The Need for Lifeonomics.


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It is the best of times.
It is the worst of times.

It is a time when we can place our feet on other planets, level mountains, stop the mightiest rivers, reengineer plant, animal & man. We are even creating a new species of life -- robots. Yes, it is the best of times.

Or you can see it is the worst of times. 40% of all oceanic species have been wiped out. Air pollution is reaching calamitious levels, roughly 2 billion live in areas that are classified as air unhealthy to breathe. Water from global groundwater aquifers are being pumped at a rate 3.5 times faster than rainfall can recharge them. Forests essential to our survival have dwindled. Each human today has 1/10th the forest support that mankind had in preindustrial global era. Our green forest lungs are 1/10th the preindustrial era.

Ocean levels are rising. By 2100, it could rise 3-7 feet by conservative estimate. Which will make roughly 1/10th homeless. But it could rise to Pleistocene levels in which case 50% of mankind would be vulnerable, to put it mildly.

If our unsustainable way of life doesn’t kill us first, the socio-political instability could… in the event of a global nuclear war… the radiation, and smoke would wipe out all mankind and much of life on earth.

Some say that we are at the 11th hour. And mankind is in dire trouble. Some say our use by date has passed. And now it is just a matter of time before A} Billions die. B} Mankind is wiped out. C} Selective genetic bombs wipe out Asian & African populations. D} Before we live in capsules fed with intravenous tubes. E} Before robots takeover.

Let’s take the possibility that we can turn things around.

So where has the crisis emerged from? Human activity, misguided human intelligence, and a lack of respect of nature.

“Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology. Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. If we don't reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us ... Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things. Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don’t exact immediate punishment on the stupid.”  To quote Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Neil Dawe.

The truth is that in the last century when we look to turn things around we rely on Force & Politics, Technology & Economics. Of all these the most vital is Economics.

So why is Progress turning to Regress?
Because we are greedy pigs? Nope.
Because we are uncaring idiots? Not really.

Progress is turning to Regress. Because our numbers are partial. Because GDP measures human activity not life sustenance. A tree is cut. It has an immense effect on how we will breathe. But it will have zero effect on GDP. A forest is destroyed, a hill is razed to feed concrete. It’s loss will change weather patterns, leave us more open to viral infections. It does not reflect on GDP. A concrete mall is built in its place now that’s a plus. A pair of jeans uses Rockets are sent to space so a bunch of millionaires can get their jollies. Precious fuel is wasted. It ups the GDP.

Clearly there is a need to move beyond GDP to another Life Sustaining Measure let us christen it the Life Sustainance Index. Many are formulating such indices like Life Quality Index or Environmental Sustainability Index. Today, they still remain in the category of jokes. But if we do not move, the joke will be on us. Since the 1970’s it has been apparent that our productivity threatens our survival. It would be a shame if we die by our own hands, choking on our own exhaust, poisoned by our own piss, shampoos, car production waste… 

Water is probably the most precious commodity, second to clean air. Some argue the next war will happen over water. Imagine All the Water, a site  created by the European Commission gives these figures: * A Hamburger uses 2,393 liters of water Versus a  Loaf of Bread - 48 liters of water Versus an Apple - 82 liters of water. But every industry damages our water resource differentially. From The Water Pollution Guide {}. We get Asbestos, Lead, Mercury, Nitrates, Phosphates, Sulphur, Oils, Petrochemicals as major pollutants. Any industrial product produced causes a rise in GDP. But we do not minus the implicit cost of water pollution damage.

At its basic a Life Sustenance index would add positives but also minus negatives. A building coming up would be a plus and a minus. Minus trees cut, minus sand used. Now we all know how great a statistical nightmare it would be. But we all know the horror of a misguided GDP is.

Obviously such an index would perhaps need to factor in equity, innovativeness, political strength, military power, cultural depth, spiritual power. In India growth rate has been high. Job creation low. In 2014 about 18, 000 farmers were driven to suicide. USA, the world’s biggest economy has 10% unemployment. But what will happen in 2035 when machine learning and artificial intelligence causes this to rise?

Now there is an enormous advantage to moving to a Life Sustenance Index. Globally, because it means this century will not see the end of civilisation, the destruction or enslavement of mankind. Strategically, because the nation that leads this drive will lead the next century. Tactical. Because whichever economist, group or think tank formulates it most effectively will have superlative overarching influence.

One of the heaviest burdens on life is an uncontrolled population. If there are too many tigers in an area, some will starve. That’s a fact, when Malthus proposed his theory the world denigrated him. Why? Because we are drunk on the falsity of GDP.



-- By Tarun Cherian