Woods and GDP

Deborah Long, of Scottish Environment Link (Friends of The Scotsman, 23 April) is so right to point out that GDP is a most unsatisfactory way of measuring society’s progress. Politicians and economists are obsessed with economic growth, proclaiming success or failure with every tiny percentage change. They seem to have forgotten that we had years of economic growth up to 2008 but now know that this was based on borrowed money which achieved very little and plunged us into the debt crisis that we still have with us.

The absurdity of ignoring the natural environment when measuring progress can be shown by considering an area of natural woodland. This will provide numerous services to society in terms of improved water and soil quality, flood prevention and air pollution while enhancing the landscape and supporting a diverse range of wildlife. It also provides enjoyment and health benefits to the community. The woodland may stand year after year but officially it is contributing nothing to GDP. However, cut it down and sell the timber – great news, you have boosted economic growth for that year by a tiny amount. But the consequences of losing that woodland will be with us for many years to come and no amount of money will be able to fully replace the benefits.

It cannot be beyond our wit to devise a measure of true progress which is based on the wellbeing of people and the natural environment on which we all depend. Then we might get policies that really are sustainable.

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John F Hunt

York Road

North Berwick, East Lothian