Intellectually, we finally have come to understand that the wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity… that’s all there is… That’s the whole economy.
~by Gaylord Nelson et al, authors of “Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling The Promise” (2002)
Nelson et al uses this quote in the discussion of “The Challenge of Sustainability.” How would you respond to a question about your wealth? It is common and present among all societies and cultures, yet has an air of ambiguity. The word’s denotation defines wealth as an “abundance of valuable material possessions or resources” and “the state of being rich; material prosperity.” There’s a collective predisposition to simply wealth by defining, associating, and measuring it solely by money and material assets. Now consider the word’s connotation. Wealth can be defined and measured by an individual’s familial, spousal, and social bonds, which include but are not limited to love, friendship, companionship, and acquaintanceship. Personal finances aside, one could argue that an individual with strong familial, spousal, and social bonds is wealthier than an individual whose familial, spousal, and social bonds are weak or nonexistent. This gives meaning to the old adage “money doesn’t buy happiness.” Like money and material assets, familial, spousal, and social bonds are powerful factors contributing to an individual’s social status. Wealth can also be defined as anything that gives an individual inner peace and lasting happiness.
Wealth is stereotypically measured and perceived by the monetary and quality values of overt attributes like an individual’s car, shoes, clothes, bank accounts, house, household staff, lifestyle, etc. Such individuals are materialistically wealthy, but does their wealth extend beyond those possessions? In other words, material possessions are concrete, observable indicators of wealth while other forms of wealth (familial and social bonds) are abstract and less overt.
Now consider the wealth of our nation. How do we as Americans define and measure our national wealth? We would likely define and measure wealth by indicators which, include but not limited to, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), infrastructure, healthcare, technology, high graduation, life expectancy, and birth rates, and low poverty, infant mortality, and crime rates. Perhaps most materialistically significant, a nation’s wealth is largely defined and measured by its economic activities and growth. Like with the individual, a nation’s wealth is stereotypically defined and measured by materialistic indicators. These statistical indicators of wealth can be skewed and not adequately capture the whole picture. For example, people are living longer, but that doesn’t automatically mean we are living and enjoying a better and happier quality of life.
Our natural wealth is directly proportional to our material wealth and quality of life. Air, water, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity are common, shared resources directly related to statistical indicators of materialistic wealth. As with materialistic wealth, there are ways to quantify and measure natural wealth (i.e. water/air quality, species richness, etc.) Without clean air, water, and soils, we suffer from environmental pollution that becomes a daily nuisance and poses a direct threat to public health. Without wildlife habitats and the biodiversity they harbor, our country would be deprived of our biological and ecological heritages. We would also be deprived of ecotourism, outdoor recreational opportunities, and the peacefulness found in nature. If our natural wealth is weak or nonexistent, we as a country suffer a diminished quality of life, which can lead to social and political discord.
This can also adversity affect other countries near and far, as pollution in all its forms can spread beyond our land and water borders. Stated another way, our natural wealth is the collective ecosystem services afforded to people. Can you imagine materialistic wealth and economic prosperity amid a degraded and polluted natural environment? Envision a mansion of architectural splendor sitting on a smoggy, deforested plot whose polluted soils inhibit grass and landscaping which in turn inhibits birds and other wildlife.
As a country, we have a collective accountability and responsibility to maintain the health and integrity of our natural environment. Although pollution and environmental degradation may be more serious and overt in certain geographic areas and among people belonging to a particular socioeconomic status, they affect us all. Strong, national wealth fosters healthy, vibrant communities. We must continue to lobby and advocate for public policies at all levels of government to ensure a natural wealth for ourselves and for future generations.
~by Angelo Teachout
photo credit of featured image-Multnomah Falls: https://www.pexels.com/photo/bridge-in-the-middle-of-the-woods-near-waterfalls-28427/ (License)
photo credit of Heart: https://www.pexels.com/photo/sunset-hands-love-woman-5390/ (License)
photo credit of Biltmore Estate: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gocardusa/1714939969 (License)
photo credit of friendship: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=204978&picture=hands-united-in-friendship (License)
photo credit of Bison: http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Panorama-Bison-Mammal-Buffalo-American-Animal-1669792 (License)
photo credit of clear sky: https://pixabay.com/en/chesapeake-bay-water-reflection-sky-1310538/ (License)
photo credit of wilderness: https://pixabay.com/en/environment-water-mountains-natural-1942300/ (License)