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The economy has the gross national product to track its health. Shouldn't the environment have its own system of analogous indicators? That, in essence, was the principal recommendation made by a review panel commissioned by several government agencies.
A pilot project aimed at establishing a national system of environmental indicators could start by creating a national indicator for water quantity, the panel suggested, to help better coordinate federal and state efforts in the drought-stricken regions of the South and Southwest. Eventually, the system could encompass dozens of indicators, looking at everything from air quality to urban land-use. The hope is that it would impose a certain measure of consistency between agencies and different levels of government. Predictably, reaction to the report was mixed as some argued that national indicators - though helpful for top policymakers - could prove to be less than useful for local officials. "Water use is local," said Ted Heinz, a member of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
Indeed, while certain measures may ultimately be better tailored to local needs, there is a case to be made for any indicator that could help governments more effectively track their progress in reaching their environmental goals. Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of such a system is that it would help insulate environmental monitoring from the vagaries (and excesses) of political leadership. Assuming it's a broad-based effort involving independent-minded scientists and policymakers from various agencies, it could prove to be a crucial tool.
Via ::Science Magazine: Panel Calls for Pilot Program for National Indicators (scientific journal, sub. required)