Fiscal Voodoo and Planet Earth

The fiscal cliff is a crisis to scare the public into accepting failed policies. Instead, we need to focus on how the

economy is linked to the environment.

The Economy, we are told, is a machine. It churns, slows, and heats up. It drives political discourse globally, nationally, and locally. Currently, we are being told that it might crash right off a cliff, with the assumption that we are all along for the ride.

The "fiscal cliff" provides instant drama. If it were real, it might be scary.

The truth is the current situation is more like fiscal voodoo, where a crisis has been created to scare the public into accepting failed policies of the past and perhaps the future. Don't buy into the trick.

January 1 will come and go with measures to maintain middle-class tax levels renewed … if they haven't been already. The most critical impacts of spending cuts will be delayed, thus remaining avoidable well into the New Year.

A more serious concern is deciding how government policy and the economy can empower individuals and communities in an era of shifting markets and climates caused by a damaged atmosphere.

Strengthening environmental protection in relation to economic decisions needs to rise to a critical level. It's not the doomsday scenario to The Economy some would have us believe.

For example, the requirement to raise fuel efficiency to 55 miles a gallon by 2025 is a positive step for the environment and our health. It will also keep more money in the pockets of people, businesses, and local communities. If we can muster the political will to do so, reducing dependency on coal through efficiency and rapidly expanding renewable energy will do the same while simultaneously generating 21st century jobs.

Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, Profit

All parties, both public and private, need to better measure and approach economic concerns in a way that values the triple bottom line (TBL) – people, planet, and profit. TBL simply states that the "bottom line" take into account the social and environmental aspects of any given activity.

In October, author Michael Shuman visited Traverse City to discuss an aspect of TBL and his new book, "Local Dollars, Local Sense."

While here, he complimented the region on its local investing, its strong regional food movement, and for being home to businesses and organizations actually walking the talk.

SEEDs is a local non-profit fulfilling its mission of cultivating local solutions to global issues through a TBL business model. Whether training at-risk youth in green collar jobs through a nationally recognized Youth Corps program, or sending engineers out to assist regional governments in crunching numbers for energy efficiency, TBL is always in mind.

Success is measured by keeping books not just on the financials, but also on the social and environmental impacts of the organization.

Does your organization track its annual emissions? What percentage of your expenditures is spent locally? SEEDs tracks these numbers, and then strives to improve them. As SEEDs executive director, Sarna Salzman said, "You are what you measure, so be careful what you monitor."

This is the direction in which discussions about The Economy need to go. We can no longer just talk about money and be taken seriously.

If there is a cliff that we may go over, it is the cliff where we continue to avoid the real discussion: how the economy cannot, and can never be, an independent agent, measurable only in value-added outputs, and operating in a profit vacuum isolated from people and planet.

Going over a cliff is a type of change, but the real change we need is to act on the words of President Barack Obama: "This country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations."

The same can be said at every level of The Economy.

Gary L. Howe is a freelance journalist and instructor in the social science department at Northwestern Michigan College. He volunteers on the Traverse City Planning Commission and serves on the board of directors for SEEDs. BN