Cadmus

Socioeconomic and Environmental Performance: A Composite Index and Comparative Application to the USA and China

5. Concluding Thoughts
In this paper, we have proposed and made use of a composite indicator of welfare which takes into account social, human and environmental sustainability. Our composite indicator provides insights into the development patterns of any given region. Such comparisons are welcome as attempts to quantify patterns which can allow us to rethink the notions of growth, distribution and ecosystem performance in the different countries. Here we concentrated our effort in the comparison between only the USA and China. We took as reference period the years 2002-2012 and four composite key variables: Human Development Index (HDI), Per Capita Carbon Dioxide (CO2CAP), Drinkable Water and Sanitation (WATSAN), and Renewable Energy as a share of total energy use (SHARENEW).

“The transition towards a new paradigm involves an international movement which integrates the natural and social sciences in order to address the prerequisites for sustainable development.”

We conclude that although the level of welfare and degree of sustainability is much higher in the USA in comparison with China, the comparative welfare performance of the latter, in the period studied, is much higher than in the USA. It means that China has been exerting a stronger effort than the USA in this direction. It happens that we are not sure that such effort is sustainable.

It is unreasonable to be anticipatory and prescient about the future, but the dominant economic paradigm may lead to major challenges. We need a new economic paradigm involving new visions and solutions which have to be implemented. It is necessary to understand that the fundamental problems all living species face are very severe. It is not just an economic question of increasing efficiency (productivity) in order to guarantee growth, distribution and accumulation of capital. The new paradigm requires the much larger dimension of the socioeconomic process and its sustainability. As pointed out by Joan Robinson (1977, p. 1337), “These questions involve the whole political and social system of the capitalist world; they cannot be decided by economic theory, but it would be decent, at least, if economists admitted that they do not have an answer to them”.

Naturally, the transition towards a new paradigm involves an international movement which integrates the natural and social sciences in order to address the prerequisites for sustainable development. This movement requires synergy and action through interconnections across research centers at an international level. This deep cooperation is necessary to improve the data and quality of research on topics such as low carbon transitions, global warming, environment, ecosystem services and their accompanying socioeconomic policies.

The basic problem is: in any complex chain of events, there is a fundamental asymmetry between the present (status quo) and the future. During the transition, each element of the chain may break down when it encounters an almost infinite set of uncertainties. When this happens, the narrative may become unpleasant and the prospective path to be followed doubtful. This may allow people and their governments to conclude, erroneously, that it is better to hold on to the current ways. However, this is a naive perception. Actually, creating the shared vision of a new paradigm of a sustainable and desirable material future, is perhaps the fundamental task facing humanity today.

The previous paragraph may give some readers the false impression that nothing really important can be attained by a single individual dealing with the difficult problems posed by the theme of our enquiry. It is true that group research presents great advantages. However, it may be useful to recall the first paragraph of Hahn (1989. P. 13): “those individuals who are endowed with a special genius for the subject and have a powerful economic intuition will often be more right in their conclusions and implicit presumptions than in their explanation and explicit statements. That is to say, their intuitions will be in advance of their analysis and their terminology. Great respect, therefore, is due to their general scheme of thought, and it is a poor thing to pester their memories with criticism which is really verbal”. [J.M. Keynes (1924) quoted by Hahn in Kaldor (1972. p. 1249, n. 1)].

“We need a new paradigm of sustainable development, but to improve the possibility to attain success in the implementation of new visions and policies, we must be capable of measuring, analyzing and hedging the relevant variables which can help to improve the commitment of the relevant institutions.”

Environmentalism is a social and political tendency that is concerned about the conservation, improvement and sustainability of the ecosystem. This movement has now become worldwide and it is no wonder that scholars, national and international institutions are catching the “green fever”, and especially the issue of how to circumvent the global warming trap. The impulses for “going green” are now multiplying faster than was expected a few years ago. However, without a solid socioeconomic foundation, the green movement will scare people and governments. We need a new paradigm of sustainable development, but to improve the possibility to attain success in the implementation of new visions and policies, we must be capable of measuring, analyzing and hedging the relevant variables which can help to improve the commitment of the relevant institutions. Otherwise, a number of risks will be faced by society when new programs of sustainability are implemented.

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