On Chavez, AP misses forest for the skyscraper

It can be refreshing - like a glass of ice cold water thrown in your face - to read something so bizarre that you're immediately reminded of how differently some people see the world.

Jim Naureckas at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) noted a good example of this sort of thing in an Associated Press report by business reporter Pamela Sampson on the death of Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez. Writing about how Venezuela's oil wealth compared to that of other oil producing nations, Sampson writes:

Chavez invested Venezuela's oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world's tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.

Wait, what?

Naureckas' reaction at FAIR humorously notes the odd comparison:

That's right: Chavez squandered his nation's oil money on healthcare, education and nutrition when he could have been building the world's tallest building or his own branch of the Louvre. What kind of monster has priorities like that?

Naureckas goes on to cite the drastic reduction in poverty Chavez accomplished with those programs.

To give her the benefit of the doubt, I suspect the AP reporter was not meaning to suggest tall buildings are more important than feeding or educating poor people, but this is a good example of illustrating how differently people define progress.

Here's another example: Did you hear that the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record high on Tuesday? It did, which is good news, but it certainly doesn't mean the economy is booming or that we have a healthy economic system, as the video above illustrates.

Just as focusing too much on growth or the Dow or GDP as the sole indicators of economic progress, when happiness levels or a quality of life do a better job of assessing the health of an economy, to see tall buildings as better signs of economic progress than reducing poverty or increasing public education is a symptom of a broken value system in western society.

As TreeHugger has noted many times before, we are already in or on the verge of living in a post-growth, post-fossil fuel economy and need to start acting like it. There is more to economic progress than growth. There is more to societal health than a construction boom.

Take for example the Japanese forest therapy research that is proving the financial value in leaving forests alone and tapping into their nonextractive benefits. Or the $53 billion in value bats provide the American economy. Or the mere $18 billion it would take to preserve the remainder of the Brazilian rain forest, which provides far more value as a source of clean air and medicinal treasure. There are countless other examples of ecosystem services - value provided to humans from natural resources and processes provided by ecosystems. It is hard to illustrate this value, but it is there.

If we can't get past seeing shiny buildings as the only important indicator of economic success, we are never going to solve our current economic, climate and environmental crises.

On Chavez, AP misses forest for the skyscraper
An Associated Press report on the death of Hugo Chavez suggests Chavez wasted money on health care when he could have built giant skyscrapers. It's a lesson on our distorted value system.

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