Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

How Do You Spell Success?
distributed 5/11/01 - ©2001

How do you measure success?

That is an important question for all of us. The measurements that we use, and the standards that we work toward, are powerful factors in shaping how we live and act.

Do we seek a high standard of living (a quantitative and material measure) or a good quality of life (a more qualitative and relational measure)?

Many mark success in life by a big house in the suburbs, even though achieving that measure might mean hard work to pay off a big mortgage, and long, stressful commutes. Others define success by having the time for friendships and leisure activities, and a job that is emotionally rewarding. The measure of success shapes an individual's path in life.

Government and business tend to see success in a steadily rising Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GDP is an easy measurement, which simply adds up the flow of goods and services through the economy. A more complicated (and more meaningful) indicator is the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which assigns positives and negatives to factors in our economy and society. The GDP makes no differentiation between millions of dollars spent on a coal-fired power plant, and an equal amount spent on wind generation. The GPI, which takes account of pollution and resource depletion, would see more good in the cleaner energy source.

The two indicators can be compared over a long time span. The GDP has climbed rather steadily through the last 50 years. The GPI rose until the mid-70s, and has been dropping over the last 25 years.

The measures that we use for success -- whether personal or institutional -- make a big difference in how we evaluate our lives, and the plans that we make for the future.

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The ludicrous energy policy ideas that are being voiced by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney may be explained by the measures they use for success. Their refusal to encourage energy conservation seems to be (at least partly) based in how they view "success" for the US.

At a press briefing earlier this week (5/7/01), White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer made the following comments in response to several questions:

"The President believes that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one." "[T]he President also believes that the American people's use of energy is a reflection of the strength of our economy, of the way of life that the American people have come to enjoy." "The American way of life is something that needs to be protected as we enjoy our resources and we enjoy the American standard of living."

In the Bush White House, "the use of energy" is a measure of prosperity and success. To conserve energy, then, is seen as a direct threat to the American way of life and standard of living.

Part of our political task is to make it clear to the nation's leaders that we don't share their definitions and measures of success. We can do more than assert that we "like" conservation, or that it makes fiscal sense. We can also point toward measures like the GPI to quantify how a more efficient use of energy is "successful" for our entire society.

The church is an ideal forum for doing education and advocacy about new measures of success for our society. It is natural for our congregations to look at the many values that are part of a meaningful, rewarding and "successful" life in community. The GPI is a technical measure that supports and reinforces the policies and behaviors that churches generally want to encourage.

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Jerry Brown, the seminary-trained former Governor of California, spoke the other day at an event where California churches committed themselves to energy conservation. "Excessive consumption and gross waste is part of an ideology that is embedded in the culture. Religion stands outside the current ideology as a prophetic witness to call us back to the fundamentals."

Churches in California are not the only ones that can be prophetic in their practicalities and ideology. Those sorts of behaviors will come naturally to congregations that care about eco-justice.

If you want more information on alternative measures of success, or on energy conservation strategies, feel free to contact Eco-Justice Ministries.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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