst number since 1946, when the US was demobilizing after World War II. Aside from that, you’d have to go back to the Great Depression for bigger negative numbers.

GDP yty

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, we never really recovered from the 2008 recession. Quoting that to save some keystrokes:

Had the economy continued to grow in line with its 1970–2007 trend, GDP would be about 20% higher than it is now. GDP is a deeply flawed measure; it says little about distribution or quality of life, but it is what the capitalist system runs on. Listen to any pundit or propagandist, and growth is what the whole set-up is all about. And by this most conventional of measures, American capitalism is failing badly on its own terms.

But that 20% shortfall was based on first quarter numbers; the second quarter took it close to 30%, as the graph below shows.

GDP vs trend

A near-30% shortfall works out to just over $18,000 per person. That’s an aggregate number; it doesn’t mean that we’d each be $18,000 richer had growth held to the old trend. There are things in GDP like investment and government spending that don’t translate into personal income—and since the rich have hogged most GDP growth over the last several decades, the average person would see little of that $18,000. But it is a measure of how much poorer we are as a society because of the economic troubles of the last decade.

Of the 33% annualized decline in GDP, 25 points came from personal consumption, three times the previous worst quarter (the fourth of 1950). That decline in spending came despite the huge boost to personal income provided by the $1,200 stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits; it looks like those who could saved their money out of fear it would soon be in very short supply. As the graph below shows, spending on recreation led the way down, off 94%; close behind were transportation, off 84%, and food services and accommodation, off 81%. Spending on clothing & footwear and gasoline & energy were also down hard. Amazingly, spending on health care was down 63%, as people postponed routine care out of fear of catching the virus.

PCE by category 2020Q2

The third quarter is unlikely to be this dire. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s GDP tracker, the third quarter is likely to see a sharp rebound—though that’s based largely on early July data. Things look to have slowed as the month progressed—and with the $600 supplemental unemployment benefits gone, at least for now, we could just flatline for a few months. Even if we see some recovery, the long-term damage—people disemployed, businesses shuttered, confidence hammered—will be substantial and lingering.

What a terrible time to be governed by callous morons.

Scarfolk Death Statistics (1975)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/05/2020 - 10:46pm in

Cultural Donations on the Rise

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/02/2015 - 10:17am in