POSITION AND POLICY IN DETAIL

VERMONT HAPPINESS INDEX

VISION

Vermont will have an index that will measure the overall happiness of its citizens on a statewide basis. Eventually the indicator should also be measurable at the municipal level as well as well as different economic levels.

BACKGROUND

Currently, the United States uses Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure its economic health. GDP measures the total market value of all goods and services produced within a geographical region for a given time period. It has been assumed that if the GDP goes up then the well being of the people living in the region measured goes up as well. However, GDP fails to account for both environmental and social costs, such as ecosystem degradation and income inequality.

POLICY POSITION

The Better(not bigger)Vermont endorses the concept of a Vermont Happiness Index, or some similarly titled indicator, to replace the GDP.

 

The Vermont Happiness Index would measure the following:

  1. The psychological well being of individuals.

  2. A work week that provides a reasonable amount of leisure time for all.

  3. Community vitality.

  4. Preservation of the culture.

  5. The health of individuals.

  6. The education of individuals.

  7. Conservation of the environment on which all life depends.

  8. Living standards that meet the basic human needs for all.

  9. Good government that is accessible to and responsive to its citizens.
     

Within these nine broad categories actual measurable indicators will be developed. As an example in category number 5 related to the health of individuals the data on the average age of death and the number of people who die of cancer each year is already available.

The Vermont legislature should appoint a special commission to study and make recommendations on how to develop and implement a Vermont Happiness Index.

THE ENVIRONMENT

VISION:

Better(not bigger)Vermont envisions a future when the size of our population and our consumption of natural resources are in balance and sustainable so that all people have a high quality of life and all ecosystems on earth support all forms of life in numbers that maintain the ecosystems.

BACKGROUND:

Human population growth and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put humans and the plant and animal kingdoms at serious risk and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the disasters our present course will bring about.

The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair.

POLICY POSITION

Five inextricably linked areas must be addressed simultaneously:

  1. We must control environmentally damaging activities in order to restore and protect the integrity of the earth's systems that we vitally depend on.

  2. We must manage resources crucial to the welfare of all living beings, both present and future.

  3. We must stabilize the population in order to have a steady state economy, and in order to prevent faster resource depletion.

  4. We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty, which will offer fair access to resources to all people. 

  5. We must ensure sexual equality and guarantee women control over their own reproductive decisions. 


 

STEADY STATE ECONOMY

VISION

The U.S. economy, and eventually the global economy will make a transition from growth to a steady state economy.  This steady state economy will: (1) be sustainably scaled to fit within the capacity provided by ecosystems; (2) provide equal opportunities for all people to accrue the benefits of economic activities; and (3) provide for the efficient allocation of resources such that the prosperity of the human economy promotes the health of the ecosystem on which it depends.  A steady state economy can be compared to a mature and healthy forest ecosystem.  It does not grow in size, but it is a living, evolving system with a startling array of interconnected parts.  Vibrant and remarkably diverse assemblages of species cooperate and compete within the forest, and there are opportunities for new species and ecosystem functions to develop over time. 

BACKGROUND

Our current economic system is based on continuous growth of GDP through increased consumption and production. The first law of thermodynamics is that you cannot make something from nothing, and GDP growth does not defy this law. As GDP grows, more natural capital is destroyed and we push complete ecological collapse. In addition to biophysical limits, GDP growth fails to address income inequality and consistently makes the rich richer while leaving the working class with minimal improvements.

A steady state economy would close the inequality gap through progressive policies, while also adhering to environmental limits (production does not surpass regenerative capacity). The transition to a steady state economy begins with a moral discussion about our goals for life on the planet and our responsibility to future generations, as well as a recognition that economic growth conflicts with environmental protection. 

POLICY POSITION

Better(not bigger)Vermont endorses the concept of a steady state economy.  To implement this type of economy the following will need to be accomplished: 

  1. Population levels will need to be stabilized with total fertility rates to be at or even below 2.1 until we figure out what is a sustainable population level. 

  2. Governments, businesses, and households must, based on the science of ecology, identify limits for resource throughput (e.g., ecological footprint), and apply appropriate measures to stay at or below those limits (e.g., through the use of cap and trade or similar quota systems). 

  3. There needs to be a broad natural capital depletion tax to assure that resource inputs from the environment to the economy are sustainable, while giving strong incentives to develop new technologies and processes to minimize impacts. 

  4. The application of the precautionary “polluter pays principle” should be applied to assure that the full costs of outputs from the economy to the environment are charged to the polluter. 

  5. The application of the precautionary “polluter pays principle” should be applied to assure that the full costs of outputs from the economy to the environment are charged to the polluter. 

  6. U.S. tax policies should be modified to support a steady state economy rather than a constantly growing economy.  Child tax deductions should apply for no more than two children. Taxes should be shifted from the “goods” to the “bads (e.g. not taxing solar panels to taxing coal production). 

  7. U.S. spending policies should favor a steady state economy over a growth economy (e.g. subsidizing solar research and not clean coal production). 

  8. Governments need to compile and report indicators of true economic health and progress (e.g., the Ecological Footprint, the Genuine Progress Indicator, and the Happy Planet Index), rather than relying on GDP, which is a poor indicator of wellbeing. 

  9. Individuals should be encouraged to exhibit and support behavior that favors sustainability.  Examples include limiting family size to two or fewer children, buying local when possible, eliminating conspicuous consumption, limiting energy consumption, and using renewable energy. 

  10. The President should appoint a special commission to study and make recommendations on how to keep the economy healthy as we make the transition to a steady state economy. 

More information about steady state economics can be found at the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy 

US FERTILITY

VISION

BnbVT envisions a world where every child is conceived as the result of a conscious decision. While we acknowledge that this is somewhat unrealistic, we note that our nation has a dismal record today; close to half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned. We believe everyone in America should have full access, universally supported throughout the health care system, to the necessary tools to plan the number and timing of children they will bear. And we support a cultural transition to a time when, thanks to enlightened policy, parenthood is almost universally delayed until at least the mid-20s; we believe that giving people a chance to grow up a bit makes for a much happier and healthier experience for every family member.

BACKGROUND

In 2017, the fertility rate in America was 1.77 births on average for each woman in the population, which, in the absence of immigration, will eventually lead to a stable population. Given the high level of consumption of Americans, and the challenges inherent in reducing that consumption meaningfully, we believe that efforts to reduce consumption should be paired with efforts to reduce unplanned births in the hopes of a brighter future for this planet and its fragile ecosystems.

Our call for reductions in the rate of unplanned pregnancies, however, go beyond our views on population growth; across our society, reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies will also improve the quality of life for all of America's children. Although millions of babies born as the result of an unplanned pregnancy will thrive under the loving care of a devoted family, not all do; many of society's most naggingly persistent ills are statistically associated with unplanned births to families unable to provide a nurturing and safe environment. By a wide margin, research shows that planned babies are much more likely to be happy, healthy and productive in adulthood. A reduction in unplanned pregnancies will, therefore, lead to improved circumstances for America's children and improved outcomes for our society as a whole.

POLICY POSITION

We support mandatory, age-appropriate reproductive health education in all of America's public schools, with full inclusion of not just the tools but also comprehensive instruction on proper use of all practical forms of birth control. While we don't oppose the inclusion of content promoting the benefits of abstinence, research has consistently documented that abstinence-only programs are ineffective in reducing not just abortions and unplanned pregnancies but unprotected sex in general and premarital sex in particular.

We call for mandating that health insurance plans include full coverage of birth control supplies and services, including abortion. Until universal health insurance coverage, including family planning services, becomes the norm, we endorse government support for free family planning services, including abortion, regardless of ability to pay.

We strongly encourage the gradual adoption of a cultural norm of delayed chilbearing, with the age of 25 as a model for the earliest optimal entry into the role of parenthood. We endorse pre-marital counseling that includes instruction in the use of family planning while respecting as much as possible an individual's cultural and religious values. Such counseling should also help to improve the overall quality of life for children by empowering their parents with stronger skills in vital areas such as household budgeting, conflict resolution and nutrition.

US MIGRATION LAW

VISION

Better(not bigger)Vermont envisions legal immigration that promotes a stabilized domestic population, while also celebrating the diversity of our planet's cultures and ethnicities.

BACKGROUND

The United States is already the third most populous nation on the planet and will contribute more to global population growth by mid-century than any other nations except Nigeria and India. Under current policy, the US is projected to add 117 million people by 2065. According to the Pew Research Center, immigration accounted for 54% of the growth in the U.S. population between 1965 and 2015 (72 million of the 132 million increase) and is projected to account for 88% of population growth between 2015 and 2065 (103 million out of 117 million).

The magnitude of this population's ongoing growth is troubling in terms of both domestic and planetary sustainability issues -- due to its extremely wasteful and polluting habits of consumption. As an example, the US population constitutes only 5% of the global population but annually accounts for 22% of global carbon emissions, throws away over 200 million tons of municipal waste and uses 24% of global energy production while destroying 1.2 million acres of its farmland per year.

Furthermore, the US bio-capacity - its domestic surface area available to produce resources and assimilate waste - provides only 48% of the population's annual subsistence. 52% is provided by importing bio-capacity, drawing down resource reserves, and degrading habitat.

US population fluctuations in any given year are the results from the net gain from natural increase (fertility minus mortality) and net migration (in-migration minus out-migration). Unfortunately, some analysts consider only net migration and ignore the population effect of births to immigrants. The Pew Research Center, taking births to immigrants into account, estimated in a 2015 report that under current policy immigration will account for 88% of US population growth over the next half century.

In consideration of how best to slow the growth of the U.S. population, we aspire to raise awareness and promote policies that encourage a reduction in natural increase while maintaining our democratic society's inherent respect for personal beliefs and freedoms. But given that more than three quarters of our anticipated population growth will result from immigration, we note that it is the sole province of the US Congress, as elected representatives of this sovereign nation, to set migration policy as it sees fit. We call on our government, therefore, to set that policy at a level that will lead to a compassionate and humane stabilization of the U.S. population at the earliest plausible time. Neither of these aspects of our activism should be construed as precluding the need for aggressive transition to a sustainable economy based on renewable resources and greatly reduced consumption habits.

POLICY POSITION

Better(not bigger)Vermont notes that our policy position on this matter should be viewed in the context of filling the unmet need for a comprehensive US national population policy, this position being one component of such a policy.

Better(not bigger)Vermont notes that population growth in the US does not occur in a vacuum, and that advocating merely for stabilizing population in the US is an unbalanced approach to striving for planetary sustainable development. We strongly urge and support efforts to reduce global fertility to 2.1 or below as soon as possible, so long as all such reduction are achieved voluntarily by promoting the idea of, and/or objectively removing the barriers to unconstrained access to family planning services and contraception to all those who want them -- the education of women being a paramount objective in these goals.

We understand that most people who try to come here illegally do so due to economic conditions in their own countries. Because of this, Better(not bigger)Vermont urges that trade agreements with other countries and subsidies to U.S. businesses be economically fair to other countries and that foreign aid for economic development and funds for family planning be significantly increased.

CONSUMPTION

VISION

We imagine an economic system that is not based on the exploitation of civilians into partaking in mass consumption and waste. Better(not bigger)Vermont pictures a rate of consumption that does not exceed the environment's rate of regeneration. A steady state economy ensures that everyone can meet their basic needs, and progressive fiscal policy can decrease unnecessary consumption. 

BACKGROUND

Total consumption in any given region is defined by the product of the average consumption per person (per capita consumption) in that society multiplied by the number of people populating that society. Better(not bigger)Vermont is interested in minimizing the impact of both of these variables.

POLICY POSITION

To reduce the per capita consumption, we call for a new definition of a meaningful and fulfilling life, one that focuses more on human well-being and social enrichment and less on the acquisition of material things. The potential benefits of cleaner technologies and energy supplies may certainly help achieve that goal. We encourage everyone to reduce the use of nonrenewable fuels in transportation, to reduce, reuse and recycle whenever possible, to shape our diets around foods that require smaller investments of energy and resources, and to reduce the societal costs of transporting goods by buying locally whenever this is practical.

The other variable needed to reduce overall consumption is population size. While we have made progress in stabilizing per-capita consumption, significant further reductions won't happen if population growth isn't stabilized as well.

The larger a population grows, the harder and more expensive it becomes to convert to a more sustainable lifestyle. The desire to live more sustainably requires proportionately greater investments in resources and time as population increases. Whatever a society's per-capita footprint (use of the earth's resource base), its total footprint expands due to the size of its population causing greater ecological damage.

LAND DEVELOPMENT

VISION

Our economic system that currently depends on population growth and resulting land development should be transitioned to a steady state economic system.

BACKGROUND

Since the completion of the Interstate Highway System in the 1960's, Vermont's population has grown from around 400,000 to 626,000 at the present time. This, along with even larger population growth in New England and the U.S., has resulted in major developments at the interstate exits, the equivalent of cities on our mountain sides, and suburban housing development converting what once were very rural communities into largely suburban communities.

Population growth and economic growth are the underlying causes of land development. Land development creates many environmental and social problems. Land development destroys biocapacity and while forming impermeable surfaces, which creates more storm water runoff and pollution. Furthermore, each unit of new residential housing has an "ecological footprint" that is much larger than the land itself, due to the need for out-of-state goods and services in rural Vermont.

The majority of Vermonters understand that land development negatively impacts those qualities that make Vermont both unique and desirable. Land development destroys green spaces, eliminates wildlife habitats, and makes nature less accessible to all citizens. In addition, it increases traffic congestion, water, air and light pollution, and reduces both community connections and local self-governance as people are less likely to know their neighbors. Even land development to accommodate population growth in cities is questionable because it increases the number of voters who have less appreciation for the natural environment that most Vermonters admire. In turn, more urban and suburban voters would likely elect policymakers who do not appreciate the natural environment either and who instead champion unsustainable economic and population growth.

While some development or redevelopment may be necessary to meet changing employment and economic needs, any proposed development project should be carefully evaluated to determine whether it is both desirable and sustainable in the long term. Although Act 250 and other environmental legislation have helped to protect our environment, this legislation has loopholes and is failing to preserve enough of Vermont's natural beauty that Vermonters value so highly.

POLICY POSITION

The purported benefits of land development, especially land development that would promote population growth, no matter what its purpose, must be seriously challenged by governmental agencies and environmental organizations.

Better(not bigger)Vermont acknowledges that Vermonters benefit from higher-wage jobs. We support commercial and industrial development that offers higher-wage jobs to current Vermont citizens and their children, but we do not support such development that will also result in population growth. Further, such development should accommodate only businesses that will not lobby for policies to increase the number of Vermont residents. Better(not bigger)Vermont encourages state and local policymakers to develop and implement ways of selecting such businesses. We support commercial development that ensures a sustainable and acceptable standard of living for existing Vermont residents and their offspring (e.g., solar farms). Better(not bigger)Vermont also encourages the distribution of new businesses throughout the state, rather than concentrating them in already large cities.

Our economic system that currently depends on population growth and resulting land development should be transitioned to a steady state economic system (see the Better(not bigger)Vermont Position Statement on the Steady State Economy).

Vermont should continue its strong support for protecting undeveloped land through land trusts (such as the statewide Vermont Land Trust and the many local and regional land trusts), public ownership such as town, state and national forests, zoning and other mechanisms.
 

© 2020 by Better(not bigger)Vermont

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