Societies tend to measure progress in narrow economic terms — gross domestic product, employment figures, trade deficits. Now an influential team in Canada is proposing that the country become the first in the world to measure its ecological health with the same care and precision. The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy today is releasing a government-commissioned report that calls for Canada to use six environmental indicators to assess its real wealth and the sustainability of its economy. Advocates of this approach point out that traditional measurements don’t track whether a nation’s natural resources, from forests to fisheries, are being depleted, and that environmental disasters are often classified as economic boosts. “You can have an oil spill that pollutes a huge area and wrecks the ecology, but the price of the cleanup is shown as a positive on GDP,” said Stuart Smith, co-chair of the group that authored the report. The recommended indictors would measure air quality, fresh-water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and forest cover, among other things.

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