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One missing metric

April 27, 2023
By: Mark Skinner

For those readers who have seen their 53rd birthday, it was probably not a remarkable occasion. Perhaps it passed by without notice, and why should it? It isn’t regarded as a major milestone like 21, 50, 60 or 75.  What good is 53? It is often overlooked because we rarely run into it. We put 52 cards in a deck, but 53? We can’t deal with that.

Earth Day probably felt that way this year as Saturday, April 22, went by with fewer people marking its 53rd birthday than in previous years. Collectively, the gifts in its honor seem smaller, less meaningful.

The images are of people picking up litter or flowers blooming from bulbs first grown and flown from thousands of miles away. Clean energy advocates were able to use the 53rd Earth Day to celebrate the growing number of solar panels and wind turbines scattered across the planet, yet our consumption of energy continues to grow and outpace that progress. Carbon emissions continue to rise, as do average global temperatures and sea levels.

Like 53rd birthdays that are often overlooked, there is a fundamental metric overlooked from the work of development policy – be it workforce development, community development, economic development, or tech-based economic development. That missing measure is the degree to which the results of our efforts move us further away from being regenerative or from restoring balance to the larger systems causing climate change we’re already experiencing, and which will only grow worse.

Plans for net-zero might work well in the future and slow the rate of adding to the conditions causing climate change, but we are still adding to the problem in the meantime. Raising and meeting or exceeding fuel efficiency standards, for example, are great, have also meant it becomes cheaper to drive and fly longer distances and more often. So we do and emissions get worse.

We need net-positive innovations now. It is up to the regional innovation and tech-based economic development communities to focus their resources to help drive net-positive discoveries, innovations, and policy changes, and to finance and support their implementation. And we need to be forthright and honest in measuring our performance toward – or as the case may be, away from – this goal of being net-positive contributors to change. This metric is missing from our work, and that must change.

So 53 can be a challenging birthday, a challenging age, a challenging number. But it is also a prime number, the 16thprime number, in fact. Even a week late, let’s make this 53rd Earth Day as good as being Sweet 16 again, by truly marking and measuring our contribution to positive change.

innovation, climate, economic development, policy